History of the Masonic Temple

Introduction

In 1928, Judge Frank M. Trexler, Past Master of Greenleaf Lodge, noted in the Special Memorial Book on page 11, when the building was first opened in 1926…

Now it stands in classic grandeur, dignified, substantial and beautiful,
symbolic of the teaching of the order, with an interior embellished in a manner
elegant and typical.
In the providence of God, this temple will be the pride of our fraternity
long after…the brethren who shared in the enterprise will have mingled with the
dust. In the course of time, the temple itself will also pass away, but the principles
of our beloved order will continue and those of our fellowship who, in the fullness
of their lives, are actuated by love of religion, liberty and law and practice out of
the lodge, the principles that are taught therein, will have a part in the noble temple,
that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. So mote it be.

Sojourn to a New Home

The Allentown Masonic Temple is the culmination of a search for a permanent meeting place for Allentown Freemasons, a search that spanned more than a century. The original Lodge, Jordan No. 151, Ancient York Masonry (AYM), was organized in 1817 and met at the courthouse facilities, which originally were held in George Savitz’s “Compass and Square” tavern at Seventh and Hamilton Streets in Allentown. In 1836, the Lodge went out of existence.
In 1859, Barger Lodge No. 333 (AYM) was organized and met at Odd Fellows Hall at Hamilton and Hall Streets.
In 1863, they moved to Sixth and Hamilton Street.
By 1873, the Lodge moved to Seventh and Hamilton Streets.
The Masonic organizations had grown to include two Lodges and four appendant York Rite bodies.
In 1885, the Lodge Hall moved to Hamilton and Law Streets.
In 1903, the Lodge Hall located at Eight and Hamilton Streets.
In 1911, the first plans for erecting a Masonic Temple in Allentown were discussed.
In 1913, Jordan Lodge was chartered and 450 men joined the first year. The Lodge’s first banquet featured Brother and Former United States President William Howard Taft as the speaker.
In 1915, a decision was made to build a new Masonic Temple.
In 1916, the Masonic Temple Association was organized.
In 1920, a fund drive was launched and a committee was sent to tour Masonic Temples in the eastern and mid-western states to gather ideas. By this time, there were eleven Masonic and Masonic related organizations meeting. Membership included the most influential leaders of the community.
In 1923, contracts for the new building were awarded. General contractor was William H. Gangeware and Co. of Allentown. Richard G. Schmid of Chicago was the architect. Gustav A. Brand was assigned to do the interior decorating.
In February 1923, ground was broken.
The cornerstone was laid by the officers of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, with over seventeen hundred Masons and several thousand spectators.
The period of historical significance began in 1923 and continued into the mid-1960’s.

By the summer of 1925, the Masonic organizations had moved from Eighth and Hamilton to the new facility. There were at this time more than 20 Masonic or Masonic-related organizations, with their various auxiliaries, drill corps, choruses and bands.

The building was used for fraternal Masonic activities and daily for social activities from 1928 to the 1940’s. Banquets attracted a constant attendance of members and other special activities brought in family members, guests and the general public, especially during the depression yearas and World War II.

Parades, religious services and band concerts were presented to the general public by various Masonic organizations. Noteworthy was the annual broadcast by community radio stations WSAN and WKAP of the Christmas morning service from the Masonic Temple in the 1940’s. The Scottish Rite production of the Divine Tragedy of Christ was seen by thousands in the community and was featured in the 1939 LIFE Magazine. Local churches, glee clubs, drama clubs, junior and senior high school and college groups participated with music, drama, and lectures. Noted national celebrities likewise made appearances.

In 1928, General Harry C. Trexler gifted one of the finest Masonic research libraries in Pennsylvania to the Allentown Masonic Lodges to preserve Masonic lore and knowledge for future generations. The Library is open to the public and serves as a resource for scholarly research.

The Masonic Temple demonstrates the significance of Freemasonry interwoven in the social fabric and community life of Allentown. Many of the outstanding leaders of the community were active Freemasons. Membership in the 1920’s numbered in the thousands. Continuous use of the building was made by community groups since its construction, The Masonic Temple was opened to the public for a formal inspection tour from June 7 to 11, 1926. The newspaper proclaimed the Masonic Temple to be the largest private enterprise the city had ever seen up to that time. The city newspaper noted that thousands availed themselves of viewing the magnificent site and that “Allentown could rightly boast of having the finest structure of its kind in the country”, reflecting the visibility and acceptance of Freemasonry as part of community life.

Fundraising for the building project raised $445,535 in 1921, from thousands of members. Additional funds were needed and a half million dollars was raised through the public sale of 20 year bonds. The depression had a devastating effect on membership, and in the 1930’s the Masonic Temple Association began public rental of space in the building.

The fraternal and social history of the Allentown Masonic Temple are interwoven and represent the lifestyle of Allentown and its surrounding communities during the post-World War I, the Depression, and post-World War II eras. To illustrate the community’s interest in fraternalism in the 1920’s, Allentown published a series of biographical books, Men of Allentown, in which the substance of the text was the civic and fraternal membership and activities of prominent citizens. Freemasonry was well demonstrated by the activity of these men.

The Allentown Masonic Temple is the embodiment of a specific American heritage and culture. The building preserves a fraternal art form and the distinctive art style of the early 20th Century.. Within the aura of the various meeting halls, numerous ceremonies and activities are shared among four related York Rite bodies. Additionally, the ceremonies of the Scottish Rite and other appendant bodies, including ladies and youth organizations, make up the fraternal family of Masonry. In 1921, fraternal activity in America was at an all time high. During this historic period of the Masonic Temple, membership in Allentown grew dramatically. The leadership at that time was composed of the area’s leading industrialists, judges, doctors, attorneys, educators, prominent businessmen, public officials, and the city’s leading contractors. When funds were solicited to begin construction, 3,168 members contributed monthly to pledges that would generate $445,000. A public bond sale in 1926 raised another $500,000 needed to complete the building.

The original plans called for a Temple for the York Rite activity. Attached to the building was to be an auditorium-theater to the west. Lacking sufficient funding for the construction of both buildings, the three story auditorium was eliminated.

The Allentown Masonic Temple was constructed by a specific body of men for a specific function and purpose, the fraternalism of Freemasonry to serve a very broad population numbering in the thousands. This landmark structure and the activities associated with it also had a strong impact on the community and the building was shared with the general public.

World Wide Events Impact the Temple

As the Great Depression impacted Masonic membership, the Masonic Temple Association began the rental of parlor space of the building. This financial impact continued through World War II.
• 1930’s: The Swain Day School rented significant space.
• 1940’s: WFMZ renovated space in the basement for two radio studios. A 120 foot tall transmission tower was erected outside, toward the rear of the building.
• Atlantic Refinery rented the East side of the First Mezzanine in the 1940’s and 50’s.
• An accounting firm became a tenant in the 1960’s.
• In the 1970’s, the East Banquet Hall was rented to the Cancer Society and the accounting firm began expanding. Three other tenants began renting business space.
• At present, our largest tenant is scheduled to leave circa July 2014 and will leave 13,000 square feet of office space available for tenants.
• In June 2012, a Task Force was organized by the Masonic Temple Association, with plans to promote appropriate use of the building.
• Presently, several thousand square feet of office space has been rented.
The Historically Significant Period
The historically significant period began with the laying of the cornerstone in 1923, until 1965, when renovations were made that compromised the original stenciled decoration and color tone.
Egyptian and Renaissance Halls had the entire lower walls painted in a non-historic color and obscured the elaborate stencil work. Samples of the original wall stenciling can still be found behind the radiators. In addition, the six decorative chandeliers in Egyptian motif were removed and replaced with recessed lighting. In Renaissance Hall, the five glass flame-style chandeliers were also removed and replaced with recessed lighting. In Doric, Egyptian and Chapter Halls, some of the original stencil work was also painted over, as was the first mezzanine lobby.

Although historical decoration was compromised, there still remains a substantial amount of the original stencil work and decorative art. The Templar Asylum on the first floor has not been modified and exhibits a perspective of the original mode of decoration. The six meeting halls still retain their historic perspective and the building still retains a worthwhile collection of early twentieth century decorative art. Overall, the architectural significance remains.

At the end of the historically significant period, the following organizations were meeting in the building. As late as 1970, there was sufficient activity in the evening to require two elevator operators.
• Barger Lodge, No. 333, F&AM
• Greenleaf Lodge, No. 561, F&AM
• Jordan Lodge, No. 673, F&AM
– Jordan Choir
• Edwin G. Martin Lodge, No. 689, F&AM
• New Temple Lodge, No. 720, F&AM
• Allen Chapter, No. 203, Royal Arch Masons
• Jordan Chapter, No. 302, Royal Arch Masons
• Allen Council, No. 23, Royal & Select Master Masons
• Allen Commandery, No. 20, Knights Templar of Pennsylvania
– Allen Commandery Band, Director Albertus Myers (circa 1920-1947)
– Allen Commandery Drill Corps
– Allen Commandery Choir
– Allen Auxiliary Association
• Beauceant Commandery, No. 94, Knights Templar of Pennsylvania
– Beauceant Commandery Ladies Auxiliary
• Anne Penn Allen Chapter, Order of Eastern Star
• Mary Livingston Chapter, Order of Eastern Star
• New Temple Chapter, Order of Eastern Star
• Royal Arts Chapter, Order of Eastern Star
• Order of Amaranth
• Allentown Shrine, No. 27, Order of the White Shrine of Jerusalem
• Allentown Forest, No. 41, Tall Cedars of Lebanon
– Tall Cedars Band
– Tall Cedars Chorus
– Tall Cedars Drill Corps
• Allentown Chapter, Order of DeMolay for Boys
• Allentown Council, Rainbow for Girls
• Mary Conclave, Red Cross of Constantine
• Valley of Allentown, AASR (1926-1970)
• Non-Masonic: Ancient Mystical Order of Rosicrucians

Post-Historically Significant Period

• Since 1970, the four Chapters of the Eastern Star have left the building or merged with other Chapters.
• Order of Amaranth, moved to another Lodge Hall.
• Jordan Royal Arch Chapter merged with Allen Royal Arch Chapter.
• Beauceant Commandery consolidated with Allen Commandery No. 20.
• The Allen Drill Corps is no longer active.
• The Allen Auxiliary Association is no longer active.
• Allentown Council Rainbow for Girls is in a regenerating phase at another Lodge Hall.
• Allentown Forest Tall Cedars of Lebanon has merged with the Bethlehem Forest.

New Organizations

• 1981: Lux Ex Tenebris Council, No. 176, Allied Masonic Degrees
• 2007: Bryn Athyn Quarry Assemblage, Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plasterers, and Bricklayers, “The Operatives,” United States of America Region
• 2008: Jordan Chapel, No. 77, Commemorative Order of St. Thomas of Acon
• Susquehanna Court, No. 74, Masonic Order of Athelstan in England, Wales & Provinces Overseas
• Albion Mark Lodge, No. 402
• 2013: Garuda Temple, No. 5
Information composed by Charles S. Canning, M.Ed., Trexler Masonic Library Director

 

Allentown Masonic Temple
Phone: 610-432-9388
Address : 1524 W Linden St, Allentown, PA 18102, USA

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