On July 15, 1922, thousands of guys and girls (but mainly guys) crowded close to an historic oak on a miraculously undeveloped parcel of land at Connecticut and Florida avenues NW. They have been Freemasons with their spouses, and they experienced an audacious plan in brain. They vowed to assemble one particular of the nation’s largest Masonic complexes on 9 acres of woods north of Dupont Circle. It was identified as the Dean tract and it included the Treaty Oak, stated by some to have the moment sheltered George Washington.
If you’ve at any time been in that community, you will have observed there is no Masonic complex. Instead, there is the Washington Hilton. To Chris Ruli, a historian and Mason who researches the District’s Masonic heritage, it is a story of what could possibly have been. Washington is full of — or, instead, empty of — comparable grand edifices that ended up prepared but never ever crafted.
The Masons weren’t considering little in the 1920s. A single of that day’s speakers explained the earth — “sadly shattered and groping” — desired Freemasonry, which would assistance reconstruct civilization. But 1st they experienced some developing to do.
The urgent concern at the time, Ruli mentioned, was that the local Masons had outgrown their existing headquarters. Crafted in 1908 at the corner of 13th Street and New York Avenue NW, the creating served as a type of clubhouse for Mason-associated gatherings. There have been near to 20,000 Masons in Washington and the city was awash in their clubs: Masons who labored at the White Dwelling, or at the Treasury, or as steelworkers or in other careers.
“They required a location for all these folks to meet up with and congregate,” Ruli explained. “Instead of buying an outdated developing, they considered, ‘Let’s develop a thing new.’”
The Dean tract experienced been owned by the Woman’s National Basis, which experienced prepared to put its personal headquarters there. Right before that, town leaders experienced hoped to buy the land for use as a park. It was the Masons who bought it, at a expense of $900,000. In almost no time, local Masons lifted a million dollars for the job.
The ceremony on that July day a century in the past marked the Masons receiving the deed for the tract, which they soon dubbed Temple Heights. The committee in charge of developing a Masonic temple there viewed as a variety of layouts ahead of settling on a person by Harvey W. Corbett, the architect accountable for the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, which was slowly but surely rising in Alexandria.
For Tower Heights, Corbett envisioned a established of properties to be utilised by unique Masonic teams, like the Purchase of the Jap Star, the Shriners, and the York and Scottish Rites. Only White Masons would use the facilities. No Prince Hall Masons — the get founded in 1784 for Black Masons — have been invited to participate, Ruli explained.
Corbett tapped artist and architect Hugh Ferriss to generate dramatic illustrations of his style. Wrote Ruli in an report for the Voice of Freemasonry magazine: “In his drawings, the Corbett-Ferriss intricate towered over the District of Columbia like a fashionable-working day Acropolis, and excellent halls surrounded a huge Grant Lodge Temple with spectacular flood lights illuminating the hill as a beacon for checking out Masons.”
This was a noir temple, a comic-e book concoction that provided extensive flights of stairs and an observation deck that took advantage of the site’s presently high elevation. It would have afforded good views of the city.
But there was a trouble: The layout ignored the city’s stringent top restrictions. The Masons were perfectly linked in federal government and they urged Congress to give the style a waiver. The plans would also need acceptance from by the Fee of Fantastic Arts and the National Park and Arranging Fee.
Even even though the Masons would sooner or later get approval for their style, with some modifications, in Oct 1929, some thing else intervened.
“The stock market place crash efficiently class-corrected everything,” Ruli claimed.
A hilltop Masonic sophisticated seemed a unnecessary luxurious at a time when the emphasis was on helping fellow Masons endure the cratering economic system. Users made the decision to make do with their 13th Road developing, as outdated and crowded as it may perhaps have been.
“Basically, the acquisition of Temple Heights eradicated any fascination in the fraternity to establish new things or create grand issues,” Ruli stated.
In 1947, the Masons offered the previous Dean tract to a syndicate of builders for $915,000. They held on to their 13th Street building right up until 1982, when, pressed for money, they bought it to the Countrywide Museum of Women of all ages in the Arts. Nevertheless the grand Masonic elaborate never ever came to be, it lives on in the title of a little something at 1921 Florida Ave. NW: the Temple Heights Write-up Business.
If the Masons had been successful, Washington would appear distinct currently.
“It definitely would have built an indelible mark on the skyline,” Ruli claimed. “When you fly into DCA, you see this one particular significant, tall Masonic tower in Alexandria. Consider going into the District and looking at a further large Masonic tower.”
It would have served as a image of the fraternal organization, whose quite name and rituals are centered on developing with stone.
“They required to find the best position and construct the maximum temple,” Ruli mentioned. “They needed to make it seem to be, ‘This is the progress of the fraternity.’ A single of the ironies is, if they did construct this large complex to themselves, I never assume they’d have been in a position to retain it.”
The cost of maintaining it would have outstripped the cost of developing it.
Following week: Frank Lloyd Wright takes a crack at Temple Heights.