Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Boise's New Landmark: Masonic Temple Gets Recognition


From the Idaho Statesman

• A swamp cooler built in New York City in 1913, known affectionately as “Bertha.” It still works, thanks to regular oiling.
• Transom windows the size of card tables.
• A kitchen that resembles a set from “Mad Men.”
• A vault that holds the sepia-toned photographs of lodge leaders from the turn of the last century.
• A zigzag-pattern linoleum floor that would not be out of place in a David Lynch movie.


These are just a few of the treasures at the Masonic Temple Lodge on 10th Street in Downtown Boise. The City Council recently approved the lodge as the 33rd building on its list of Local Historic Landmarks. “The building is significant because of the Masons’ role in founding the city, and because it’s been in constant use, under one owner,” said Sarah Schafer, the city’s manager of design review and historic preservation. Of the pioneers who founded Boise, many were Masons.

Nine different Masonic organizations meet regularly at the 10th Street lodge, which was built in 1906, and expanded in 1920. Becoming a city landmark means the lodge will join iconic buildings like the Old Ada County Courthouse and the Boise Depot in future editions of “Shaping Boise,” a free booklet available at Boise City Hall.
Lodge members petitioned for the honor, which comes with a bronze plaque for the outside of the building. Landmark status also means the building owner must notify the city at least 180 days before altering or demolishing the structure.

It’s clear from the condition of the building — it gleams — that altering and demolishing have been the last thing on its owners’ minds. “There’s a real affection for the building. Those who meet there are proud of it. There’s a good energy in the place,” said building manager Matt Laurance. Laurance, an adjunct art professor at Boise State, is one of about 150 members of Idaho Lodge No. 1 AF&AM — Ancient Free and Accepted Masons.

He and the other custodians have done various renovations of the building. His training as a sculptor came in handy for repairing the ornate plaster ceiling in the lodge’s largest meeting room. 




A VANISHING BREED? MAYBE NOT
The state has an impressive collection of historic lodge halls, said Dan Everhart of Preservation Idaho. They include the brick, store front-like Arco Lodge, the Challis Lodge that resembles a rural Grange hall, and the two-story lodge in Kamiah that’s tall and narrow clapboard, almost colonial in style. But membership in fraternal organizations isn’t as popular as it once was. Many are closing their doors. When lodges close, new owners aren’t always sensitive to the historic significance of the buildings. Masonic lodges are an at-risk architectural genre, Everhart said.

“In some parts of the state that’s right,” said Laurance, who blames the advent of television for dwindling membership in fraternal organizations. But he’s seen a shift in recent years. “It used to be that you’d go to a lodge and see guys in their 70s and 80s. If you walk into a lodge in Boise, you’ll find people in their 30s and 40s,” said Laurance, 47. “There’s been a real revival of interest,” Laurance said. His lodge has welcomed 20 new members in the last few months. According to the Grand Lodge of Idaho website, there are 4,000 Masons in the state. “The wars make a lot of difference, with guys returning home. They want to be part of something,” said Laurance.

The popularity of writer Dan Brown, whose last book “The Lost Symbol,” focuses on Masonic lore, hasn’t hurt the organization either, he said. The philanthropic aspect of fraternal organizations is also a lure. The groups that meet on 10th Street raise money for children’s hospitals, people with learning disabilities, and more. Everhart, whose work with Preservation Idaho frequently involves raising the alarm when historic structures are threatened, commends the Masons for their efforts to preserve their lodge and keep it as a home for its members. When the city began the landmark project in 2010, some owners of historic properties weren’t interested in taking part. “Knowing that the Masons requested it shows a commitment to the history of their own building, and to the city” said Everhart.

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