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Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Brooklyn Masonic Temple Is Not Exactly Masonic
The Brooklyn Masonic Temple at at Clermont and Lafayette Avenues in Fort Greene, Brooklyn is a familiar concert venue to New Yorkers. Built between 1907-09, it was eventually home to 35 lodges and appendant groups, affiliated with the Grand Lodge of New York F&AM. But in spite of the name, the Brooklyn "Masonic Temple" isn't really "Masonic" anymore, at least, not within the realm of regular, recognized Freemasonry. "Counterfeit" might be a more succinct term.
Architects Austin Lord and James Monroe Hewlett designed a brick, marble and terra cotta exterior that still impresses today. There's no question that they were designing a monumental building for the Ages.
Inside is a 1,000 seat auditorium, two large lodge rooms and one smaller one, along with two banquet halls. The auditorium today is often the setting for local rock concerts.
Unfortunately, the lodges were unable to keep the building, and it was sold in 1977 to an irregular Masonic organization, a "clandestine" grand lodge known as the Empire State Grand Council, Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite Masons Inc. It is a predominantly black, non-Prince Hall group that is unrecognized by the overwhelming majority of legitimate Masonic organizations around the world. Just like its previous owners discovered, the costs of maintaining the building are steep, and it must be rented out on a regular basis to pay the bills. Reports are that the interior is suffering tremendously from lack of upkeep.
Over the years, the Brooklyn Temple was fought over by its new owners, and according to several brothers, there are multiple unrecognized Masonic organizations now operating in the building.
Indeed, Brooklyn is a hotbed of irregular and unrecognized groups calling themselves Freemasons. Brother Oscar Alleyne of Wallkill Lodge No. 627 recently gave a talk on this subject, and reported that there are at least 67 grand lodges operating in New York that are irregular or unrecognized, in addition to the regular and recognized Grand Lodge of New York F&AM and the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York. The vast majority of them are headquartered in one of the five boroughs of New York City. The Phylaxis Society's Commission on Bogus Masonry lists no fewer than eleven "grand lodges," plus a couple of OES groups, at work in Brooklyn alone, and it does not appear to be up to date.
Still, it regularly appears in reviews of concerts that the "Masons" still own the building. True in name only. Unfortunately, Freemasonry and Masonic can't really be trademarked or copyrighted, and anyone who wants to can stick a square and compass on the door and proclaim themselves a lodge, or if they have more grandiose ambitions, a grand lodge.
On the other hand...
William D. Moore in his 2006 book Masonic temples: freemasonry, ritual architecture, and masculine archetypes, expresses the belief that the Brooklyn Masonic Temple influenced large Masonic temple designs all over the U.S., in style, size and form. Its images and floorplans were widely reprinted in architectural and Masonic publications across the country, and building committees and architects traveled to Brooklyn to see it in person when planning their own buildings during the height of the fraternal building boom from 1910-1929. The Scottish Rite and Shriners were also on major building expansions across the country, but the Brooklyn temple was specifically for blue lodge and York Rite bodies, and you can see its influence - inside and out - in Masonic temples across the country built before the Depression hit. For that and many other reasons, we should all be grateful the building has regular activity and owners who can still keep the doors open, the heat on and the lights burning. Many others have not been so fortunate.