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Tuesday, June 05, 2018

GL of Wisconsin Votes To Save and Support Madison Temple

Over the weekend, the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin F&AM held their Annual Communication in the historic Madison Masonic Center (MMC), which sits just one block from the state capitol building. The Masonic Center is home to fourteen Masonic bodies and the Scottish Rite Children's Dyslexia Center, and it has been the meeting place for the Wisconsin Annual Communication for many years. The beautiful beaux arts interior features two lodge rooms, a grand ballroom, dining room, offices, lounges, the Robert Monteith Masonic Library and Museum, and the large auditorium that seats approximately 1,000.

Built between 1923 and 1925, the impressive and imposing neo-classical temple is located in Madison's Mansion Hill Historic District and adjacent to the National Register-listed Langdon Street Historic District, an area of impressive homes that that was transformed in the 20th century into "fraternity row" for the nearby University of Wisconsin. Like so many other landmark Masonic buildings across the country, the Madison Temple was part of the 'City Beautiful' movement that swept the nation after the 1893 Chicago Exhibition.

As you might expect these days, the Madison Temple has been having all of the usual big Masonic building problems, and we all know the same old stories: declining membership, deferred maintenance, an ineffective board of directors, years of indecision as squabbling and indecision prevented long-range assurances for future planning and financing.  The same pattern has been repeated all over the country. Things looked very bleak in Madison as 2018 began, but a last minute resolution was submitted by the MMC Board offering to transfer ownership of the center to the Grand Lodge.

Well, after so many important Masonic temples have been thrown overboard in the last two decades by the fraternity, I am happy to report that Wisconsin's voting delegates on Saturday voted to save and substantially support the Madison Masonic Center (MMC). The Grand Lodge is now the full owner, and they added $10 to their annual per capita statewide (for at least the next two years) for all Wisconsin Masons, who will now share a stake in its future.

The following resolution was slightly amended, but passed essentially as proposed:
Resolution Number 8-2018
Submitted By: Executive Committee
Section(s) Affected:
Vote required for Adoption: Majority
Purpose: To Preserve the Madison Masonic Center
RESOLVED, that the Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of Wisconsin be authorized to receive the transfer of a clear title from the Madison Masonic Center Foundation of the property known as the Madison Masonic Center, and
That the Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of Wisconsin assess each member of the State a minimum of $10.00 per person to facilitate the management and preservation of the property. This is considered an assessment and as such each Regular and Perpetual Member will be assessed the fee as of December 31st of each year. Such fee to be due with the per capita payment.  
Considering that the decision was of such great importance and represented such a substantial increase in per capita, I've been told there was actually quite little discussion, as the vast majority of the brethren had no desire to give up Masonry's magnificent architectural heritage in Wisconsin's capitol city. There is talk that the Grand Lodge offices now may move into the building from the small town of Dousman, Wisconsin. Instead of fleeing to the suburbs into a cheap, uninspiring shed or some anonymous foursquare brick cubicle indistinguishable from a dentist's office, they are sticking with the magnificent home built by their forefathers, and keeping Freemasonry in the center of the community where it belongs.

The description in the National Register listing for the Temple makes this observation:
All other historic fraternal halls [in Madison] have been demolished. This makes the Madison Masonic Temple unique as the only extant historic building related to a social fraternal groups in the city. The Masonic Temple is not only important because it is the only remaining historic building related to Madison's most significant social fraternal societies. It is also significant because the Masons helped define the social structure in Madison during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Masons were some of the most prominent men in the community. And, while the gathering together of important people in the community in a social or fraternal setting may not, in and of itself, be significant, it is well known that important business and political connections were made between the members of fraternal lodges, and that these connections often had an indirect, if not direct, effect on the growth and development the city. There are no written records that establish the Madison Masonic Temple as a place where such connections were made. But since theMasons were the most prominent fraternal group in Madison, it is likely that such connections were made and that they resulted in important economic or political developments in the city."

When you walk up the steps to the main entrance of Madison's temple today, there are two inscriptions on the cornice: "Temple of Freemasonry," and "Let There Be Light." Thankfully, the brethren of Wisconsin have assured that both of those sentiments will be prominently preserved in Madison into the future.

Well done, brethren.

UPDATE JUNE 7, 2018:

A few days have passed since the annual communication now, and some clarification is coming from Wisconsin. The transfer of ownership to the Grand Lodge of the MMC is obviously not a done deal just yet. The passage of Resolution No. 8 gave a strong majority approval for the Grand Lodge to enter into discussions over taking ownership of the building from the current MMC Foundation Board. There is acknowledgement that other income streams need to be investigated, but the building and property are worth many millions of dollars, and the value of the assets far exceed any debts it may have. 

In a Facebook message sent out to members, incoming Grand Master Scott E. Pedley made an important point to members that many might not have considered before. Wisconsin is like Indiana, in that the State does not levy property taxes on Masonic buildings there. This is a fortunate situation not uniformly enjoyed in numerous states. The Madison Masonic Center's location, just a few blocks from the Statehouse, is a daily reminder to legislators of the fraternity, its history, its countless charitable programs, and its importance to society. If the highly visible Temple vanished from their sight tomorrow, it would be all too easy to for the fraternity to fall out of the public mind, especially when politicians decide to go hunting up new things to tax in future.

That is a very real concern for a fraternity that has played such an important role in the growth and development of every state in the U.S. Time and again, Freemasonry predated the formation of state governments, and Freemasons almost uniformly helped to establish those states. 

GM Pedley points out that the Grand Lodge's library and museum just up the street from the Statehouse would be the one place those legislators could find that unique information in future.

As for the $10 per capita increase, if (and only if) the transfer of the building to the Grand Lodge does happen, the assessment will be added for just two years. 

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