"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Reno, Nevada's Historic Masonic Cornerstone

The oldest purpose built Masonic temple in Reno, Nevada at 98 Commercial Row managed to survive from 1872 until 2019, but local efforts to save the empty, beleaguered structure ended in January. 

The Reno Masonic Lodge was built when Ulysses S. Grant was president shortly after the Comstock Lode of gold and silver was struck in Virginia City.

The Reno Mercantile/Masonic Lodge No. 13 building, at 98 W. Commercial Row, was the oldest standing commercial structure in Reno when it was razed three months ago to make way for a new downtown hotel. But the demolition crews at the site worked with preservation experts to remove what important relics and details that could be saved.
This past week, the lodge's original 1872 cornerstone was opened and its contents displayed for the public. There were 40 items packed inside of the cornerstone's cavity. 

Reno mayor Hillary Schieve presided over a public unveiling ceremony  at Cargo Concert Hall at Whitney Peak Hotel, along with members of the Nevada Historical Society and Historic Reno Preservation Society. Nevada's Grand Master and members of Reno Lodge 13 were on hand for the occasion. 

Items placed in the lead box included silver dollars minted in Carson City and San Francisco, and a piece of wood from Sutter's Mill where the discovery of gold sparked the California Gold Rush. There was a quartz specimen from the drill at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California, a harmonica, a business card from the Young Men's Christian Association offering "Spirited Refreshments" for 25 cents, and a copy of the Virginia Enterprise in nearby Virginia City where Brother Samuel Clemens began his newspaper career during the 1860s before adopting his pen name of Mark Twain.

According to an article in the Herald Extra on Tuesday:
Some papers in the box were waterlogged, but once restored Magee said they'll be able to read pages from the Nevada State Journal, Reno Crescent, Carson Appeal, Sacramento Union, San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner.

In addition to the 1872 silver dollars, the capsule included a Mexican dollar, an English quarter shilling and two American 3-cent pieces. There's a silver specimen from a mine in White Pine County near the Utah line, the Constitution of the Masonic Grand Lodge and the names of all the officers of the state of Nevada and Washoe County, as well as members of the California Legislature, 1871-72.

From the KTVN.com website on April 16th:

"We knew we were searching for this cornerstone and we hoped we might find a time capsule but when we actually did, we were all so excited that we didn't even know what our first move should be," Niki Gross, Managing Director of Whitney Peak Hotel said. "Who do we call? Who do we tell?" 
The Whitney Peak Hotel owners also own the property where the Masonic Lodge once stood. They got help from historians and archaeologists to carefully pick through the time capsule. It included nearly a dozen newspapers from northern Nevada and California and a variety of 19th century coins. 
"English sovereigns, coins from Mexico, silver dollars from Carson City and San Francisco," Catherine Magee, Director of the Nevada Historical Society said.
Other items included a harmonica, tuxedo studs, an arrowhead, a Masonic manual and many other artifacts. Most of the items are in one piece but some of the papers did get wet and muddy.
"A lot of that material has disappeared, so it's always fabulous to see the original pieces," Magee said. 
"It's been a source of pride for northern Nevada masonry to have the oldest purpose building lodge in town and oldest commercial building," Steve Robison, Grand Master of Mason's of Nevada said. 
People from around northern Nevada attended the event, to see what the Masons left in the time capsule. 
"It's like they sent us a note of what was important to them at the time, what the culture was like at the time," Nathan Digangi, Worshipful Master of Reno Lodge #13 said. 
"It shows us that people really wanted to share with us, here in the future, not knowing when that future was and also things that were really important to the Masons at the time," Magee said. 
Magee hopes most of the items will go to the Nevada Historical Society but that some could be loaned to a Masonic museum or stay on the Whitney Peak property. Gross says the plan is to build a five-story Extended Stay on the vacant property, using some of the original materials from the Masonic Lodge. It would also include the Masons, who would place the building's cornerstone, possibly with another time capsule. 
"We might get a community process going to see how we might approach something like that," Gross said. "It would be a really fun idea to incorporate that into the next phase." 
"The fact that they're preserving all that and making use of it, it's going to speak for generations," Digangi said. 
The Reno Mercantile/Masonic Lodge No. 13 building survived two major fires in the 1870s, and the growth and expansion of the city's downtown.

As Reno grew in size and prominence, Reno Lodge 13 played a larger role in Nevada Freemasonry. Outgrowing their original home, the lodge 
vacated their old lodge 1872 building, and erected a new building in 1905 on the northwest corner of Virginia Street next to the newly completed Virginia Street Bridge, along the Truckee River. However, Reno Mercantile continued in business in the old building until 1970, after which it was occupied by a succession of commercial businesses including a pawn shop. Most recently, the original building served as storage for Fitzgerald’s Casino (now renovated into the Whitney Peak Hotel).

The 1905 Reno Lodge 13 temple burned down in 1955
In October 3, 1953, Reno No. 13 built a large addition immediately west of their existing 1905 structure. A devastating fire destroyed the oldest part of the original Virginia Street structure August 15, 1955. The burned out structure was razed and replaced by the now existing three story building in 1967.

In the photo above, three buildings shown form the Lodge's property. The tall, pinkish- white four-story building on the left is the older 1953 portion, the green building on the right is the portion rebuilt after the fire in 1967, and they are connected by the narrow vertical gray section in the center.

Today the combined structures serve the needs of several Masonic lodges and appendant bodies: Reno Lodge 13, Mount Rose 40, Pyramid 43, along with the York Rite bodies, the Scottish Rite Orient of Nevada, and the Grand Lodge all call it home.

The buildings include three separate lodge rooms, a banquet hall, the Grand Lodge offices and Grand Lodge Library/Museum, Scottish and York Rite offices, along with several administration and storage areas. The fourth floor is a 400-seat theatre. All of the first floor and most of the second are available for commercial rental.

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