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

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Normal, Illinois Temple to Face Wrecking Ball

Murdering Our Own Posterity Chapter MCMLVI...

The papers in Normal, Illinois are reporting that the Masons have sold their venerable downtown Temple to the city for $500,000. They cite interior steps as the reason their older members can't attend lodge anymore.

The 256 members pay $65 in dues, and the lodge secretary says it would be a hardship for older members to pay more.

That's less than 18¢ a day, or $5.42 a month.

It seems that selling their landmark building, designed by noted Illinois architect Arthur L. Pillsbury, and constructed lovingly by their forefathers was a better deal than raising their dues or asking for donations to add an elevator. It will be knocked down for a "mixed use" building.

No news on what modern, utilitarian edifice is planned by the lodge for the descendants of Hiram and Solomon's Builders.

Not picking on them. They're only the latest.


  1. You know, for the last few years I keep reading how we should downsize, get rid of our old buildings, and consolidate more lodges. But the reality is that most of us have a deep attachment to our lodges, and a lot of us appreciate the work that went into many of those older buildings. It's much easier said than done, isn't it?

  2. We don't have too many lodges, we have too many buildings. Not every pigeon roost needs to be saved. But to let our most notable Temples that can never be replaced be casually discarded, simply because of apathy, no planning for the future, or just plain Scrooge-like penny pinching is shameful.

    Our temples are part of who we are. Yes, yes, yes, a lodge can meet in a hotel conference room or in the social room of a church, or a cave, or a pole barn in a cornfield. But our forebears didn't ask us to build better than they did - they built incredible monuments to the fraternity (and not necessarily during the most prosperous of times, either). All we have to do is maintain them. To pitch them overboard because it's easier to accept a check from the city when we can't patch the roof than it is to actually buckle down, raise dues, ask for donations and bequests, and put aside money for decades to plan for these repairs and improvements is a testament to our own irresponsibility.

    If that lodge, to use an example, raised their dues to $100 (that's 27¢ a day), they'd bring in an extra $10,000 a year, and still cost members less than $10 a month.

    Time and time again it is shown that the 1 or 2 objections that shriek over increasing dues are doing so out of a knee-jerk reaction to ANY increase. But time and again, statistics show that, even with a major increase, lodges rarely lose members over them. The losses are very small, and they are more than made up for by the increase in income. Yet, year after year, lodges continue to vote themselves into the poorhouse by letting the bellyachers force them to live with a 1957 budget.

    When will we learn that these magnificent temples are part of the mystique that draws in new members and places us on the map in our communities?

  3. We'll know we're getting somewhere in this fraternity when we can have a discussion about doing ANYTHING without having to hear the term "fixed income" as an excuse for why we can't.

    Hell, I'M on a fixed income. I don't just print money when I need more of it, I make a sacrifice somewhere else.

  4. Bro. Hodapp, on another subject. I just received my masonic silver coin from the Grand Masters meeting in Washington. It will be a keepsake for life. Thanks very much for the link. 1 ounce solid silver and a great design

  5. My lodge here in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada is looking at a possible (make that likely) dues increase next year. We are currently at $150 and have been at that level for about five years now. The time has come to jack it up a few bucks (probably $20-$25/yr.), and the issue will be decided at a board of general purposes meeting in the fall.

    The increase is partly so we can continue to pay rent in and help support our wonderful downtown Freemasons' Hall (which used to be called Central Masonic Temple, but that's another story). Yes, we will probably hear a few of those cries of "fixed incomes" (and we do have a few members with 50+ years in the fraternity who we carry on "benevolent memberships" (e.g., their expenses to Grand Lodge are split up and absorbed by the dues-paying brothers of the lodge). But the reality is that even the older guys understand that the cost of maintaining a successful lodge have gone up along with everything else.

    (As an aside, there are 14 lodges that currently share Freemasons' Hall, and the Scottish Rite meets there as well. We also have two smaller temples in Edmonton -- one on the north end of the city and one on the south.)

    Bro Randy Williams

  6. Some get punished for trying to save old temples, though.


  7. At our Lodge, we have a chair lift installed to allow those brothers to go up the steps to our Lodge. Frankly, it would seem cheaper to me as a Lodge to just install a chair lift on the side of the stairs. Is the market really that strong to purchase a downtown location in a town like Normal especially a downturn in the market like now. (I looked it up and Normal is a town outside of Bloomington) I hope they know what they are doing.

  8. Same problem here in Texas, guys. My lodge is the only one that meets in a 1910-era Prairie style, three story building right in the heart of our small downtown that is experiencing a revitalization. We do share 1/3 ownership with our commandery and meetings of our chapter, council, Eastern Star, Knight Masons, occasionally AMD and MWSA and twice a year the college kids from Kappa Alpha meet there.

    However, our numbers are dropping off a little more rapidly because of death than new members are coming in. Our dues are only $60 annually. Imagine that! I can belong to the greatest fraternity in the world for $5 a month!

    Our 50+ year Masons are exempt from dues. We have a good number of endowed members whose endowments continue to pay even when they are deceased.

    We have some savings in a CD to take care of emergency needs. Our building is in pretty decent shape. The city and county give us tax breaks for being primarily charitable and we hope that the state legislature next year will finally pass a bill that exempts Masonic lodges, Knights of Columbus, etc. from taxes.

    Having said all that, there have been members in the recent past who have brought up the idea of selling our building. Some Eastern Star members have worked unsuccessfully in the past to move the 103 year old chapter to another lodge that has no stairs.

    Our fellowship hall is on the first floor in space that used to be commercially rented. Our lodge and Eastern Star meet on the second floor. Chapter, council and commandery meet on the third.

    We have no elevator, but we do have chair lifts that run from the first to second and second to third floors. They are helpful, although slow, especially when there is a large number of people needing to use it. Because there is no seat belt, some of the ladies are afraid of riding on it because they think they will fall off.

    Fortunately, Eastern Star hasn't moved and our building hasn't been sold. Some of the newer members and many of the visitors we receive comment at the distinctive design and appearance of our lodge.

    Other local lodges meet in buildings that aren't nearly as nice as ours. We have the largest lodge room in our district. We have the oldest building and the oldest charter. It is that history that appeals to many people.

    If we sold our building we could not get enough for it to replace it with something equivalent, even though property values and real estate prices in our downtown area are rising. We would be forced either to rent space from another local lodge, rent some place like a community center, or find a cheap piece of land on the edge of town or outside the city limits and build a metal building with, at best, a brick facade on the front. We probably wouldn't be able to afford to pave the parking lot. We wouldn't be able to build out to the size that we have now. We would lose our history, sort of like the president moving from the White House to a different address.

    I know it is difficult for a lodge that isn't as large as it used to be to support and maintain a huge building. I would still encourage you, if you are in that position, to not give up without a fight! Have fundraisers, solicit donations and bequests, submit grant applications, do anything you can within the limits of your grand lodge law to save your building if it has some historical or architectural character to it.

    We still look at the great buildings our operative forebears constructed in Europe. We admire their beauty, shape, and symmetry. Aren't you glad they didn't build pole barns with metal walls and false acoustic tile ceilings?

    Jason Johnston
    Texas Mason

  9. "When will we learn that these magnificent temples are part of the mystique that draws in new members and places us on the map in our communities?"

    It is my firm belief that some Lodges have already learned that.

    The problem with Freemasonry today in my opinion is:

    1) Generational (Old Union mentality aka High School Educated or less vs. College or Graduate School Educated).

    2) Too many "want-to-be" Men joining who never made much of themselves in the real world --hoping by sucking it up, they might make it this time around.

    So like the trade unions, Freemasonry as we know it will also slowly die off Day by Day, Mason by Mason and giving a dues card in box of corn flakes will not save it, only a total rebirth will --but before that happens death will surely come.

  10. As Past Master of Normal Lodge I can tell you that we agonized over the decision to sell our building. The town of Normal allowed us to save some of the key architectural elements, which have been incorporated into the new facility. Some suggested we raise dues to cover costs - we considered that but projections showed we were still tens of thousands of dollars short of bringing our building to a usable state. I'm happy to report that Normal Lodge has a new single-story building that will serve our membership for years to come. We established a permanent building fund with a portion of each member's dues going to preserve the building for future generations. In addition, our new building is seeing much more use by other Masonic and civic groups and serves as a point of pride for the fraternity.

    Jeff Estes


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