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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Portland, Maine Masons Fleeing Their Temple

The Masons of Maine are giving up and kicking their Portland Temple to the curb. See the article, announced suitably on October 13th. Asking price is $5.25 million, and once gone, can never be replaced. It's already been bargain-basemented by a million dollars, because of the Global Economic meltdown Disaster That Will Reduce The Earth To A Smouldering Cinder™.

According to the article, preservationists consider it to be one of the most endangered historic properties in Maine.

The argument is raised that the money used for maintaining the building would be better spent on charity, which is described as Masonry's "wider mission." But is charity really the principal mission of Freemasonry? Aren't our temples also an important aspect of attracting new men to the fraternity, symbolizing our position at the center of the community? If we are principally a charity, why not just rent some office space with a PO box, send out certificates of memberships by mail, and chuck all of this silly ritual claptrap? Or better yet, why not just merge with the United Way and save everybody a lot of time and trouble?

Our great grandfathers built these temples for us. They saved and scrimped and sacrificed to build for the future. Why we cannot work half as hard to find solutions to the problems that commonly plague these masterpieces of our fraternity, I do not understand.

For interior photos, see Chris2fer's blog.


  1. In my opinion, charity work is an important part of Masonry. But when it becomes the raison d'être, then it has lost its way and is on the short path to its own demise. Abandoning this beautiful temple in Maine is clear proof of that.

    G. M. Frazier, 32°

  2. What a beautiful building. I hope the wrecking ball doesn't get it.

    I don't think the northern Masons value their incredible old temples as they should. Down here in the Old South, most lodges are cinder-block rectangles tucked away on old state highways.

    Widow's Son

  3. It disapoints me when men of today with cars, cable tv, cellphones, and countless other frivolitys that the men who came before us did not have, complain that they cant afford to keep magnificent architechural structures because of cost. Our brothers before us BUILT these structures when they had less to spare and we can't keep them. I say this to the brothers in Maine, the money may look good now, but ten years from now when you are meeting in a hotel conference room you will be wishing you could have found a way to save the building.

  4. It's simple mathematics. There are fewer Masons than there were in great-grandfather's time. There are fewer Lodges. That equals less income from Lodges populated in this day and age with a far higher percentage on pensioners. Couple that with taxes and expenses, and I can see why people are selling their buildings. It's no different than the average family being priced out of the housing market in the city where I am and having to live 60 miles away.

    I suppose one could parse the sentences of the story to read that a Masonic Hall is being sold solely because of charity. What I'm reading is whoever this guy is thinks sinking endless cash into a beautiful money pit is less desireable than helping someone else. He may be right; I don't know the financial particulars of the building operation.

    200 years ago, Masons met in back rooms of public houses, laid out their floorcloths, set up some columns and did their business. They didn't need fancy buildings then. Why is today any different?

    Sure, everyone wants an attractive and historic building, but if you can't afford it, you've got to let it go. Sure it's a shame. But you can't run a Lodge on sentiment.

  5. I'm deeply disappointed with the Freemasonry that I am witness to in the New England area. I have likened the fraternity to that of being on equal ground with Kiwanis, the Lions Club and etc..Ritual is learned as a part of rote memorization and is often empty of value. A Lodge in our district had its charter pulled over infighting...fingers and cursing within the Lodge itself!!! I, and countless others are trying to bring change. Godspeed!

  6. Tim, on the contrary, the ritual is not empty of value. It's maybe that some people don't recognise the value.

    I'm sorry your experience with the fraternity has been quite different than mine.


  7. Justa has it right, it is all about economics. What mainstream Masonry did that is uber impressive was to build these great buildings and other lodges almost everywhere. What that did as an effect was create a bloated infrastructure that DEMANDS membership and membership dollars in order to support it. That lead to a "Fred Flintstone" Freemasonry and that is what we got.

    Now that generation is dying off and the new generation is looking for something more than a male only Elks. So, what is the result? The great looking but bloated old infrastructure must go the way of the Flintstone Brontasaurus Burger.

    It isn't that hard to connect the dots.


  8. Brother Justa,
    If Maine follows the same trends as the rest of the US has on average, in 1911 when this temple was built, you should discover that Masonic membership then in terms of raw numbers was virtually a dead heat with today. I can't prove that right now, because I can't find Maine numbers online, and don't have access to any source for pre-WWI stats at my house. But related numbers from other GLs of the period line up that way.

    So the contention that there were more Masons in great-grandpa's days is not necessarily so. These great temples were NOT built during the greatest days of membership numbers in Freemasonry, 1948-1960. Indeed, the overwhelming bulk of them were completed before the Great Depression of 1929, and many of them prior to the big jump in membership growth after WWI.

    There are plenty of factors at work here:

    • Business and population fled downtown areas in the 1950s and 60s.

    • Suburban lodges pulled membership away from centralized, multi-lodge temples, creating the biggest infrastructure problem we have today—not too many lodges, but way too many buildings.

    • Changes in recreational habits of people (How many of us really want to sit and play cards or shoot pool? Or gather in the lounge and read the papers? And how many private buildings and clubs have thrown out the cigar smokers?). Masonic buildings have failed, in general, to provide what the current generations of active participants were looking for in their "clubhouse" for the last 40 years. Take a street-level space and put in a Starbuck's. Install a fitness center, a video game lounge, building-wide wi-fi, a cigar-friendly smoker's area, satellite HDTV, a well-stocked library, and a dining room that serves some kind of quality dinner every lodge night for a realistic price, and it will again become a place members want to be in, and not just meet and flee. Make sure the building is open every week, or better yet, every day, not abandoned for 29 days a month.

    • Internal restrictions such as liquor prohibition have severely curtailed outside rental business, denying these temples a severely needed revenue stream. Additionally, keeping the public away distances the temples from the community until they become spooky, appear abandoned, or are simply rendered invisible. We should be courting the wedding, meeting, reunion, theater, and trade show business. It's all income that could keep the lights on. But that means making the facilities clean, painted, well-lit, air-conditioned, and accessible. You have to spend money to make money.

    • Foundations, tax shelters, capitol campaigns, appeals for estate donations—these things have all become virtually non-existent in Masonic temples these days. There are notable exceptions, but very rarely. This is a criminal failure by Masons to provide proper stewardship for our property.

    Too often the trustees of Masonic temples resemble Amateur Night, instead of visionary planners and protectors of multi-million dollar properties that are irreplaceable. In the private sector, we'd all be fired for allowing such a situation to exist for literally decades.

    A case in point: my mother lodge's trustees in the early 1990s sold our then-80 year old building in a prime location. It had no debt—just one member and his widow had entirely paid to construct it in 1912. The trustees sold it without consulting the lodge membership for less than $300,000. Why? Because they didn't want to air condition it, it needed new electrical, and a new roof. They thought they had stolen the money from the Buyer, they were so proud of themselves.

    The property sold two years later for more than twice what they sold it for, and it sold again six years ago for well over a million $$.

  9. Magus,
    As Bill Lumbergh would say, "I'm going to have to sort of disagree with you there." I think the major change has been the shifts in population. Country Lodges are unfortunately being lost as the population leaves while the beautiful buildings in the major cities are in locations that are extremely sought after by land speculators. This situation is best typified by the Scottish Rite selling their cathedral in Chicago because a land speculator wanted the building. Even in economic downturn, there is still a desire to purchase the land (especially now while prices are low).

    Step one for cities trying to preserve these buildings would be to allow the org not to pay property taxes or allow them to pay a reduced rate.

    Some lodges are lucky that they have tenants to defray the cost of owning these buildings. Other Masonic buildings house many lodges. Again, this is also fortunate but not always possible. The best way to protect these buildings is to ensure that the town has a vested interest in the building. Invite the mayor to visit the building, allow other groups to use the building or ask for donations. We have to protect these treasures before they are lost.



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