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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Heartless Freemasons Defoliating Neighborhood Garden

The Scottish Rite SJ's Washington, D.C. headquarters, the House of the Temple, is in the midst of a huge multi-million dollar, multi-year renovation project, to preserve and renovate the 100 year old building. For almost 20 years, the HOT has been a good neighbor to the surrounding community, and allowed area folks to use a large plot of land adjacent to the parking lot as a community garden. Flowers, herbs and vegetables have been growing in the Temple Garden since the early 1990s.

Well, no good deed goes unpunished.

With the renovation project underway, the land is now needed for supplies, parking, craftsman trailers, and the general detritus of a major construction project. Land within the District is not exactly plentiful and the existing spaces in the HOT's lot are not sufficient for the added space needed. Unfortunately for the neighbors, the garden has to give way to the rightful owners of the property. And that's not going over well with a few of the gardeners, who have taken their story to the press. Comments on the Temple Garden website make it clear that most of the gardeners understand the situation, but that doesn't make good David vs. Goliath headlines.

D.C.'s NBC affiliate interviewed the sad gardeners ("Community Garden Threatened"), and didn't even bother to include an on-camera statement by the Scottish Rite.

The Washington Post at least presented the other side by speaking with HOT attorney Barbara Golden.

From "Garden to close for Masonic temple renovation" by Larissa Roso:

Temple officials say they had no choice but to close the garden because the renovations are so urgent. The historic building is nearly a century old. Construction had began in 1911 and lasted until 1915.

“We want it to last another 100 years,” said Barbara Golden, a lawyer for the House of the Temple. “The timing, we don’t know. It could take four years, 20 years. We are not going to make a promise; we are not going to commit. At this point, we just don’t know.”

The garden, which opened in 1990, was never just a place to plant seedlings. Families held barbecues. A neighbor who’s an art teacher takes students there to paint.

“There’s a lot more to it than just growing things,” says the Temple Garden association’s president, David Rosner, who became a member in 2006, after four years on the waiting list. “This is part of people’s lives.”

Newcomers didn’t need particular skills. Plenty of members were willing to help beginners.

Annie Nash, who describes herself as a “city girl,” knew little about the growing season, light and soil composition on her first day working in the garden in 1999. Now she is taking horticulture classes offered by the Department of Agriculture.

“I usually go there in the morning or early afternoon on the weekend, thinking I’ll be there an hour or two,” Nash said in an e-mail after reflecting on the garden’s meaning to her. “Six or seven hours later, I realize that I’ve had a great day planting, weeding, or harvesting, and meetings members of the community or folks who just walk by asking about it.”

For Tom Mayes, who has had a plot at Temple Garden since 1998, the experience has brought moments of pure joy — the first goldfinches in late spring and the sunflowers still blooming in September, “brilliant against the clear blue skies.”

“The rosemary bush in my plot is the oldest thing there,” he said. “I’ve used it in hundreds of recipes, but the most frequent is the homemade focaccia. I love the smell of that plant as I brush past it. And I note that, in the meaning of plants, rosemary is for remembrance.”

Golden, the lawyer, said the House of the Temple kept the garden long after it was required to. In 2001, after a long judicial process, the D.C. Council approved the closing of an alley in the center of the property on the condition that temple keep the community garden open for at least another five years.

“Which we did,” Golden said. “And, in fact, we kept it beyond that. We wanted to be a good neighbor. We weren’t doing anything different in the building. We weren’t planning these renovations. We didn’t need it. Now we do.”

The House of the Temple sent a letter to Rosner on April 9 to inform him that the garden would close this year.

Golden said the gardeners will have time to make new arrangements. The closing date is more than seven months away: Nov. 30. Rosner and Kemp said they intend to ask the temple for a meeting to discuss the closure.

“We are going to ask them to reconsider and if there’s anything we could work out,” Rosner said. “Our primary message is going to be, thank you for what you’ve done for us. The secondary is, is there anything we can do? Are there alternatives we can explore?”

If a compromise can’t be found, the group will look for places where it can relocate and start a new garden.

Read about the "Rebuilding The Temple" project here.

Photo from the Washington Post.


  1. Long before I became a Brother, I owned a house a block away from the Temple. We have been in the same house for twenty years now. The perspective that was missing from the Washington Post article and other venues is the only one that really matters for a neighborhood. Namely what kind of neighbor has the House of the Temple been? Well, I have seen lots of changes go on in my neighborhood, but one real consistency is that the Scottish Rite was always an exemplary neighbor. When apartment buildings caused trouble with trash and noise in the past (and sometimes still do), the House of the Temple was always different by contrast. Well-kept, neat and clean. People have long used the Temple steps as a neighborhood gathering place and recreation area. Why did they feel safe to do so when the neighborhood was considered more "dangerous" in the past?? Precisely because everything was orderly and well-tended, and thus inviting. This is what it means to be a good neighborhood. I believe I would say the same thing if I was not a Brother, but still just a neighbor. That is, I wish a lot of folks in this neighborhood had been half as good a neighbor as the Scottish Rite has been!! For the House of the Temple has been the bedrock of good neighborliness here. That is simply a fact of neighborhood history. Any discussion, of gardens or anything else that does include this all-important perspective is just ridiculous, unfair, and in terms of neighborhood well-being, pointless.

  2. Squatters. I bet Brent and Art ran them off.

  3. I know one of the gardeners. Of course the HOT has every right to do what it is doing, and personally I support it 110%. The building must be preserved. But it would be good relations for the Temple to meet with the gardeners to try and help them work out some arrangements, with a promise that if and when the renovations are complete, they will reconsider reopening the garden.

    The garden is important to the neighborhood and many who live there don't have the sense of history that we do. They just know their garden is being "taken away." Not to mention that neighborhood gardens and food security is the First Lady's issue, it would go a long way to show some compassion for the neighbors, even if they are being irascible. I think it would be win win for everyone.


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