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


Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Memphis Masonic Temple For Sale

The Masonic white elephant hunters are at it again.

The Daily Memphian in Memphis, Tennessee reports this morning that their downtown DeSoto Masonic Temple is officially up for sale for $2.5 million (the story is hidden behind a paywall), and has been for about a month and a half. 

From what I'm able to discover, the DeSoto Temple has a large lodge room and ceremonial rooms for the York Rite bodies, including a Commandery Asylum. It is the home of Memphis Lodge 118 and DeSoto Lodge 299. 

According to the estimate in the article, if the Masons of Memphis decided to recreate this beautiful temple today they'd spend between $11-16 million. That's how much the brethren in 1914 thought of their fraternity when  they erected it with great pomp and fanfare. Try suggesting that kind of investment in a Masonic lodge building to a couple of hundred city brethren in 2020.

Order of the White Elephant
Most of the old bromides and excuses from the white elephant hunters are intact: too big, too old, no parking, creaky elevator, so bargain price. Six floors, 56,000 square feet. 'Why, it'd be nigh unto a miracle if us poor, beleaguered developers and real estate agents don't make the Masons pay US just to take it off their hands, by gum.'

And yet, someone WILL buy it - undoubtedly for even less than it's listed for - and a developer or individual investor WILL manage to have the money that the fraternity never can seem to find these days just to protect and maintain our most impressive and important temples. Interesting when you consider that in 1914 when it was built, the fraternity was not even close to being at its most populous. There were just about as many Masons in the U.S. in 1914 as there are right now.

Masons began widespread stampedes to the suburbs or the edges of their towns starting about 70 years ago, and we've never regained our stature, our visibility, or our attraction ever since. Our national decline coincided with our retreat to faceless halls in generic suburban office buildings of the 60s and 70s, and anonymous,pre-fab pole barns in bean fields ordered up from the Internet. Communities all over America are arguably returning to their city centers with greater vibrancy than any time since the 1920s today, yet Masons just keep shoving their significant, landmark temples out the airlock.

Australian Mason Peter Thornton once reflected that Charles XII of Sweden in 1709, Napoleon in 1812 and Hitler in 1941 all attempted to take Moscow in the wintertime and failed. Regardless of it being a terrible and costly blunder each time, he reflected that nine out of ten Freemasons would still vote to attack Moscow in winter.

Memphis is fortunate in that it also has its historic 1909 Scottish Rite Valley building just a few blocks away, so the Masons there aren't completely abandoning their downtown. The city is enjoying a boom in its urban center, and no wonder, as it sits right on the Mississippi River. More and more cities at this moment in time are seeing rapid expansion of high-priced apartments and condos filling up with young singles and families. Now is the very worst moment in history to abandon these city centers that are brimming with men who we should be introducing to Freemasonry. 

While I'm on the subject, the beautiful 1909 Masonic Temple in Pomona, California is also up for sale for $3 million.

It's starting to look like Elephant Walk around this fraternity.


  1. I have a real conundrum with these types of posts. These beautiful building are definitely worth saving, but the cost associated with it sometimes are beyond what the local Lodge can afford. Look at us suckers here in CA, we have a Grand Lodge in the most expensive part of San Francisco, which is one of the most expensive places in the nation. We could sell that place, and build a new Grand Lodge somewhere cheaper, and save the Masons here money. As it is now, we pay, As each Mason $53 to the Grand Lodge. We can move away from that property to another place, and probably cut a great deal of that out.
    Yes the historic value of the property should be preserved, but at the same time, if the building no longer meets the needs of the Lodge, the decision to improve or move can be a difficult one.

    1. Hmm. Yes. Cheaper. I'm just taking a stab at it, but I'm guessing the Masons who suggested they build the Grand Lodge building in San Francisco in the 60s didn't really have 'cheaper' on their minds. They were making a statement. They were deliberately erecting a landmark.

      As the great essayist John Ruskin wrote, “There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse, and sell a little cheaper, and he who considers price only is that man's lawful prey.”

      Quite literally ALL that has "changed" over the years since the 1960s has been the consistent lowering of Masonic standards, in ritual, proficiency, knowledge, behavior, comportment, dress, quality of management and leadership skills, and yes, our temple architecture - you name it. Not ONE standard of quality or requirement that existed up until at least 1960 has been raised instead of lowered over the last 60 years. Not one. Every single demand placed on Masons until six decades ago has been made simpler, cheaper, faster, sloppier, apologetic, accommodating, or otherwise lax.


      And with that question, ask yourself if any or all of that might have anything to do with Freemasonry's diminished membership and outward prestige and reputation? And I can tell you that we have the example of hundreds of fraternal groups nationwide who all did this decades before us and died all that much faster than we did.

  2. As a visitor, albeit years ago. to both temples I can confirm that both Memphis and Pomona were really magnificent buildings, well located and integral to their cities. Note the hideous aluminum doors that tastelessly mar the entrance in Memphis. Rather like the amateurish painting of donors in the House of the Temple: commentary on the loss of any sense of class or style.

  3. So, and most respectfully, if you have discovered a problem do you have a suggestion for a solution? Robert Streeter.


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