Masons once hoped to build a huge complex in Northwest D.C.


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On July 15, 1922, 1000’s of males and women (but mainly guys) crowded close to an historical oak on a miraculously undeveloped parcel of land at Connecticut and Florida avenues NW. They have been Freemasons with their spouses, and they experienced an audacious system in thoughts. They vowed to build a single of the nation’s greatest Masonic complexes on 9 acres of woods north of Dupont Circle. It was referred to as the Dean tract and it incorporated the Treaty Oak, explained by some to have as soon as sheltered George Washington.

If you have at any time been in that neighborhood, you will have noticed there is no Masonic complicated. Instead, there is the Washington Hilton. To Chris Ruli, a historian and Mason who researches the District’s Masonic heritage, it is a tale of what may well have been. Washington is entire of — or, relatively, empty of — related grand edifices that ended up prepared but by no means created.

The Masons weren’t pondering small in the 1920s. A person of that day’s speakers explained the entire world — “sadly shattered and groping” — needed Freemasonry, which would assist reconstruct civilization. But very first they experienced some developing to do.

The urgent challenge at the time, Ruli reported, was that the area Masons had outgrown their existing headquarters. Created in 1908 at the corner of 13th Street and New York Avenue NW, the making served as a kind of clubhouse for Mason-similar situations. There were being shut to 20,000 Masons in Washington and the city was awash in their golf equipment: Masons who labored at the White Home, or at the Treasury, or as steelworkers or in other work opportunities.

“They required a location for all these people today to satisfy and congregate,” Ruli reported. “Instead of obtaining an previous developing, they imagined, ‘Let’s construct some thing new.’”

The Dean tract experienced been owned by the Woman’s Nationwide Basis, which experienced prepared to place its own headquarters there. Prior to that, city leaders had hoped to acquire the land for use as a park. It was the Masons who obtained it, at a cost of $900,000. In almost no time, area Masons elevated a million dollars for the job.

The ceremony on that July day a century ago marked the Masons receiving the deed for the tract, which they soon dubbed Temple Heights. The committee in cost of creating a Masonic temple there regarded a variety of designs ahead of settling on one by Harvey W. Corbett, the architect liable for the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, which was slowly soaring in Alexandria.

For Tower Heights, Corbett envisioned a established of structures to be used by diverse Masonic groups, together with the Order of the Japanese Star, the Shriners, and the York and Scottish Rites. Only White Masons would use the facilities. No Prince Corridor Masons — the order founded in 1784 for Black Masons — had been invited to participate, Ruli mentioned.

Corbett tapped artist and architect Hugh Ferriss to create spectacular illustrations of his design and style. Wrote Ruli in an posting for the Voice of Freemasonry journal: “In his drawings, the Corbett-Ferriss sophisticated towered higher than the District of Columbia like a present day-day Acropolis, and excellent halls surrounded a huge Grant Lodge Temple with dramatic flood lights illuminating the hill as a beacon for going to Masons.”

This was a noir temple, a comic-ebook concoction that incorporated vast flights of stairs and an observation deck that took edge of the site’s now substantial elevation. It would have afforded terrific sights of the city.

But there was a dilemma: The style and design ignored the city’s rigid height limitations. The Masons have been nicely connected in federal government and they urged Congress to give the design a waiver. The options would also want acceptance from by the Fee of Wonderful Arts and the National Park and Setting up Commission.

Even nevertheless the Masons would at some point get acceptance for their style, with some modifications, in October 1929, some thing else intervened.

“The inventory industry crash properly training course-corrected every little thing,” Ruli reported.

A hilltop Masonic complicated seemed a needless luxury at a time when the emphasis was on aiding fellow Masons survive the cratering financial system. Users decided to make do with their 13th Road constructing, as aged and crowded as it could have been.

“Basically, the acquisition of Temple Heights taken off any desire in the fraternity to develop new points or create grand factors,” Ruli stated.

In 1947, the Masons sold the previous Dean tract to a syndicate of developers for $915,000. They held on to their 13th Street creating till 1982, when, pressed for money, they bought it to the Nationwide Museum of Females in the Arts. Though the grand Masonic elaborate never came to be, it lives on in the name of some thing at 1921 Florida Ave. NW: the Temple Heights Write-up Workplace.

If the Masons experienced been productive, Washington would seem distinct these days.

“It surely would have produced an indelible mark on the skyline,” Ruli reported. “When you fly into DCA, you see this one particular major, tall Masonic tower in Alexandria. Visualize going into the District and seeing one more large Masonic tower.”

It would have served as a symbol of the fraternal business, whose incredibly title and rituals are centered on constructing with stone.

“They preferred to discover the optimum point and construct the best temple,” Ruli mentioned. “They wished to make it seem to be, ‘This is the development of the fraternity.’ 1 of the ironies is, if they did build this massive elaborate to them selves, I do not believe they’d have been capable to maintain it.”

The price tag of keeping it would have outstripped the value of creating it.

Future 7 days: Frank Lloyd Wright can take a crack at Temple Heights.


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