The Masons are planning an old-fashioned social that takes its inspiration from the last century. In addition to face painting and cotton candy for the little folks, there will be a Model T show and beer garden for the big people. Competitors of every age can show off their seed-spitting skills, and a dozen frogs have traveled all the way from South Carolina to amaze you in the frog-jumping contest. Add food and craft booths, the Hillyard Belles, the Comerford Irish Dancers, several bands and an evening street dance, and you'll be partying like it's 1905.
The fact is, there have been local Masons as long as there has been a Spokane. James Glover, the so-called "Father of Spokane," was Spokane's first Master Mason. As early as 1880, Spokane Masons were meeting in one I.R. Warner's home on Stevens and Front, now Spokane Falls Boulevard. Bankers, builders, merchants and railroad men filled the ranks of the membership -- the occasional president, too. In 1903, Teddy Roosevelt -- yes, he too was a Mason -- turned the first shovelful of earth at the groundbreaking for the new Masonic Temple, which was completed in 1905 at a cost of $75,000.
Twenty years later, the burgeoning organization needed a bigger home. The addition to the original building, described by Aubrey White in a 1927 newspaper article as "of pure Roman type of the imperial period," was designed by Roland VanTyne and completed in 1925. The work begun last September to clean and restore the exterior fa & ccedil;ade is the biggest project the Temple has seen in the 80 years since.
"We actually had chunks of the building falling on the street. It was kind of dangerous," says Executive Director Kathy Pierson. The National Park Service awarded a grant of $300,000, and Masons raised an equal amount in matching funds.
At one time, says Pierson, the Masonic Temple "was the civic center of Spokane." The main auditorium, which seats 1,400, was the largest in town until the 1950s. The original wood and leather chairs are still there, complete with metal holders underneath the seats for men's top hats. Pierson hopes restoration of the elaborate wall stencils will begin in several years to return them to their original splendor. "Acoustics are fantastic," she says, and voices do project easily to the back of the room. It is still available for public functions, as are all the Temple's major rooms. Pierson wants to be sure people know that, because, she says, "We want the community back in here."
But for many in the community, there is something exotic and impenetrable about Freemasonry. Taken from earlier centuries, the language of Masonry doesn't exactly help: Sovereign Grand Commander, Entered Apprentice, Worshipful Master, Watchman of Shepherds, Noble Prophetess, El Katif, Eastern Star, DeMolay. Archaic, somewhat comical and easily mocked, the rituals and paraphernalia have been spoofed by the likes of Fred Flintstone and the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes with their towering, blue-furred headdresses.
But the Masonic tradition of philanthropy and self-improvement goes back as far as the strange trappings, say the Masons, pointing out that the fraternal organization spends more than $2 million in the United States every day, mostly on behalf of people who are not Masons. The Shriners sponsor crippled children's hospitals and burn institutes. Cast a glance at the top of Spokane's own Shriners Hospital and you will see the scimitar of the Shrine emblem. Scottish Rite Masons have built a nationwide network of childhood language disorders clinics as well as providing coats and shoes for kids in need.
In Spokane, Pierson says, Masons are "very active" but quiet, partly because "they don't want to shame people who need help but won't ask for help. They don't promote the things they do." Because they are not actively promoting themselves, their numbers have fallen off. Pierson says there were about 12,000 members in the several Spokane lodges in 1905. A century later, they are down to 2,500 or so, with an average age of about 70. With so much competition for young people's time, Pierson says, all fraternal organizations are on the decline.
If you do want to become a Mason, you don't just fill out an application and slap down a check for the membership fee as if you're joining a gym. Nor are you invited to join; that's prohibited. No women or atheists need apply either. Only men of faith -- though which faith does not matter, say the Masons. If a man wants to join, he must apply to the local lodge, submit himself and his family to an interview, be recommended by a committee, and then it goes to a vote of the lodge.
Though women can't become Masons in their own right, there are groups such as Daughters of the Nile and Job's Daughters they can join so long as they have a Masonic affiliation of some kind. "It could be," says Pierson, "through a husband, grandfather, uncle, or great-grandpa -- somewhere in your bloodline that can be tracked back" to a Mason in the family.
Well, perhaps you have no interest in becoming a Mason and your bloodline isn't going to get you into the Daughters of the Nile. Never mind. This Saturday's street fair is as much about the community as it is about the Masons, Pierson says. "We want the community to feel like this is their place."
The Masonic Temple Centennial Celebration is Saturday, Aug. 13, from 11:30 am to 10 pm at the Masonic Temple on 1108 W. Riverside Ave. Guided tours of the building start at 3 pm and run every half-hour. Call 624-2728.