The Masonic Temple on West Riverside is a stately old girl, but something of a mystery, too. The century-old building is home to the Masonic Order, a civic-minded brotherhood whose history and traditions can be traced back at least a thousand years. Over the centuries, the Masons have met and have practiced their admittedly guarded rituals in private -- frequently arousing the suspicions of skittish non-members.

But in the modern world, we deal with the unknown by gathering information. Want to make like Indiana Jones and unlock the secrets of the Temple? It's surprisingly easy to do. The Masonic Temple has, in fact, always been open to the public -- and will be flinging its doors even wider this month to celebrate its centennial, as well as 100 years of Masonic fraternity and community service in Spokane.

Recently, Inlander photog Amy Sinisterra and I were invited to take the grand tour with the Masonic Temple Association's Executive Director Kathy Pierson. The benefit of having a guide along on our quest was immediately apparent, as the Temple is cavernous and labyrinthine. And there are other disorienting factors at work here as well.

"You'll notice there are very few right angles in these rooms," says Pierson. "That's because the building itself is trapezoidal. It follows the curve of Riverside."

The groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Masonic Temple was presided over by President Teddy Roosevelt (himself a Mason), who turned the first shovel full of dirt. It was completed in 1905.

Now listed on city, county and state historical registers, the Masonic Temple was recently the recipient of a $300,000 restoration grant from the Save America's Treasures Program, which is administered by the National Parks Service. Thus funded, the 100-year-old building is undergoing the most extensive restoration in its history. The facade is receiving a thorough cleaning, and more than 200 of the masonry balusters on the front of the building are being restored or replaced. The fifth-floor skylight -- covered up during World War II and nearly forgotten -- has been restored, allowing daylight to illuminate the beautiful oak staircase leading up to the fifth floor for the first time in 60 years. In the auditorium, another discovery was made: an orchestra pit in front of the stage concealed by an ingenious (and fully functional) retractable staircase. There is painting to be done as well -- lots and lots of painting.

One thing that strikes you about the place -- and about the people who have contributed to its preservation -- is a palpable reverence for history and tradition. Many of the original design and decor elements (trims, wall treatments, lighting fixtures, etc.) are not only present but are also well preserved. The years have certainly been kind to the red floral carpeting in the Blue Room.

"This is 70-year-old carpeting we're standing on," says Pierson. "It's the same carpeting that Louis Davenport used when he remodeled the Davenport Hotel."

The Blue Room, one of the most imposing spaces in the Temple, is also one of the most stunning. It's finished using ancient Egyptian architecture styles and decorative motifs.

Some of the Temple's other treasures include the Ballroom, a large and elegant room featuring a spring-supported "floating" hardwood floor. The Falls Room on the top floor sports one of the best views of the Spokane River falls and gorge in town, making it an excellent choice for wedding receptions and dances. The gorgeous 550-seat Commandery auditorium has a stage at one end, a black-and-white checkered dance floor, stenciled wall treatments and horseshoe-shaped seating with a full balcony. It's also receiving a long-overdue restoration. "Right now, it's in the best shape it's been in 20 or 30 years," says Pierson.

The Auditorium is probably the most familiar room to most of us. Located on the first floor, it has also seen the most action of any room in the Temple, hosting countless concerts, record swaps, dances and film screenings over the years. And it shows. Fortunately, it's also receiving intensive restoration efforts.

While the restoration process is ongoing, many of the projects will be completed in time for the Masonic Temple's Centennial Gala Celebration on Saturday, Jan. 29. This full night of entertainment is shaping up to be the biggest all-city party the Temple has ever hosted. Tickets to the event (available at the Masonic Temple Association office) include a catered buffet-style dinner, no-host bar and a wide variety of live music offerings by Tuxedo Junction (big band jazz), Ben Preslee Klein & the Rockabillies (rock 'n' roll) and the Project Joy Orchestra (classical) along with the Shrine concert, Dixieland and German bands. There will also be tours, memorabilia displays and movies shown in the Commandery Room. Gala proceeds will go to benefit the building restoration fund.

Publication date: 1/13/04

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