Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Masonic Temple Becomes Community Center

The Ancient Free & Accepted Masons built a new meeting hall in Salina, Kansas, back in the early 1920's. It was a pretty ambitious project, but since build buildings is what they do, it turned out to be quite a landmark. The Masons know how to construct impressive buildings.

 I was driving through Salina, KS, recently and came across the place. I had to stop and take a bunch of pictures, because, well, it is a very picture-worthy subject, plus it has a very interesting new mission.

Click on the images to make them larger. 

About a year ago I had read an internet article about this place, so it was quite a shock when I was driving along and suddenly saw it, recognizing it from pictures accompanying the article. What was the article about?  Well, the Masons had put it up for sale. They didn't need the entire seven-story 160,000 square foot building any longer (it was pretty big for their purposes), but they hoped someone would buy it and put it to good use.  They planned to get a smaller, more modern building for their meetings.

For sale: Would make good conference center, community center, or corporate office.

The Masons chartered their Lodge in Salina back in 1867, back in the days of the Old West.

The cornerstone for the building was laid in 1922, and the finished building was dedicated in 1927. That must have been quite an addition to the Salina skyline.

Here are several pictures of the interior, mainly the front lobby.

Old steam radiators for heat

Quite a lot of marble in the walls and flooring

The ceiling in the lobby is incredible.

So the building was for sale for quite a while, and the only stipulation the Masons put on the sale was that the new purchaser could use the bottom floors, but the top floor was reserved for the Masonic Lodge meeting room. Apparently, this provision did not go over too well, however. So, what finally happened to the building was quite remarkable.

According to radio station KSAL, "A newly formed organization had an “innovative idea. The mission of the  Salina Innovation Foundation is to  “to protect and endow the Masonic Center building, and infuse it with new spirit and life.”. 

"The historic building was donated to the recently formed local community foundation. The foundation has the use of the entire facility, with the exception of the top two floors which are still used by the local Masonic organization. Mary Landes, the Director of the Salina Innovation Foundation, told KSAL News that the building, with all of its history, is the perfect place of an organization like hers."

The Masonic Temple is now home to a wide variety of community activities, including art displays such as the collection of locally-produced pottery above.

 Some of the uses planned for the building are a local art gallery, artist loft spaces, a wedding venue, meetings, Cultural Art performances, lectures, and yoga and meditation classes. The first floor also offers a commercial kitchen which is being used for Culinary Classes & Internships,  Restaurant Incubation, a Kitchen for Hire and local Food Tastings and Events. 

The building was designed around its third floor Grand Theatre, which features a 36-foot high ceiling and has a seating capacity of over 1,200 people. The elevated stage contains 104-year old, hand-painted scenery drops. These backdrops were painted in 1895 at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Architecture, and were purchased by Salina in 1930 for $30,000. They were brought by specially made rail car, and were hung with rope rigging, which is still functioning today. Above info came from the Salina Innovation webpage.

The Theatre has a large ballroom dance floor, vintage mirrored light, and 3 balconies of seating. "The acoustics are incredible in this masterfully designed space," a foundation spokesman said. 

One of the ways the Foundation raises funds to help operate the facility is through an "Adopt a Gargoyle" project. Yes, that's right. There are 120 hand-hammered copper gargoyles lining the top edge of the building and people can help "save their home" by donating money to the cause. One hundred dollars gets them a nice certificate, and five hundred dollars gives them the opportunity to name their own gargoyle. These folks are really creative.

The masonry work above the main entrance doors.

CLICK HERE to view a video featuring the Foundation director explaining the "re-purposing" of the Masonic Temple building. The group also has a Facebook page at this link.

Gargoyles up for adoption: see any you like?

All in all, it's a very encouraging model for how communities can help save old landmark buildings that need a new lease on life and a new mission for the 21st century.