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Masonic Center restoration gets hand

THURSDAY, JAN. 3, 2008

The Spokane Preservation Advocates and Masonic Center of Spokane are teaming up in a new partnership to build public awareness of the historic temple building on West Riverside Avenue.

The preservation organization is holding a cleanup event on Jan. 19 and inviting members of the public to join them for several hours of work and free tours of the cavernous, six-story building. The event will run from 9 a.m. to noon.

“This is a building with a lot of rich, beautiful spaces,” said Gary Lauerman, chair of SPA’s Doing It work party committee. “We want to get people excited about what a gem it is.”

He said the Masonic temple “is way underappreciated in this town.”

People who turn out should wear work clothes and gloves. The job will involve cleaning walls, stage screens and other interior furnishings that have been soiled with soot and grime over the years. Free food and tours will be offered to make the work party fun and interesting, Lauerman said.

It is part of a shift in philosophy for the 10-year-old preservation organization that has worked to preserve both large and small historic buildings in Spokane. Lauerman said the SPA’s Doing It committee plans to hold larger work parties a few times each year and invite community members to join. In addition, they want to support historic buildings through small grants of several thousand dollars each in conjunction with the work parties.

The Masonic Center received a $3,700 grant from SPA previously.

Renamed several years ago, the Masonic Center was chosen as the first venue for the expanded work party program.

“We don’t want to drastically change the flavor,” said Carlton Oakes, executive director of the center. “We just need to clean a lot of it.”

Built in 1905, the historic Masonic Temple was expanded in 1925 with its neoclassical look. For two decades, its main auditorium – with a capacity of 2,000 – served as the largest performance venue for theater, movies and concerts in Spokane. The now-demolished Spokane Veterans Memorial Coliseum supplanted the temple auditorium in size when it opened in 1954.

A story in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on May 28, 1925, described the Masonic temple in glowing terms:

“The splendor of Rome, the chaste art of Greece and the color and pageantry of an Egyptian civilization long passed into the dust of centuries are reflected in the architecture of the new Masonic temple. …”

Cost of the expansion was $750,000.

The Corinthian columns that line the exterior give the 222-foot-long building a Roman-Corinthian look. Large incense urns high on the walls at either end of the temple were equipped with lights and steam vents that in the early years were used to give the look of smoke rising from them at night.

The Roman-Doric auditorium is lit with 3,000 small colored light bulbs hidden behind a cornice above the balcony. The ceiling is finished in a sound-proofing material known as “celotex,” according to the Chronicle story.

The Masons spent $15,000 on the original stage scenery curtains, which still hang in the auditorium, and will be included in the cleaning party.

The auditorium is just one of several large venues inside the temple. The Commandery, decorated in a Roman-Ionic style, has 850 seats.

Other large spaces include the Rose Room, Blue Room, Ball Room and Falls Room. They nearly all contain original décor, including period light fixtures, wall stenciling, columns, sculpture and furniture.

“This building has so many nooks and crannies,” Lauerman said.

The auditorium has a retractable orchestra pit and a stage that can be lifted mechanically.

One of the center’s goals is to showcase its history in a standing display.

The building is so large it takes two hours to fully tour it.

“In a sense, it is a museum,” Oakes said.

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