Where is your lodge?
I have mixed feelings whenever
Gloomy Gus Chris Hodapp writes “another building lost” post – which, to be fair, almost seems to be every other month.
On one hand, it’s always sad to see a nice older Masonic Temples — or any well designed and decorated building, for that matter — falling into disrepair because the upkeep is too expensive for the membership. The period from the early to mid 1900s that saw so many fine temples erected didn’t have the expensive issues of heating and air conditioning costs, specialized maintenance, accessibility upgrades, or power needs that we now think of as essential, and even just maintaining those buildings, let alone improving them, is a huge drain on the resources of the members.
The late 1800s to early 1900s saw a different model: have a large building in which several different lodges could meet on different nights, so it wouldn’t sit unused. All the different lodges would pay a little rent to the building association (and this raises the question if Masons “invented” the co-op), and the steady influx of members would assure that the capital reserve funds would be adequate to repair the boiler or to shovel more ice onto the roof, whitewash the picket fence, or do whatever the heck was normal repairs back in those days. And I’m sure that many of the brothers at the time were proud to belong to a lodge that emulated – to some degree – the Temple of King Solomon. Many of the older buildings were richly appointed, and had massive columns, arches, and other fine details.So, yes, it’s disappointing to see those old temples fading, or being sold off so that they can be turned into office condos or meeting centers. As the membership declined, there was simply no way to keep them forever.
But on another level, maybe we need to ask ourselves: is a lodge the building or the members?
Back in the 1700s to 1800s, when many lodges were essentially a few dozen guys meeting in a pub, they probably didn’t worry about that kind of thing; if the pub closed, they found another one. Having a building was a bit extravagant for guys who might only meet once a week, and certainly ridiculous for a group that would only meet once a month. Some found a home, literally, in the older home donated or sold off from a member’s estate. New England is full of lodges that meet in these small buildings, and almost every other town seemed to have one during the boom years. But even that becomes expensive as turn or the century houses need to be upgraded with better electric and plumbing service, new stairs, fire exits, better insulation, and other upgrades to make them more accessible for our older members.
Nick Johnson recently posed the idea of a “dinner lodge,” a return to the older days when brothers met to discuss some bit of education, and enjoy some friendly association. Maybe the next few decades will see more large temples being sold off, but — hopefully — more active members meeting to enjoy fellowship, without worrying about fixing the potholes, repairing the roof, or wondering how they are going to pay for the upkeep on a mausoleum that only gets used once a week by a dozen guys.
After all, is your lodge the building, or is it the members?