Thursday, April 21, 2011

Opening of the Masonic Temple: April 21, 1910

One hundred and one years ago today the Ypsilanti Daily Press front-paged a big story: the construction of the Masonic Temple (now Riverside Arts Center) was complete--its cornerstone had been laid just a year earlier--and it would open with great fanfare on April 21.

"The temple is doubtless the finest ever erected in the down town section of this city," said the paper. "The $10,000 [$231,100 today--what pittance was a small-m mason earning in 1910?!] which it cost will be paid for in cash. It opens the first public auditorium in the city and furnishes a ballroom suitable for receptions, dances, and other social affairs of either a public or private nature."

On the first floor were 2 parlors, one used by anyone renting the auditorium and one used by the Order of the Eastern Star, which at that time was the ladies' auxiliary of the Masons, though it's co-ed now. On the second floor was the main Masonic lodge room, "done in blue and the dark rich brown of polished oak." The blue carpet alone cost $500 [$12,000]. "Surrounding the lodge room are an abundance of preparation rooms, regalia closets, retiring rooms, robing apartments, etc. On the third floor is the armory [armory? what? guns?] the storeroom and several smaller chambers which may be used for a variety of purposes."

An elaborate program with a banquet, music, and dancing were planned for April 21. Visitors could also try out the billiard and card-playing rooms.

Here's what strikes me about this story:

--A fraternal order--not a corporation, not a business of some sort--up and built itself its own huge building, presumably raising the $231,100 itself.
--What were the builders paid if they could build it this cheaply by modern standards?
--How influential were the Masons within Ypsilanti if the city OK'd their building their lodge on a huge footprint just a hop from downtown?
--A lot of Ypsilanti men bought into the elaborate rituals and secrecy of the fraternal order. Or at least joined this group. Why? Belief in the rituals? Networking? Getting out of the house and away from the wife, hanging with bros? Eating something better than the wife's cooking?
--There are still a few Masons who meet in a little lodge just south of Ypsi. They're all rather old. Why doesn't this order appeal to anyone seemingly under 60?

It's a huge shift in (white) Ypsi culture from a hundred years ago when the Masons, the Knights of Pythias, the Oddfellows and other popular fraternal groups were very active; I'd like to know why this is so.

The story itself (a grainy microfilm copy) is below; click twice for full view.

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