Last weekend I visited the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia. Across from city hall, I must have walked past it before, but this time I took a tour inside. I’ve previously visited the Grand Lodge in London and the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, and this one was truly stunning inside. (There is more information on their website, and also a PBS documentary about the building.)
As the Grand Lodge for Pennsylvania, it is the HQ for all freemasonry in the state. You might wonder why it’s in Philadelphia, not Harrisburg, but it replaced earlier lodges in Philadelphia which dated back to the colonial period - and predated the founding of Harrisburg. For similar historical reasons the Grand Lodge of Oklahoma is in Guthrie, not Oklahoma City: and actually took over what had been the legislative building when the seat of government moved. There is no national Grand Lodge for the United States, each state is independent.
Built in 1873, it offers a palatial interior, including multiple inner halls, or meeting rooms. Multiple masonic meetings could be conducted simultaneously, and as our guide explained, each group was assigned a meeting room from the start so they always use the same one. So one lodge who started meeting there in 1890, would still be convening in the Corinthian Hall if that’s what they were originally given. Which must be a bit annoying: I’d think it would be fun to circulate, and use different rooms.
Because the rooms vary tremendously in style, reflecting an eclectic design approach and also a lavish budget. The one labeled “Norman” has more gilded decoration than a Byzantine icon, and the Egyptian one doesn’t just look like a Pharaoh’s temple, it apparently is an accurate replica of one - verified by Egyptologists from the Penn Museum.
More recently they renovated a ballroom (which can be rented for events) to feature not only painted windows of American Presidents who were masons, but also an absolutely enormous statue of Benjamin Franklin (details on the website of the building firm here)
This opulent venue, in the middle of the city, reflects what is known as the “Golden Age of Fraternalism”, when perhaps 40% of men in America belonged to a fraternal organization.
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