For Sale: Majestic, Masonic Portland
I cannot count how many times I have walked past the Masonic Temple on Congress Street but I can tell you how many times I have noticed it: Zero.
On the street level, there are bland businesses with drop ceilings, fluorescent lights and rotating tenants. What’s to notice?
Recently, I got to tour the interior because membership in the Masons is dwindling and the building is now up for sale at $5.25 million.
I felt like I had discovered buried treasure. Six floors of unanticipated jewels. Each room larger than the last, with soaring 45-foot ceilings, Corinthian columns, intricate woodwork and painted ceilings. It is 62,000 square feet of perfectly preserved architecture, grandeur and living history. For almost 100 years, this building has housed the activities of the Masons and they have maintained it impeccably.
They hold their meetings and celebrations in various rooms throughout the six floors. There is reading room, a library, a theater, a dining hall (complete with tableware featuring an illustration of the lodge) and several large meeting spaces with thrones, massive portraits, costumes and swords.
The front half of the building, which faces on Congress Street, was sold off years ago and turned into commercial and office space. These remaining six floors are a secret, tucked away in the back half.
At one point, the tour guide showed us the theater, with auditorium style seating for 400. I thought of how many theater groups had been pining for a space just like this for years. He also pointed out the 52 scenes that are used as backdrops for Masonic rituals. Each scene is painted on wood and can drop from the theater ceiling.
Outside of the members, few others have seen the space over the years. In December the Masons held an open house to raise awareness about the sale of the building and nearly 300 curious people showed up.
It’s a tremendous building and a rotten economy for one buyer, or at least one who would want to maintain the integrity of the spaces. The Masons are hoping for an opportunity to lease back some of the rooms. It would be a pity to see it turn into residential (water views from upper floors) or office space (boring). Maine Preservation, the statewide historic protection group, agrees. They have included the temple on the list of the state's most endangered historic buildings.
Maine College of Art is planning on renting the temple in May for their gala event to honor leadership in the arts. It will be the first rental in the history of the Temple.
It will be curious to see what the future holds for this prime piece of real estate smack dab in the middle of town and in the shadow of City Hall.
(To see more interior photos click here. To see more pictures, view this video commercial for the Masonic open house, look to the right of this column.)