A Place in Time spotlights a significant cultural resource - a district, site, building, structure or object - entered in the National Register of Historic Places.
Erie Masonic Temple. Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Erie Masonic Temple.
Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Pennsylvania has the largest membership of Masonic Grand Lodges in the United States, with approximately 100,000 current members. As a reflection of the prominent role that Freemasonry has played in the history of the commonwealth, many of its cities are home to a historic or architecturally significant Masonic Temple building. These buildings are as diverse as the cities in which they sit. Masonic meeting spaces range from a second-floor room over a commercial storefront in a small downtown to the cathedral-like Masonic Temples in large cities.

Declining membership and the costs of maintaining older buildings have led some Masonic organizations to sell their buildings to developers for new uses. Homestead’s Masonic Hall has been transformed into apartments, and Pittsburgh’s grand former Masonic Temple has been adapted as the University of Pittsburgh’s alumni hall.

But the Erie Masonic Temple at 32 West 8th Street in Erie is an exception. To those passing by, the temple might appear to be a Renaissance Revival office building or a department store, just like the Boston Store with which it shares the city block. From the outside, the Erie Masonic Temple looks as if it is a mixed-use commercial building in the Italian Renaissance Revival style in the form of a palazzo. It was designed by the Pittsburgh architecture firm of Alden & Harlow and constructed between 1909 and 1910 with a limestone and yellow-brick façade over an internal steel structure and topped by a terra cotta–bracketed cornice. Several minor cosmetic alterations have been made to the building, but the temple remains virtually unchanged from when it was first constructed and retains an extraordinarily high degree of both exterior and interior integrity. This building was commissioned by the Masonic Temple Association of Erie as a permanent home for the Erie Chapter of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and other local Masonic-affiliated organizations in Erie.

Deep within its walls, the Erie Masonic Temple holds ceremonial spaces accessible only to the Masonic members; however, these sacred spaces are enveloped by retail storefronts at the street level, professional offices above the first floor, a double-height ballroom, and a subterranean catering hall. The income from these uses has ensured the preservation of the building for the last 111 years and continues to provide a home to Erie’s men’s Masonic fraternal organizations, Masonic-related organizations open to women (Order of the Eastern Star, Order of the White Shrine of Jerusalem), and Masonic youth groups (DeMolay for young men and International Order of the Rainbow for Girls for young women) who have met in that building uninterrupted since its completion.

The Erie Masonic Temple was to be a dedicated space for members to meet, socialize, conduct lodge business, receive new members, and plan service projects. Rather than construct an insular temple building to exclude the larger community, the Erie Masonic Temple Association chose to act as a good neighbor to the City of Erie and serve as a nonprofit real estate developer and landlord, consistent with the tenets of Freemasonry as a benevolent fraternal organization that helps others through charitable endeavors in the local community.

The Erie Masonic Temple was individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places on August 31, 2020. For more information, visit masonictempleerie.com.

 

Recent listings in the National Register of Historic Places include Clark’s Ferry Tavern, Duncannon, Perry County; Fort Dewart, Allegheny Township vicinity, Somerset County; Hazelwood Brewing Co., Pittsburgh, Allegheny County; Hunter Saw & Machine Co., Pittsburgh, Allegheny County; Mount Tabor AME Zion Church and Cemetery, Mount Holly Springs, Cumberland County; St. Gabriel’s Roman Catholic Church Complex, Philadelphia; and Henry Whitaker’s Sons’ Mill, Philadelphia.

 

Jenna Solomon is a historic preservation specialist who reviews National Register nominations in the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office.