Inside are seven spectacular halls representing different cultures and styles – each one more dazzling than the last. The building is an architectural tour de force.
Some years ago, a Philadelphia tour guide – who saw me near the Reading Terminal Market – asked if I had ever been inside the Masonic Temple.
When I replied “No,” he said, “You don’t have to go to Europe. You can see everything you want right there.” He wasn’t far wrong.
This stunning building just north of City Hall on Broad Street is like a fantasyland. Impressive on the outside, it is absolutely mind-blowing inside.
Built between 1868 and 1873 at a cost of $1.6 million (not including decorations and furnishings), it took 15 to 20 more years and countless dollars to design the inside.
And the end result is breathtaking. (Today, the space is also available for receptions and catered affairs.)
“The robust Norman style of the exterior,” says a coffee-table book published by the Masonic Temple in 2013, gives “way to a fantasy of Renaissance-inspired neoclassicism in the corridors and stairs and to nineteenth-century ‘eclectic revivalism’ in the lodge rooms.”
The second you enter the Temple, you realize you are in a different, incredibly opulent world. Among the sights:
7 magnificent lodge rooms where the Masons meet
Oriental Hall: Decorated in the Moorish style. The colors and decorations were copied from the Alhambra, a 13th Century Spanish castle.
Gothic Hall: Also called the Asylum of the Knights Templar, has pointed arches, pinnacles and spires throughout the room.
Ionic Hall: Named for the refined, elegant style of architecture of Ionia, where King Ion reigned in Asia Minor.
Egyptian Hall: Decorated in the style of the Nile Valley. Includes 12 huge columns surrounded by capitals peculiar to the Temples of Luxor and Karnak.
Norman Hall: Noted for its round-arch architecture. Contains life-sized figures with the Working Tools of Freemasonry: the plumb, trowel, square, mallet and compasses.
Renaissance Hall: Decorated in the Italian Renaissance style. The Seal of Solomon on the ceiling evokes the sun in the midday sky.
Corinthian Hall: Decorated in strict conformity with the principles of classical Grecian architecture. Features mosaics representing fragments from Greek mythology.
- It’s amazing to me that three extraordinary buildings –the Masonic Temple, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Philadelphia’s City Hall, all started construction within three years of each other … and are situated a stone’s throw apart on North Broad Street. I don’t know of any other city with three such renowned, eclectic structures gathered so close together.
- The gavel used to lay the building’s cornerstone in 1868 was the same one used by President George Washington (also a Mason) to lay the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol in 1793.
- The Temple was one of the first buildings in Philadelphia lighted by electricity.
- Its first elevator was installed in 1883, because the temple’s long staircase proved troublesome for some members, especially those in ill health or advanced years.
- The Temple’s museum is also well worth a visit. It includes over 30,000 artifacts, items from George Washington and Ben Franklin, examples of key Masonic symbols and more.
Do you have questions about freemasonry, its reputation for secrecy, or associations with The Da Vinci Code? Ask your tour guide when you visit.
Name: Masonic Temple
Home of: The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania
Address: 1 N. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Honors: U.S. National Historic Landmark, U.S. National Register of Historic Places
Architect: James H. Windrim
Interior Design: George Herzog
Cost to Build: $1.6 million
Style: Norman Romanesque
Construction Completed: 1873
Interior Completed: 15 to 20 years later
Tours: Tuesday thru Friday, 10 and 11 a.m., 1, 2 and 3 p.m.; Saturday, 10 and 11 a.m. and 12 noon. Call ahead to confirm
Costs: PA masons and active military, free; Adults: $13; students with I.D. $8; children 12 and under, $5; Senior citizens (65 and over), $7. See website for more details
Phone: Tours: (215) 988-1917; General Info: 215-988-1900
This article was published in the May/June 2015 issue of the Society Hill Reporter. It has been reprinted with permission.