The initial grand lodge of Freemasonry was established in London, England, in 1717. This fraternal organization, officially known as the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, was brought to the American colonies by English masons during the first three decades of the eighteenth century. The First Lodge of Boston, organized in 1733 by Henry Price, is the oldest Masonic grand lodge in the United States. The movement prospered in this country, counting among its participants such eminent citizens as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Freemasonry draws its inspiration from the rituals and ceremonies of the guilds of stone workers or masons in medieval Europe. Believing that God is the "Great Architect of the Universe," masons obligate themselves to advance the brotherhood of man and to live in accordance with the highest ethical standards. Men who accept any monotheistic faith may join.
The origins of the Masonic Temple in Charlotte date from May 19, 1869, when the three lodges in this community created the Masonic Temple Association. Samuel Wittkowsky, a leading Jewish resident of Charlotte, headed the organization, the sole purpose of which was to secure funds for the construction of a temple. Its initial fund-raising event was a Masonic Fair and Festival, which occurred in July 1869 on the grounds of First Presbyterian Church. On December 28, 1874, the consecration of the initial temple transpired. Situated in leased quarters on the third floor of the Hutchinson Building in the first block of N. Tryon St., it served the Charlotte masons until January 1902, when they occupied the top floor of the Piedmont Building on S. Tryon St. In 1904, the Masonic lodges in this community purchased a lot at W. Trade and Church Streets. on which to build their temple. The Masonic Temple was not erected at this location, however. On January 22, 1912, the Masonic Temple Association voted instead to sell its property on W. Trade St. and to build on a parcel at S. Tryon and Seconds Streets, which it had bought from Edward Dilworth Latta, President of the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company. The Charlotte masons had hoped to occupy their temple by early 1913, but plans were delayed for almost a year because of a disagreement with the City concerning the location of the southwestern corner of the lot. Finally, on January 2, 1913, the dispute having been settled, the Masonic Temple Association announced that it would move ahead with construction. Charles Christian (C. C.) Hook and Willard G. Rogers, two local architects who had formed a partnership in 1907, were awarded the contract for the Masonic Temple on July 24, 1912.
C. Hook (1870-1938) was the first architect who resided in Charlotte. A native of Wheeling, W. Va., and graduate of Washington University, he moved to this community in 1891 to teach in the Charlotte Graded School, which was located at the corner of South Blvd. and E. Morehead St. Most of his early commissions were for structures in Dilworth, the streetcar suburb which the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company, locally known as the Four Cs, opened on May 20, 1891. Among the significant edifices which he designed were the Charlotte City Hall, the clubhouse of the Charlotte Woman's Club and White Oaks or the James B. Duke House on Hermitage Rd. Indeed, C. C. Hook occupies a place of preeminent importance in the architectural history of Charlotte, N.C.
It was altogether fitting and proper that Hooks & Rogers selected the Egyptian Revival style for the Charlotte Masonic Temple. Tradition holds that stonemasonry originated in ancient Egypt among the builders of the great pyramids and that it was there that the Hebrews learned the skills which enabled them to erect the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. In the United States, the Egyptian Revival style attained its greatest popularity in the 1830's, manifesting itself in such notable edifices as the Philadelphia County Prison, the New York Halls of Justice and the County Courthouse at Newark, New Jersey. Not surprisingly, the motif enjoyed an enduring popularity among Masonic organizations.
This view of the temple was taken in 1970.
A gala ceremony occurred in Charlotte on March 4, 1914, when masons from across North Carolina joined with their local counterparts in witnessing the laying of the cornerstone of the Masonic Temple. The new temple will become an edifice of adorning beauty to one of the city's principal streets and Charlotte will be proud of the moment it lifts its proud head toward the heavens," the Evening Chronicle declared. The Charlotte News predicted that the building would be "one of the crowning glories of the city." The Charlotte Observer called it the "Only exclusively Masonic temple of distinctive architecture in the South." The most compelling statements concerning the building were made by Francis D. Winston, past Grand Master of the masons of North Carolina. "Other great buildings, designed for commercial uses, may rise here from time to time in the years that are to come. The world can do without them," he intoned, "but the world today is demanding - more than it ever demanded - the idea that every man owes something to every other man as his brother. This building will stand through the ages for the eternal principle of the brotherhood of man." In the opinion of the Evening Chronicle, the Masonic Temple was "a mighty fortress."
Detailed view of an exterior column.
Interior wall and sculpture
The J. A. Jones Construction Company erected the building. The cost was just over $90,000. Tragedy struck the Masonic Temple in the early morning hours of March 4, 1937, on the twenty-third anniversary of the cornerstone ceremony. Flames engulfed the structure, completely destroying the interior. Every available piece of fire-fighting equipment was summoned," The Charlotte Observer reported. The Masonic Temple Association considered relocating its facilities in the suburbs, where adequate parking could be provided. Happily, it decided instead to rebuild the temple within the extant walls. The architect was Willard G. Rogers, formerly of Hook & Rogers. Construction began in February 1938, and the temple reopened on October 11, 1938.
When the temple opened, former North Carolina Mason Grand Master Francis Watson claimed that it would “stand through the ages for the eternal principle of the brotherhood of man.” Unfortunately, Watson was wrong. First Union Bank (now Wells Fargo) eventually purchased the property, and a long public debate about its future ensued as many Charlotteans expressed their affection for the unique building. After much discussion, First Union had the temple dismantled and demolished in 1987 to make way for a 1.5-acre park (Wells Fargo Atrium Plaza) to front its bank headquarters, which eventually became the Two Wells Fargo Center Tower. At least part of it managed to survive; the distinctive lotus columns and stone spheres that adorned the front of the temple ended up in the Civitas Sculpture Garden in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Sadly, they are all that remain from this distinctive and historic building.
Exterior view just before full demolition in 1987.
Wells Fargo Atrium Plaza
Until next week!
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Information taken from:
Masonic Temple, Charlotte Historic Landmarks Commission
Charlotte Then and Now, Brandon Lunsford, 2013.
Masonic Temple Photographs, Life in a New South City, Charlotte, NC 1865-1929, Item #242
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass