"The Most Beautiful Building in the World"

Original Temple Blueprints

By Jeri E. Walker, Development Office

Photo: Original blueprints of the House of the Temple

During the Supreme Council’s session in October 1909, a resolution was passed to enlarge or extend the existing House of the Temple in Washington, D.C., or to erect a new one. This unanimously enacted resolution gave Grand Commander James D. Richardson “full power to do any and all things necessary and proper in connection herewith (that is the building etc.,) including the purchase of the necessary real estate and the erection of a suitable building, furnishing the same, etc.” (1911 Transactions, p. 115).

Despite his initial concerns that the resolution was too broad and protests that the Council define, more specifically, the proposed building project and the money to be expended, Richardson took on this tremendous responsibility with great diligence and gusto. The committee members so trusted Richardson’s abilities that they emphasized their faith by stating, “it is our intension to take the bridle off and turn the entire subject over to the Grand Commander.”

Upon the trusted advice of Ill. W. Frank Pierce, SGIG in California, Richardson quickly decided that it was impractical to add to the existing building and was thus necessary to find and purchase another location for a new Temple. This turned into a rather complicated venture. The old House of the Temple at 433 3rd St. NW, while a good space for conducting the business of the Supreme Council, was too difficult to sell. Upon careful consideration and advice from several SGIGs, Richardson devised a plan to exchange properties with the Valley of the District of Columbia. The property housing the local bodies at 1007 G Street NW was a more valuable and marketable property. It was, however, too small for the needs of the local bodies. With the approval of the Council, Richardson offered to exchange the larger House of the Temple on 3rd Street with the Washington Valley’s smaller but more valuable property on G Street.

Although the plan was initially resisted by some Council members, it was a win-win for both parties. The G Street property was worth about $85,000, but there was a $33,000 obligation on it. By trading properties, the Council would pay off the obligation once the property was sold and would allow the local bodies to pay it back at $300 a month. In turn, the Supreme Council would retain the space they needed in the old House of the Temple while they built the new one. The Washington bodies would also get plenty of space to conduct business and work the degrees in fuller form.

In January 1910, Richardson sent invitations to many renowned American architects. He asked them to send drawings and designs for a new Temple to house the Supreme Council, and a great many submissions were received by the Grand Commander. Over the course of a few weeks Richardson and some of the Active Members reviewed all the submissions. Surprisingly, all were rejected. None of the submissions fit their vision of the new Temple. Although no design idea had been established by Richardson or the Council, none of the submitted designs resonated with them. Some of the architects were invited to submit new ideas for the building, but again, all were rejected.

In a later submission by architect John Russell Pope, Richardson finally saw a design that met his vision of a majestic edifice to be the symbol of the Scottish Rite Mother Council of the World. Pope’s vision for the new Temple was based on one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, Turkey.

Grand Commander Richardson accepted the basic design, and on April 16, 1910, he and Pope signed the contract to employ Pope to “complete the plans and supervise the erection of the new House of the Temple at a fee equal to six per centum on the cost of the building” (History of the Supreme Council, p. 301). Richardson instructed Pope to make “the new Temple as magnificent as art and money can make it” (Architect of Empire, p. 123).

Pope analyzed property on 16th Street recently purchased by the Council to house the new Temple and promptly concluded that it was not large enough to accommodate the proposed design. He informed Grand Commander Richardson, who then searched for a new location to meet Pope’s specifications. Richardson along with his most trusted advisor, Bro Elliot Woods, the Architect of the Capitol, Pope, and SGIGs George F. Moore, Charles E. Rosenbaum, and Austin B. Chamberlin searched for a new location. They eventually found a perfect lot at S and 16th Streets in northwest D.C. On May 14, 1910, Richardson closed the deal on the property, a location that offered “about forty-six thousand square feet of ground and is one of the most eligible, appropriate and beautiful sites for the Temple, in this splendid Capital” (1911 Transactions, p. 122).

Ever vigilant, Grand Commander Richardson moved to the next step: finding the right company to construct the new Temple. He sent requests to eight of the best construction companies in the country to build the new Temple, and bids were submitted by January 1911. After recovering from a grave illness, Richardson analyzed the various builders and decided on the Norcross Brothers of Worchester, Massachusetts.

As the builders went about the work of excavating for the basement and foundations, Richardson arranged for an event to celebrate laying the cornerstone on October 18, 1911.

The new House of the Temple was completed in October 1915. It is unfortunate that Grand Commander Richardson passed away on July 24, 1914, before he could see his vision fully completed. The honor of conducting the dedication ceremony and officially opening the House of the Temple went to the new Grand Commander, George F. Moore.

One hundred years later, the House of the Temple remains an emblem of greatness, but it needs our attention now. To restore and maintain its grandeur, we must attend to the hard work of renovating this historic building. Over the next five years, extensive work must be done, work that can wait no longer. Restoring a one-hundred-year-old historical building requires a great deal of expertise and care. We need your support to accomplish this daunting task.

To paraphrase Grand Commander Richardson’s words which still resonate today: We are rebuilding the Temple, our permanent home, in the Great Capital of the Greatest nation of the Earth. Amongst the most beautiful structures of our Capital, we will improve upon an architectural masterpiece and build an educational center for all Masons and everyone with a quest for knowledge.