Opened to great fanfare on October 18, 1915, the House of the Temple in Washington, D.C., has since functioned as the headquarters of the Supreme Council, 33°, Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction, USA. The Temple, which includes a library, archives, and museums, is open to visitors for guided tours. The library—which was the first library open to the public in the District of Columbia and remains so today—contains books on Freemasonry including history, philosophy, symbolism, poetry, lodge proceedings, and periodicals.
Designed by renowned architect, John Russell Pope, the House of the Temple was his first monumental commission. It garnered him the attention of the architectural community, leading to many awards and commissions in the District, such as the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, National Archives, and the National Gallery of Art—West Building. For more information on Pope, see History of the Temple.
The exterior of the building stands 130 feet high, with an Ionic colonnade that rises to a magnificent stepped pyramid roof. The front of the building features two impressive limestone sphinxes carved on-site by famed sculptor Adolph A. Weinman, best-known for designing the Walking Liberty and Winged Mercury coins. The rear of the building is a dramatic semicircular apse, which encompasses the library and the Grand Staircase that leads to the Temple Room.
The intense attention to detail paid to the exterior of the Temple continues on the interior. Walking into the Atrium of the House of the Temple for the first time is an awe-inspiring experience. Like being transported back in time to an ancient temple, the Egyptian and Greek influences encompassing the space are immediately recognizable.
For the floor of the Atrium, Pope used beautiful beige Tavernelle marble from France, inlaid with black marble originating from the Greek Isle of Tinos. The Egyptian statues flanking the Grand Staircase in the Atrium also were carved by Weinman on-site out of black marble from the shores of Lake Champlain. The ceiling and frieze high on the walls of the Atrium depict elaborate, colorful designs hand painted by Sherwin and Berman, Inc. of New York City, who were known for architectural woodwork and decorative painting.
The centerpiece of the Atrium is a large table made of Pavonazzo marble imported from Italy and inspired by a table found in the ruins of a Pompeiian home. The table features four double-headed eagles, the chief symbol of Scottish Rite Masonry, supporting the base of the table, with the words Salve Frater, meaning “Welcome Brother,” carved on the side facing the entrance.
The Grand Staircase rises dramatically from the Atrium to the entrance of the Temple Room. The Temple Room is a voluminous space with a domed roof rising over eight stories from the floor. The magnificent dome was the work of the Guastavino Fireproof Construction Company founded by master builder, Rafael Guastavino Moreno. The dome roof of the Temple Room soars 100 feet above the altar and weighs 332 tons. The walls around the room that support it are eight feet thick.
Other Notable Features
The House of the Temple is also home to several museum exhibits. Currently, we have the Americanism Museum, Albert Pike Museum, Masonic Philanthropies Museum, and a museum dedicated to Illustrious Brother Burl Ives, 33°. Among the many features of the Temple are the George Washington Memorial Banquet Hall, Pillars of Charity Alcove, the Executive Chamber, the Hall of Regalia, the Pillars of Charity Portrait Gallery, and the Hall of Honor.