I f you are keeping an eye out for it, you might notice a large, stately door in the middle of a block of offices at 415 Congress Street. If you step back and cross to the other side of the street, you’ll see that the door is framed by a two-story, ornately textured masonry arch; and that the arch is surmounted by a geometric frieze, by pairs of columns reaching skyward, by intricate beaux-arts patterns in relief; and that the whole is a solid, square mass that seems built to contain decades—centuries even—of history.
The temple was built in 1911, designed according to Masonic principles of scale and craft. Its purpose was to provide gathering spaces for the fraternal organization, but it also included commercial space in the front of the building to generate income. To pass behind the everyday storefronts is to enter a past era, a different sense of scale. While the temple has opened itself to different uses over the years—the parquet floor in the armory was installed for dancing in the 1930s—it has also been held close by the organization and doesn’t show a century’s worth of wear and tear. In the towering halls and rooms—well over 40,000 square feet in total—marble-like walls turn out to be scagliola, a painted plaster that rarely survives so long so well. Intricate geometric stencils gleam with jewel-like greens and golds that recall the turn of the twentieth century, when they were painted.
In recent years, the Masonic Temple’s trustees have determined that it needs public support in order to be preserved, so they have encouraged a variety of uses. Wedding receptions and other events, organized by Blue Elephant Events and Catering, find ample space and grandeur in the large rooms of the first and second floors, while the library upstairs invites Civil War scholars for research. The fifth floor hosts artist-in-residence Sarah Bouchard, who is working on an installation that symbolizes the “rebirth” of the space with hundreds of hand-constructed vellum orbs.
Years of obscurity have preserved the temple’s architectural treasures; now its door has opened a bit wider, letting more of us catch glimpses into the past.