To view this page ensure that Adobe Flash Player version 11.1.0 or greater is installed.

‘ F O U R T E E N T H - C E N T U RY G OT H I C ’ O N S T. C H A R L E S AV E N U E James Freret’s Soaring, Short-Lived Old Masonic Temple BY RICHARD CAMPANELLA, TULANE SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE FREEMASONRY, a fraternity derived from medieval stonecutter guilds which would evolve into a network of private lodges with civic and charitable in- terests, has been a part of Louisiana society since Spanish colonial times. Members initially arrived from Saint-Domingue (Haiti) as well as from the young United States, despite that Spanish law proscribed Freemasonry, and the Catholic Church eyed it suspiciously as a rival religion. Freemasons in New Orleans organized furtively in 1793, received a charter from the Grand Lodge of South Carolina to become “Loge Parfaite Union No. 29,” and installed officers in March 1794. Their first lodge building would be established at Camp and Gravier streets in the Suburbio Santa Maria (Faubourg Ste. Marie, today’s CBD), likely because of land availability in this new subdivision (the city itself had burned catastrophically twice in the past six years), but possibly also because of its distance from authorities based at the Plaza de Armas, today’s Jackson Square.   After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, more and more Americans migrated to New Orleans, among them Freemasons, and they would settle dispropor- tionately in the Faubourg Ste. Marie, whose name would be anglicized as St. Mary and nicknamed the American Quarter (or sector).   Freemasons also arrived from the Francophone world, and the same schism that would develop between French Creoles (sometimes referred to as “Lat- ins”) and Anglo-Americans would also permeate the ranks at the lodges. Regarding this “social conflict…between the Latin and Anglo-Saxon races,” wrote James B. Scot in his Outline of the Rise and Progress of Freemasonry in Louisiana (1873), “Masonry itself has not always been sufficiently strong to resist its baneful influence, nor can its history in Louisiana be correctly understood if [this] antagonism…is ignored or disregarded.” (Decades later, this ethno- linguistic chasm would give way to a white/black racial segregation, and “colored Masons” would build their own temples.)   With Americanization afoot in the early 1800s and various Protestant sects on the rise, Freema- sons became accepted and increasingly influential, and it would be in the American Sector where they and later affiliates, including the Scottish Rite and the Shriners, would erect lodges and temples for a century to come.   More so than any one space, the corner lot of 333 St. Charles Ave. at the Perdido Street intersection, would become central to Freemasonry in New Orleans. Here, in 1853, the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons leased the former Commercial Exchange, designed by James Gallier Sr. and built in 1845. Commercial storefronts were added to the ground floor as a source of rental income, and a ball- room and four assembly rooms were installed on the second and third floors.   Membership grew. Needing a larger temple, the Freemasons in 1859 acquired for $60,000 the former Carrollton Railroad Depot near Tivoli (later Lee) Circle and devised plans for a new head- quarters. The Civil War and federal occupation delayed construction until 1872, when a foundation and granite steps were laid. But because of unexpectedly high construction costs, the project was abandoned, the land sold off and the profits were used to purchase the extant circa-1845 building at St. Charles and Perdido, despite its insufficiencies. There, Freemasons would host meetings, benefits, dinners, dances and Mardi Gras balls for years to come.   In 1890, members decided to demolish and replace their aging building, commissioning the well-re- garded local architect James Freret to design a new temple. This was an era when, after the circa-1850s decline in popularly of Greek and Roman motifs, architects inspired by the Romanticist Movement began to revive Medieval and Renaissance designs, giving rise to the Italianate, Romanesque, Gothic, Byzantine and Moresque styles during the 1850s-1900s. Freret had a particular penchant for Gothic, and given the Freemason’s legacy of building soaring cathedrals, High Gothic ornamentation seemed apt for this commission. Indeed, back in 1867, Freret had sketched a “New Masonic Hall” for the ill- fated Tivoli Circle site, and it was emphatically Gothic, complete with steep mansard roofs.   For the new project, Freret pulled out all the stops. He devised something of a cross between a castle and a cathedral — the Daily Picayune called it “fourteenth-century Gothic” — and topped it with a spire and statue of Solomon, symbolic of the Masons’ professional legacy and civic-religious aspirations.   Site preparation began in 1890, as square-hewn cypress pilings were driven into the soil and an iron frame erected thereupon. Construction, led by builder J.R. Turek and bricklayer Thomas Carey, began with a cornerstone ceremony on October 20. But in August 1891, something went wrong, and it would not bode well for the future of the building: a wall paralleling Perdido Street slipped, its weight apparently too much for the iron supports. Freret wrote to the Daily Picayune explaining that, in fact, the problem was the underlying brick. They were repaired, and construction proceeded without further incident, eventually costing $110,000.   Opened in early 1892 and dedicated in June, the Masonic Temple quickly became a distinctive sky- The Old Masonic Temple around 1910. Photo line feature, with its peaked roof and pinnacled dormers, intricate friezes, quadruple Gothic windows, courtesy Library of Congress soaring octagonal spire, five-story corner bartizan (turret, or tourelle) and conical roof. Inside were libraries, meeting rooms, the Grand Templar Hall, and spaces for chapters, commanderies, and Scottish 22  PRESERVATION IN PRINT • www.prcno.org APRIL 2018