Masonic Temple theater

Piles of plaster and building material cover the stage of the Masonic Temple theater Wednesday. The temple is being restored by a non-profit preservation group.

A group of preservationists is restoring the landmark Masonic Temple, in hopes the building will once again become a destination for public events.  

The headquarters for the Crawfordsville Masons and its auxiliary groups for more than a century, the temple has long played host to other formal gatherings. Couples tied the knot under the high ceiling of the grand ballroom. Actors staged theater productions on a stage, and the building’s Renaissance-style design formed the backdrop for Boy Scout ceremonies.

“It’s such a strong structure, there’s no reason it can’t last another 100 years if it’s maintained, easily,” said Judi Kleine, secretary of the Masonic Temple Preservation Board, the non-profit group overseeing the project.

A fundraising campaign will be launched this fall to cover the list of repairs, beginning with the roof, which has been weakened by water damage. The goal is to raise $175,000, in a nod to the anniversary of the Masons’ Crawfordsville charter in 1844. Matching grant funds will also be needed.

Estimates place the cost for the roof between $80,000-$180,000.

Brickwork is another priority after the front limestone façade was repaired last year. Other plans call for installing an elevator, making other handicap accessibility improvements and transforming the second floor into space for a conference area, meeting rooms and a lounge.

The Masons’ meeting rooms will remain untouched.

In the kitchen, the stove has already received a new hood equipped with a fire suppression system, bringing the kitchen up to code for full catering events.

“From all the catering people I know, this is a dream in here because of all of the room,” Kleine said while giving a tour of the building. 

Kleine, an architect, first approached the Masons several years ago about preserving the building. The preservation board was formed in 2017, and this year the board was expanded to include three Masons and nine community members.

After meeting in other downtown buildings through the late 1800s, the Masons purchased land for the temple on the northwest corner of Washington Street and Wabash Avenue in about 1900, according to a historical account on the Crawfordsville Masons website.

The temple was dedicated four years later, with the kitchen area built on during World War I.

Interior renovations were interrupted in 2000 by the excavation of a neighboring building, but the temple was later secured, Mason John Phillips writes in another historical narrative.

A lack of funding left future repairs on the table, including addressing the damage from water leaks. 

Piles of plaster and building materials littered the theater, once home to productions by a local drama club, Wabash College and Crawfordsville High School. The names of plays were scrawled just off stage, including a 1954 performance of “The Girl from Wyoming.”

“This hasn’t changed it closed in the 1950s,” Kleine said, standing on the stage where a set backdrop resembling an ancient building leaned against a wall. “It’s just, yeah, had a little bit of a rough life.”

According to the temple’s plans, the curtain could rise again on local theater shows and wintertime movie screenings. Restrooms and a dressing area for actors will be built above the stage.

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