You have to give it to the Masons, they know how to do up secret meeting halls right. Or not terribly secret, as the Masonic Grand Lodge of New York on 23rd Street in Manhattan is actually a pretty open place. I recently took a tour of some of its 12 elaborate meeting halls, and other spaces such as the library above overseen by a golden George Washington. Designed by architect H. P. Knowles, it was completed in 1912, although it had some extensive renovations in the 1990s.
While not quite as over-the-top as the Scottish Rite Temple I visited in Guthrie, Oklahoma, it has its share of pipe organs, ornate ceilings, and some symbolism embedded in its decoration. But speaking of Oklahoma, look at who I saw in the foyer: Will Rogers! Apparently the bust came all the way from Claremore, Oklahoma, where there is a Masonic lodge where he was a member, and is now named after the actor and writer. Along with his bust, there were paintings and photographs of other famous masons all over the lodge, such as FDR and Houdini.
Most of the meeting rooms are rather similar, with rows of chairs below sort of garish, but lavish, paint jobs, as well as some chairs for important people and a pipe organ. There are also the “G” symbols all over and the unfinished stones sitting near the altars.
Here is an organ in another meeting room, along with one of our informative Masonic guides. What might be most crazy about the lodge is that it is in the middle of Manhattan, but has a worn and spacious feel totally contrasting to everything around it. I guess the Masons were at least connected enough for some good real estate.
If I understood correctly, each of these lodge rooms is for a different chapter, as there are quite a few Masons in NYC, although perhaps not as many as there once were as we seem to be in a decline for secret societies. Or as I far as I know, it’s quite possible they are flourishing without me.
The most ostentatious of the lodge rooms had this sort of Renaissance look to it, complete with chandeliers and clouds painted on its ceilings.
The most stunning room is the ballroom, which has a glass ceiling and other elements by a designer who worked on the Titanic, and apparently executed some of those details on the doomed ship.
Want to see the Grand Lodge yourself? Good news, they offer free tours every week. It’s definitely a curious place worth exploring, and who knows, you might find out some delicious secrets. Probably just a lot of grand rooms, though.