Updated: Friday, 20 Nov 2009, 7:15 PM EST
Published : Friday, 20 Nov 2009, 7:15 PM EST
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - The Fort Wayne Masonic Temple stands ten stories high on East Washington Boulevard in downtown Fort Wayne. Inside the large building are rooms with vaulted ceilings, detailed woodwork and intricate painting.
"It's a beautiful building. We'd hate to lose it or go anywhere else," the Associated Masonic Trustees Treasurer Terry Webb said.
In 1926, four Mason lodges got together and built the temple. But, 83 years later, it's expensive to keep open. Last winter, the heating alone was $40,000 from October to March. Dues from the four lodges and other groups that use the building pay for most of the upkeep.
"But over the years as the number of members dwindled, we saw that go down and it's not enough to sustain the building anymore," Webb said.
To supplement the dues from the Mason groups, the trustees rented out the building, but the events weren't rolling in.
"We need to rent this out more than we have been. Three years ago we only rented it five times all year," Wayne Lodge Worshipful Master Nathan Baggett said.
Earlier this fall the Masons who use the temple were faced with a tough decision. They had to either find a way to get enough money to keep it open or sell the building and move out. But four Wayne Lodge Masons stepped up with a business plan to make the building self-sustaining in one year.
"I am convinced the plan will be successful," Webb said.
The plan has several parts. One involved the lodges fronting $50,000 to get through this winter. The boilers were also worked on to make the heating more efficient and new thermometries were installed.
"Not only to make the building more comfortable when we're in it, but to save costs. Our biggest expense is the heating," Webb said.
The plan also limits Mason meeting nights to two nights a week to cut down on the number of days that need to be heated at a higher level.
Another big part of the plan to make the building viable involves increasing membership.
Wayne Lodge was the first Freemason group in northeast Indiana, founded in 1823. At the Wayne Lodge's peak around the 1940s and 1950s there were around 700 members. That declined over the years to around 160 members ten years ago.
A few years ago, the lodge made a push toward recruiting new members and now membership is up to 185.
"Every year for the past four or five years we've seen positive growth, meaning the new members offset the deaths," Webb said.
The youngest member is 19 years old and the oldest is 96 years old. Indiana Masons have a goal to have 500 new members statewide this year. To help achieve that goal, the Masons in Fort Wayne made a radio commercial. The Wayne Lodge anticipates adding 13 men this year.
"We went in with the other lodges in this building to get advertising out there," Baggett.
An open house on Saturday is aimed at answering questions potential new members may have. It also will give people a chance to take a tour of the building.
"If nothing else, we'd like to satisfy the curiosity of the public at large. They drive by the building every day and never knew what was in there. This will allow us to showcase our building," Baggett said.
And that, Baggett hopes, will turn into event rentals. Since some renovations started, event booking have been increasing. The ballroom just got repainted and the lobby is in the process of a makeover. In the last ten days, seven people have toured the building and all seven booked their events.
"We're seeing a vast increase in the number of people who are interested in renting the building," Webb said.
The ballroom will seat 350 people and the mezzanine will hold another 180. Webb said that is a popular location for wedding receptions. The auditorium is a good place for the wedding ceremony, he added. It has 320 permanent seats and room to add floor seating. The social room, which has couches, televisions and pool tables, is also available to be rented.
One big change that's helping the Masonic Temple fill up the event calendar is that it now allows functions to have alcohol. It was a long-time rule that no alcohol was allowed in a Masonic Temple. But three years ago, Wayne Lodge petitioned to get that changed.
"We made the resolution to get it passed so we could rent out the building. For three years we've been on a trial basis and we've never had an incident," Baggett said.
As of last year, the alcohol ban was lifted, and the future of the Fort Wayne Masonic Temple looks promising.
"Now that we have the plan in place, I'm sure it's going to succeed. We'll be here for many years to come," Webb said.
The Masons are planning to have a grand re-opening ball in June 2010, similar to the original grand opening ball in the 1920s.
The open house on Saturday, November 21 goes from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Masonic Temple at 216 E. Washington Blvd.
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