The Skyscraper

By Midnight Freemason Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR

Twenty-two stories tall, it towered 302
feet over the Chicago skyline. From the observation tower at the top, people claimed they could see Council Bluffs, on the western border of Iowa.  Not only was the Chicago Masonic Temple officially the world's tallest building when built in 1892, but it was also one of the worlds most elegant.  

The impressive Lodge room sat on the top floor, along with meeting rooms which also served as theaters for public performances.  With its first 9 floors dedicated to shopping the impressive structure had something for everyone and attracted people from Chicago as well as tourists from around the world.  The building was so tall people could see it from almost any location in Chicago and, in fact, it was so dominant a feature on the Chicago skyline, it brought the word "skyscraper" into popular use.

The building's designers, Burnham and Root, intended for the structure located at the intersection of Randolph and State streets to last a century.  At its opening it quickly became the social center of the windy city, with people rushing to see the shops, view the world from the observation tower and attend dances and shows in the rooms at the top.

Unfortunately it was the grand building's popularity that led to its demise.  The logistics of tall buildings were not understood in the late 19th century.  The building's elevators were inadequate for the throngs of crowds moving to and from the top floors, and soon the building fell out of favor as a social venue due to the long and frustrating wait to get to the top for events and to get back down afterward.

Then, in 1939, Chicago began building the State Street subway, which ran underneath the building.  The construction would have required an expensive retrofitting of the building’s foundation.  Given that, and the fact that the social set had long since gone elsewhere, the great Chicago Masonic Temple, built to last a century, came down after only 47 years.

Masonic Temple Post Card.jpg — The front of a post card from Cord Harrison, the author's grandfather, sent January 8, 1909, describing the building as being cold.  Perhaps lack of adequate heating in the structure was also one of its problems.


Steve Harrison, 33° KCCH, is a Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is the editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine, author of the book Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research and also its Senior Warden. He is a dual member of Kearney Lodge #311, St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite, Moila Shrine and is a member of the DeMolay Legion of Honor.  You can contact him at: 

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