The 50 Year Member: A Dirty Shame
by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bill Hosler, PM
“I’m telling you this whole thing is a downright dirty shame!” Pudge said loudly as he picked up a box, his deep voice sounding God-like with the reverberation coming from the marble walls of the large, empty lodge room. “There has to be a way to stop this!” The 50 year member slowly standing upright and wiping his face with a handkerchief from his back pocket. “I wish there was too, but after all these years it can’t be stopped. I'm afraid it's a done deal,” The old man said sadly.
It was a sad day for our two friends as they were helping the Brethren of a nearby lodge remove the last of the items they had been storing in their former temple. It had become a familiar story. The building which had been erected at the turn of the 20th century had fallen on hard times. This edifice which had once been the pride of the city had begun to crumble in a derelict section of downtown. Once the site of chauffeur driven limousines bringing ladies dressed in their finest evening gowns on the arms of gentlemen in white tie and tails walking up the grand staircase of the temple to attend the opera or the symphony, sadly these days the steps are now covered in trash in a building which has become a shelter to homeless people trying to find a place to get out of the elements.
After many years of struggling with the cost of maintenance and trying to come up with ways to pay for the monthly utilities the Brethren decided to sell their home and look for smaller, more affordable quarters. It was a sad day for them but they took consolation in the fact that they had done everything they could. For many years the Brethren tried having fundraisers. A fish fry in the fall and a pancake breakfast in the spring. Both events were sparsely attended. The members counted on word of mouth advertising to bring in customers. Rarely did the people come since the events were held on Saturdays when downtown was like a ghost town. Most people didn't want to drive into the city center from the suburbs when they could have breakfast at a chain restaurant down the road.
Over the years as the older members passed away and the pool of volunteers willing to work the events got smaller. Younger members said they didn't want to give up their weekends working making food when the profit would net around a hundred dollars (If they were lucky to make a profit). To pay a monthly heating bill of over four thousand a month. Not to mention the cost of maintaining a 90 year old 78 thousand square foot building. The younger members offered several alternative fundraisers which required less labor and produced more revenue but the board voted them down mostly because “We have never done anything like that before.”
Several years after voting to put their temple on the market the board decided to remove their listing. In that time the Brethren received one offer which was so low they considered an insult. It was pennies on the dollar and much less than what they thought their property was worth and much less than what they needed to buy another property.
Finally after nearly a decade of struggle an exhausted temple board threw in the towel and signed away the ownership of the building to the city and the members of the several lodges which met in the building either found a new venue in which to meet, consolidated with another lodge or turned their charter into the Grand Lodge.
The city tried to find alternate uses for the building. They tried to make it into an art gallery and then a fine arts studio and several other ideas. None of the plans could be fulfilled either because of lack of funding or because the building wasn't suited for the purpose. After nearly a decade of being abandoned the city decided to tear down this once magnificent edifice. The building had become, in the mind of the government, a health and safety hazard. Rodents ran rampant through the building while evidence of prostitution and drug paraphernalia were discovered scattered across the floor of the grand ballroom which once hosted presidents and governors. The place became the focus of several newspaper articles and TV reports showing the decay and the hazards caused growing pressure on the city council to eliminate what had begun to be called a symptom of "urban blight". Sadly the city council voted to have the building torn down and a parking lot put in its place.
“What would it take to change this?” Pudge asked in desperation. “Well. First you would have to get the city council to change their minds. You would have to come up with a viable plan quickly to save this building and then you would need the money to restore it. Probably between two to four million dollars to fix everything and bring it to current codes and standards.” Pudge’s brow furrowed as his heart sank. The young man began to feel helpless.
"I understand. It's just such a shame. Such a beautiful building. It's just horrible that it's going to become a parking lot! How does something like this happen?” Pudge asked. The old man took a deep breath and slowly lowered the box he was holding to the ground.
“Well” the old man started “I can't speak about this particular building but sadly I've seen this happen too many times.” The 50 year member continued. “One building I'm thinking of had over one-thousand members in the 1950’s. Each one of them paid, I'm guessing, around twenty five dollars a year in per capita to the building every year. In those days twenty five bucks was a lot of money. Especially when you had that many men paying that amount. The money was rolling in. The leaders never gave a second thought to the fact that those numbers wouldn’t stay the same. They spent money like there was no tomorrow. Sadly there wasn’t. They put some money away but not enough. They also used the money to buy land surrounding the building. They paid a premium for that property thinking they would have enough members continue to pay dues. A few years later the real estate market downtown plunged and their investment was worthless.
Around the same time membership began to drop. You already know that story Pudge. The numbers kept dropping and the lodge wasn't bringing in new membership to replace those that we lost.
After several decades the membership had dwindled down to less than 500 members. It was the beginning of the end. The temple tried to rent out their beautifully ornate ballroom for weddings. There was a lot of interest at first until the customers discovered that, thanks to the temperance zealots a century and half before, the Grand lodge would not allow alcohol in the building. Once potential customers discovered this you never heard from them again. In desperation the board had no choice but to raise per capita on the members of the building. At first the leadership thought this would solve all their problems but they neglected to consider two things. One an increase of only ten dollars really didn't keep up with the inflation of the past fifty years and two, the worst of it was not everyone would have to pay the increase.”
The 50 year member elaborated “Out of the one 500 members in the building two thirds of them had been Masons for over fifty years. By Grand lodge law these Brethren did not have to pay anything. Including the per capita. The members were asked, (I'm thinking 'begged' might be a better word) to pay the thirty five dollars but nearly all declined with the rationale they had paid their dues for fifty years so they had done their part. So what you were looking at was around one hundred fifty men trying to take care of the expenses of the entire building. To make it worse the older men who had to pay nothing ran the building, so if the young men tried to come up with a way to make up for the shortfall they were voted down.”
The 50 year member summed up his thoughts. “I guess Pudge, sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Some of us want to live in the past while not planning for the future. I am just glad our temple thought ahead and tried to make sure we planned for the rainy days we all know will come.” The men picked up their cardboard boxes and slowly started carrying them to the truck.
“I'm glad we are in better shape. Even though I would hate to see this building demolished I understand. Still a shame.” Pudge said. “I know, I hate to see it too, but I heard a very wise Brother once ask the question “Are we a Brotherhood of men or real estate speculators?” He was right. Friendship, Morality and Brotherly love can prevail in any building we meet in. No matter how expensive or ornate a building, it isn't a lodge without the charter and the brothers. Just like the old saying “ Iron bars do not a prison make.” Neither do marble walls and ornate columns a Freemason make.”
WB Bill Hosler was made a Master Mason in 2002 in Three Rivers Lodge #733 in Indiana. He served as Worshipful Master in 2007 and became a member of the internet committee for Indiana's Grand Lodge. Bill is currently a member of Roff Lodge No. 169 in Roff Oklahoma and Lebanon Lodge No. 837 in Frisco,Texas. Bill is also a member of the Valley of Fort Wayne Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in Indiana. A typical active Freemason, Bill also served as the High Priest of Fort Wayne's Chapter of the York Rite No. 19 and was commander of of the Fort Wayne Commandery No. 4 of the Knight Templar. During all this he also served as the webmaster and magazine editor for the Mizpah Shrine in Fort Wayne Indiana.