Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- July 20th

Masonic Hall

225 Chestnut Street

Holy fuck look at this thing!
                 This building is so lost that the buildings that replaced it are ancient ruins. Look at that fucking thing. Embattled top, gothic windows, statues and points and shit all over the place... this was some good stuff. Too bad it only stood for 8 fucking years!
                 It all started in 1802. For the last 2 years, the Freemasons in Philadelphia had their regular meetings in Independence Goddamn Hall!! They loved it but then encountered a problem they could never predict: famous artist and Philaphile Charles Wilson Peale. The state legislature allowed Peale to put a museum into the building, and he went balls to the walls with it.
                   He started demolishing shit and put a big sign over the door that said "MUSEUM". He was such a dick that he moved into the building and then complained that the Masons, who were now relegated to a couple of rooms on the second floor, were keeping him up at night. He was fucking living there, giving the Masons shit the entire time. The Masons were like "fuck this" and gave Peale shit right back. Peale was such a respected motherfucker at the time that he eventually had the Masons kicked the fuck out of their own Hall.
                  The Masons were fucked. They needed a new space from which to conduct their badassery. They were forced to move into a big goddamn rowhome on Filbert Street.

Independence Hall with Peale bothering them was better than this!
                The Filbert Street place sucked. Half the meeting minutes from the short time they were there are about how much it sucks to be there and how they'll be getting the fuck out. The Masons owned a plot of land on Chestnut Street that they used for outdoor events. They figured this would be the spot to put a brand new Masonic Hall that would be the FUBU of Masons everywhere.
                  They wanted everything to be done by Masons, so they called on a Freshman architect named William Strickland and were like "Listen Young Bull, I know you've never designed a whole building before, but you're the only Mason architect that'll work for so goddamn cheap! DOOOOOO IIIIIT!!!!" Though Strickland is more known for his Greek Revival stuff, his first building was the Georgian Gothic Masonic Hall.
                   He pulled out all the stops. He gave them a marble-covered embattled super-cathedral with a 180-foot wooden steeple. Throwing a 180-foot steeple on a building design in 1808 was as ambitious as putting the Burj Khalifa on top of a Dairy Queen. The tallest building in the country at the time was Christ Church, only 18 feet taller. The Masons approved the design November 11, 1808.
                   Construction began  in April 1809 using a construction company owned and operated by Masons. This Megacock Cathedral took two years to build due to monetary problems. It was a big fucking project and they did not want to spare any expense to reach their goal of making it the finest Masonic Hall in the goddamn world. It officially opened on June 24th, 1811... two hundred years ago this Sunday. It was a BIG FUCKING DEAL when it opened.
                   The opening ceremony consisted of a huge processional consisting of over 200 Masons. They marched from the Arch Street Quaker Meeting House (still standing) at 4th and Arch to the St. John the Evangelist Church at 6th and Race (destroyed to build the Ben Franklin Bridge), had a full on mass, then marched down to the new hall for a huge banquet. Masons from far and wide came to Philadelphia to attend, which back then was not fucking easy.
                    Well I sure hope they fucking enjoyed it because a chimney explosion 8 years later brought an end to this awesome building. The steeple burned down and fell onto the roof of the lower portion of the structure. Tons of records, artifacts, famous dead Mason's aprons, and other assorted irreplaceable shit all burned. Only the exterior brick and marble walls survived.

It was such a big deal there's a painting of it hanging in Chicago
                   What were the Masons gonna do now? After all that discussing and building, their building was gone!! What can they do? Where could they go? Oh yeah, they went back to this:

                  They had to go crawling back from the second tallest building in Pennsylvania to their dinky little mansion on Filbert Street. The membership went to shit and they got down to 10 or 12 dudes. That small group managed to rebuild the membership on their own and re-open a rebuilt Masonic Hall only 20 months after the original burnt down, this time with gas lamp lighting! Don't think they didn't do another huge processional parade, because THEY DID.

Meh, I liked the old one better.
                  A huge nationwide Anti-Masonic sentiment arose in the next decade, and the brotherhood declined so much that they were forced to sell their awesome hall and move into a pre-existing old building in 1835. They got a shitload of offers from big time motherfuckers like the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum so they put it up for public auction... and then it was GONE.
                 What a cool fucking building... It's doubtful that it would still be standing if it had never burned down... the Masons would still have sold it off in 1835 because Freemasonry had become severely despised in that time period. The temple they built 3 halls later finally got the job done right.

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