MUSKEGON, Mich. — For nearly 150 years, Masonic organizations have called downtown Muskegon home. But that page of history might be turned because the Masonic Temple building is for sale.
The Masonic Temple is listed for $499,000. The 23,790-square-foot building that sits across the street from Hackley Park was developed by local Masons in 1949.
Muskegon Lodge 140 traces its history back to January 1863, when lodge founder Alexander V. Mann — an early lumber company owner — was elected worshipful master.
"We are exploring our options," current Worshipful Master Steve Helfrich told The Chronicle. "We are concerned about our membership and a lack of funds in the future."
Helfrich is also one of seven members on the Masonic Temple board that made the difficult decision to look for new options beyond its downtown facility. He said the fraternal organization is "OK, right now," but the taxes and the cost of operating the facility have become a concern as membership ages and declines.
If a sale of the building is completed, the Muskegon lodge could seek a smaller, less costly building to operate. Another option would be to have its approximately 200 members seek a merger with either the Grand Haven lodge or Whitehall lodge — or both, Helfrich said.
A quick sale of the Masonic Lodge building probably isn't in the cards in the current post-recession commercial real estate market.
"Because of its uniqueness, I think an office user should pick it up," said Colliers real estate agent Tom DeBoer. "But the twist is that there is a huge kitchen, so someone might want the space for a banquet facility."
The large, first-floor institutional kitchen has served the Masons and the community for decades. The organization continues to have Friday evening fish fries for the public and over the years groups from the Muskegon Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis have called the Masonic Temple home.
"The Masonic Temple is a unique part of Muskegon with all of its history," DeBoer said. "There are not many buildings like it in downtown Muskegon. It shouldn't be torn down."
The Masonic Temple was dedicated in September 1949 over the course of an entire week. It was built for 3,000 members from various groups, including Muskegon Lodge 140, Lovell Moore Lodge 182 to the Bethesda Shrine No. 21 and the Royal Arch Masons. Lodge 182 has merged into Lodge 140.
Masonry in Muskegon traces its history back to Mann, who came to Muskegon as a master Mason out of the Grand River Lodge in Grand Rapids. He arrived in 1857 when Muskegon was an outpost community of about 600. He conducted the first Masonic meeting in Muskegon on Aug. 4, 1862.
The Masons have their origins in the 16th and 17th century Europe as a private society, with elaborate rituals. The organization has a "preoccupation with works of charity, moral uprightness and fraternal friendship."
The Masonic groups are many, including the Shriners, known across America for its participation in parades and its famed circus. Shriners, including the Muskegon Shrine Club, raise money for children's hospitals.
A Masonic charter was granted here on Jan. 15, 1863, and Muskegon Lodge 140 began, with more than 100 members. The first lodge hall was a 22-by-55-foot room over the Wheeler and Huginin's drug store on what is now Pine Street just west of West Western Avenue.
Early members of Lodge 140 included Muskegon benefactor and lumber baron Charles H. Hackley and Henry H. Getty, co-manager of the large Ryerson, Hills & Co. lumber business. Both men have their names on prominent Muskegon streets. Hackley, due to his community involvement and philanthropy, has his name on a park, library, hospital and a former bank.
By 1899, Charles T. Hills — the other co-manager of the Ryerson lumber business — built the Muskegon Masons a temple that opened in September 1900. The Hills Masonic Temple housed several organizations at Second Street and West Western Avenue until 1937 when the groups moved into buildings in the Russell Block just west on West Western.
After World War II, the local Masons built their current temple on Clay Avenue.
"We'll continue to maintain the building and we'll be doing some upgrades," Helfrich said. "We are trying to keep Masonry alive in Muskegon."
Information from: The Muskegon Chronicle, http://www.mlive.com/muskegon