By Bruce Landis
Providence Journal | Friday, July 16, 2004
After years of false starts, failed plans and naysaying, the renovation of the historic but tattered Masonic Temple has begun. The project will apparently bring to an end the years of the building’s decay since the Masons walked away from the unfinished Temple in 1929.
Denver-based developers Sage Hospitality Resources began pouring concrete into 45-foot-deep holes drilled next to the Temple. The start of the $77-million project was inconspicuous, taking place in the parking lot immediately south of the Temple.
Reinforced with steel, a dozen of the 2-foot-thick concrete caissons will parallel three sides of the building. They will be the foundation for a steel external skeleton that will hold up the shell of the building while contractors demolish its interior and replace it with a hotel.
Perrett said the bottom three floors are solid, but that the fifth and sixth floors need support. Horizontal beams will run from the external steel framework through some of the Temple’s windows, allowing the shell of the building to be supported on both the inside and outside. Erecting the steel framework around the Temple will begin in four to six weeks and will take about three months, he said, followed by another three months of demolition.
Sage plans a 274-room luxury Marriott Renaissance hotel with a ballroom, ground-floor restaurant and lounge, meeting rooms and a fitness center. The opening will be in April or May 2006.
Perrett said Sage has been working on the project for 28 months, dealing with city and state officials, getting permits and financing, and designing the project. Sage is a large hotel-management and development company. Hensel Phelps is a national construction company. Among other jobs, said Sandy Rotunda, the Phelps project manager, it was renovating the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., when the hijacked plane smashed into it on Sept. 11, 2001.
Sage plans to construct an additional building between the Temple and Veterans Memorial Auditorium next door, for more hotel rooms and reception space and for a link between the two buildings. The developers have said that upward of $30 million in local, state and federal tax breaks are essential to make the project possible. Officials have said they are delighted at the prospect of replacing an enduring eyesore across the street from the State House with an elegant hotel, without sacrificing the building. The city also agreed to a property-tax stabilization agreement with the developers.
Sage’s major financial partner is Kimberly-Clark, the household-products giant, whose products range from Kleenex tissues and Huggies diapers to surgical gowns. Together, Sage and Kimberly-Clark put up $35 million, Sage said in March. Kimberly-Clark said it was attracted to the program by the federal tax credits it will earn. The other major leg of the financing is a $41-million loan from Fleet Bank, a subsidiary of Bank of America.
Perrett and Rotunda also said they wanted to counter criticism that the project isn’t hiring local workers. He said that the architects are from New York and the engineers are also from out of state, but that local companies will do most of the construction work.
The story behind the Mason building is an interesting one. Construction began in the early 1920s by the FreeMasons in conjunction with what is now the VMA. They were built together with a tunnel, or small triangular structure linking the two at ground level. They were started after the current State House, and so, the Greek Revival style of both buildings were intended to complement it.
Well, when the Depression hit, money started to dry up. Soon, all the workers had to go off to fight in the war. Money for completing the structure was completely gone by the time they came back, and the buildings stayed empty and unfinished until the 80s. Finally, in the 80s, the city took the buildings over and rehabbed the one with (arguably) the most potential, or the least amount of work. This became the Veterans Memorial Auditorium. The structure that linked the two was decided to be too dangerous in the shape it was in, and so it was taken down. That is why the two buildings now operate as separate structures.
Many plans for the remaining building have come and gone. It was going to be a hotel, government offices, mixed use residential/commercial, and all plans fell through either for lack of money or planning. One proposal would have changed too much of the structure, and the building is protected from these changes by being designated a historic site.
James Pilkington Aug 17 2014 I’m a little confused. Back in the late forties. 1949 or so, one part of that complex was totally redone and was called the Veterans Memorial Auditorium. It was i thought part of that complex that was halted when the depression hit. The General Contractor was either Gilbane Construction or E. Turgeon Construction. My dad was the foreman for the company that did the plastering to the auditorium. That company was H. Carr & Sons who I think is still in business today.
sue Mar 2 2010 The architectural firm of Osgood and Osgood, Grand Rapids, MI consulted on this Masonic project. They are my great-grandfather and grandfather. It is sad to learn the the impact that the Depression had on it’s history. I hope that there is historical information incorporated in the hotel as well as graffiti rememberances.
401 Dec 12 2008 Man, this place is legendary to the rhode island graffiti scene. the temple of junerism, Juner being one of the most legendary and outstanding writer in RI. I just wish I could have been older when the temple was active, all I remember is driving by it as a kid, seeing the graffiti.
Christine Pearce Aug 25 2008 I am, actually, interested in a Masonic Temple that stood in East Providence at one time. For all I know, it may still be there, but I am having trouble finding this out for sure. My 90-year old mother’s, uncle, Albert McEachern, was an East Providence artist and, according to his obituary, he painted many murals in homes, churches and other buildings in East Providence, including one in the East Providence Masonic Temple. He also painted a mural in the Second Baptist Church in East Providence in 1939, which was dedicated to his wife, Florence A (Bayers) McEachern. I know that the church is still there, but is now a Russian church. I am planning a trip to Providence in Sept. and would like to know if anyone can help me to determine if there is a Masonic Temple in East Providence that would have been there in the 1930s. Does the name of the artist Albert McEachern mean anything to anyone? He, also, painted murals, with a maritime theme, in may East Side homes.Many thanks. rpearce1 [at] nycap [dot] rr [dot] com
Howie Finn I Just spent a weekend in the new hotel. It has been opened two months now and the help is as bright as the white marble interior, (not like in the pictures!). I grew up in R.I., went to college in Providence and recall this building as being boarded up as long as I lived in the state. Durng my stay at the hotel I invited some old local friends to visit and check out the rennovated place. One acquaintance remembered breaking in about 30 years ago and recounted his observations of the interior just as these photos show it. Lots of graffiti! While downstairs at the restaurant, he called me over to a hall by the door and pointed out a number of large prints of what I saw as abstract art. On closer inspection, I could see that it was all graffiti from the inside of the original structure! I later noticed similar prints throughout the hotel and in the room I was staying in. It looks like the old WAS preserved within the new after al!
Jefferey Giusti Hi my name is Jeff Giusti i am 13 years old and a RI native. I have been very interested in the Masonic Temple for a long time. Ever since driving by on the high way in Providence for my first time i was wondering what this place was, what it used to be, and why isn’t any one fixing it up . But now that i see you guys are working on it, I am happy. But I wish you guys kept the old look of the buliding. I am not a person who likes big change. Call me nuts that I am 13 years old, and usually a thirteen year old doesnt like stuff like this but I do. I know that i am only one person but i figure I give u my idea. It may be too late since u have already started on it but what the heck. By the way my dad is a general contractor with a company named JMGINC. and his company is worth about a half a million dollars not that big but he does have over 400 customers. His name is Jefferey Giusti Senior. Thank you for your time and i am glad that u guys are finally doing work there.
401-RUSH oh the hours and days and nights I have spent in this place. I remember seeing the roof once from my bus and noticing some graffiti. I later went to check it out and decided it was to be my next playground. The amount of people and stories I have about that place are far too many to mention here. Its sad to see the place go, I heard the city was considering saving some of the walls that had graffiti art on them, but I doubt that came through and chances are they would have saved the crap ones and nothing done by the kings of P-dence. Its nice to see some of the pictures of the work on this site. I will sorely miss the Masonic Temple, but its about time the graffiti scene moved.
ned I used to go through there in the early 90’s or thereabouts. You had to climb up the edges of the stairs, as the metal in the center was either gone or rusted paper thin – I can remember a few of us going knee deep through them. It was such a beautiful building once you got up top into what felt like the bones of an auditorium – the moonlight streaming in through the holes in the roof. An amazing place, and peaceful till you realized that the holes above you corresponded roughly to the piles of concrete debris on the floor all around you. Nothing ever came crashing down while I was in there though.
There was a creepy building next door at the time that we’d gone into once or twice. Some sort of residence with lots of rooms and twisted hallways. It always felt like you were gonna find a corpse in there – seriously. Made the brave move one night to open one of the refridgerators in there. Unbelievably it was still full of food, though it was long past the point where you could recognize anything that wasn’t labelled.
Now when I say the place was twisty, I mean that once I got in there I could not find my way out at all. Me and a pal had to heave something through a window on the second floor and scramble down the roof.
helen used to go into this place all the time. one of the best views of the city i have found yet. once when i was at the young age of fifteen, going to look out the window on one of the higher stories, i failed to notice a rather large hole in the floor that went down for four stories, through which i fell. i bounced off some aluminum and metal, and landed on my back. clearly i survived, with surprisingly minor injuries. getting out of that place all beat up was a real challenge.
Thomas While it’s nice to see some renovation, I can’t say I won’t miss the temple. Ugly? Yes. But I would never tire of seeing the “Temple of Junerism”. I remember going into the building with some friends, marveling at the huge LAC that marked the back and feeling my way over piles of debris to the stairway. Then climbing up the rickety stairs until we got to the top floor. There is not an inch along the walls not covered in graffiti and the humongous top floor was astounding. We tried out the rope swing that hangs from the skeleton that was once a roof. We had to be careful to only swing from the end with the elevator shafts because if you swing from the opposite, and higher, side you will have too much slack and go crashing to the floor as my friend did. Before you know it, the train tunnel is going to be turned into a 200 room 5-star hotel. RIP temple (the real one at least).
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