Streets of Washington, written by John DeFerrari, covers some of DC’s most interesting buildings and history. John is the author of Historic Restaurants of Washington, D.C.: Capital Eats, published by the History Press, Inc. and also the author of Lost Washington DC.
The iconic Masonic Temple building on the northwest corner of 9th and F Streets NW was the first major private building to be constructed downtown after the Civil War, and it was an extraordinary achievement. Richly decorated inside and out and with a grand ballroom on the second floor, it was one of the city’s important cultural centers when it first opened its doors in 1869. The building had many lives, including as a bastion of the temperance movement in the early years of the 20th century and later as a furniture store. It would also become the first major building to be successfully protected by the District’s Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978.
The old Masonic Temple on the northwest corner of 9th and F Streets NW (photo by the author).
The building was constructed as the headquarters for the local Grand Lodge of Masons. Freemasonry is a centuries-old tradition descended from medieval stone masons’ guilds that evolved into a strictly fraternal order dedicated to benevolent acts. Masons organize themselves into lodges, which are chartered by regional Grand Lodges. Masons were first active in Washington in the late 18th century and formed a Grand Lodge here in 1811. By the mid 19th century they were using a hall at 9th and D Streets NW and needed a larger, more prestigious building to house their meeting hall and headquarters. In 1864, as the Civil War raged, Congress gave them a charter to acquire and develop a site for a new hall. The association purchased the 9th and F Streets lot in 1865 and began raising funds to construct the building. The project was run strictly as a for-profit business, with funds raised by the sale of stock. Stockholders would earn income from rental of the building’s public spaces on the first and second floors. (more…)