This is one of the city’s longest running problematic architectural compositions. Now two separate buildings, [Masonic Temple and Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium were] begun by local Masons from designs by Osgood & Osgood (Detroit), the country’s pre-eminent architects for masonic buildings, during the period of great temple building, as its monumentality attests. But the money ran out sometime in the middle of 1928, the workers walked away, and the building remained vacant for more than twenty years. The state acquired the complex in 1945 and finished the auditorium in 1951, renamed Veterans Memorial, to a simplified version of the original design. For more than half of a century Veterans has remained a popular venue for high-school graduations, concerts, and because of its excellent acoustics, is the home of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra. While the auditorium found a vital new use, the Temple languished. For more than seventy years it has remained vacant and deteriorating. Periodic studies by the state, in almost comically bureaucratic conclusions, found it was too expensive to complete and too expensive to demolish. To eliminate safety concerns, it was separated from the auditorium in the early 1990s. A charrette, sponsored by Providence Preservation Society in 1996, led to interest in developing the property as a hotel, but, as of this writing, no construction has taken place. Base-heavy and not the best articulated piece of the twentieth-century neoclassicism, it nonetheless has an appeal because of its visual response to the Rhode Island State House across the way. Stay tuned.
-2003 Guide to Providence Architecture
Construction on the Masonic Temple began in 1926 to provide an office and meeting space for the Rhode Island Freemasons. The seven-story, steel frame structure totals 155,200 square feet. Limestone and brick clad the building’s monumental façade whose eastern face features a colossal ionic colonnade.
In 1994, the first year of the Most Endangered Properties list, the Masonic Temple was included. It was included again in subsequent years, until 2003, the year the above text was published. Since its abandonment in 1928, the Masonic Temple has continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate despite its high profile history. Both the Temple’s exterior and interior spaces have suffered from severe neglect. Since the theft of the copper roof by scavengers, the building leaked uncontrollably, exposing the interior to rain and snow. However, the hefty steel and stone frame remained structurally sound and ready for adaptive use.
In 1994, PPS worked with the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Association, the Rhode Island Foundation, and a diverse group of individuals from State government, educational groups, and other non-profit organizations to identify a new use for the building.
In April 1996, PPS continued its commitment to the building by hosting a design charrette. Other sponsors included the State, the City, the RI Foundation, the Providence Foundation, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, the Scenic Rhode Island Foundation, and the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium Preservation Association. The charette examined nine reuse concepts for this landmark building and was attended by over 130 participants who concluded that the Temple could be saved and successfully reused.
In 1997, PPS worked with then Governor Lincoln Almond and the State of Rhode Island’s Department of Administration to market the Masonic Temple to news users. Innovative tactics included advertisements in local real estate journals, the cultivation of media coverage, as well as a direct mailing to over 4,000 interested parties such as developers, brokers, preservationists and architects throughout the U.S. and Canada. As a result of this combined effort, eight redevelopment proposals were presented to the State.
In 1999, PPS participated in the State’s selection process for a project developer. Algen Construction of New York was chosen to create a Marriott Renaissance Hotel in the Temple. PPS worked in reviewing and commenting on the then-proposed design for the building through its Planning & Architectural Review (PAR) Committee. Plans for the redevelopment of the building fell through in 2002 and the state, frustrated, began to entertain demolition proposals. At this same time, the idea for the building’s use as a legislative office space surfaced and was considered as an alternative to demolition.
It is no understatement that the Masonic Temple was in danger ever since it was first built. In 2003, Sage Hospitality, a Colorado-based hotel operator, came forward with plans to renovate the building as a luxury hotel. PPS supported the enthusiasm of the developer to preserve the Temple’s original character, and provided testimony at various hearings in support of the project. In July 2003, Sage Hospitality went before the City Council to work out a tax stabilization agreement. In the spring of 2004, the developer received approval from the Capital Center Commission and began construction soon after.
SAVED: As of February, 2019, the Renaissance Providence Hotel is operating within the shell of the Masonic Temple.