Detroit’s Masonic Temple, the largest building of its kind in the world, recently held a first of its kind behind-the-scenes tour. The special tour led participants to machinery rooms, an unfinished theater, an unfinished swimming pool, the roof, and two and a half stories below. Participants were able to see the inner workings of this incredible building. Curbed joined the tour to share photos of places few ever see.
The Masonic, designed by George Mason and built between 1920-26, has 1,037 rooms total. This includes three theaters, the Shrine tower, the chapel, two ballrooms, and many lodge rooms. One of the theaters is the unfinished theater, located on the 7th floor, right under the roof 14 stories up. The theater was never finished due to the Great Depression, but it’s sometimes used for filming. Visitors have to use the freight elevator, as the stairs were never completed past the fan room underneath.
The tour took us to the Commandery Asylum, or Chapel, which is often used for weddings. But on this tour, we witnessed something few get to see -- located in the Commandery Asylum is an ascension scene, a custom built stage apparatus which was the largest of its kind when built. Two large mirrors face each other on different angles and the biblical figures are dragged across the floor, which gives the appearance of moving up and down. The mirrors are positioned in a way that when someone is standing in that pit they seem upside down.
Next to the Commandery Asylum is a small room called the Prelate's Apartment. It's used for Commandery purposes, as well as a spiritual sanctuary and a room for grooms to get ready for weddings.
While many see shows at the Masonic Theater, we saw it the 4,650 seat theater from many different angles: the chandelier above, the catwalk to the side of the stage, from the stage, and below. Also note the switchboard, which is original and still used for each show.
The unfinished pool is located on the third floor. The tour went through the drill hall on the third floor mezzanine to get to it's balcony. It would have been part of an athletic complex which would have included a sauna, a gym, and handball court (the latter two of those got built).
The Shrine Tower Lodge once had furniture, billiards, and games. More recently, it’s been used for filming.
We toured through a number of rooms with original mechanical equipment still in use, including fan rooms, machine room, and an engine room 2 1⁄2 stories below the building — the bowels of the building.
Here are a few more photos from the tour, including a sneak peek at the views from the top.
Public tours of the building are typically conducted on the first and third Sundays of the month. This was a first of its kind tour and they may offer it again in the future. More info on tours can be found here. Many thanks to Docent Rob Moore and Temple engineer Rich Etue for the tour.
Our photographers also captured more in the Masonic Temple on a tour a few years back. Those photos can be found here.