Dayton Masonic Center is a gem in the Gem City
By JIm Bucher
What do John Glenn, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Bob Evans, (You know … down on the farm?) and Congressman Mike Turner all have in common? All are Masons.
It was pre-determined for 10-year-old Turner. His father was a Mason.
Mason’s have a long history in our country and in Dayton, too. Just notice the extremely large structure on the hill next to the Dayton Art Institute? That’s the Dayton Masonic Center, dating back almost a century.
“The men who built this building were leaders in every facet of life 90 years ago.” says Randy Clark, COO of Dayton Masonic Center. “Today we have to tell our story and let people know we are still here and still matter,” he says.
And what a story it is. Dayton Masonic Center was built by the Dayton Masonic Temple Association, consisting of 14 masonic groups. It took almost three years to complete at a cost of $2.5 million—an estimated $30 million in today’s dollars—and the doors opened April 3, 1928.
Get this … the building is 265 feet long by 190 feet wide by 80 feet high and encloses 5 million cubic feet. It is constructed of steel, cement and stone, including 55,000 cubic feet of Bedford stone and 15,000 cubic feet of hard limestone and marble from Vermont, Alabama and Tennessee.
And, you know I love local history, the location where the Dayton Masonic Center now stands at 525 W. Riverview Ave. north of the Great Miami River was referred to as the Stoddard property and was bought by the Dayton Consistory, and bequeathed to 14 then existing Masonic bodies. Groundbreaking for the new building began July 20, 1925.
The building is now a proud, contributing property in the Steele’s Hill-Grafton Hill Historic District, a historic district that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
“It is amazing to walk into this building every day. Not only is it overwhelming to think about the generations who built and used this building … but to think about the thousands who drive by every day,” Clark says.
Kinda’ cool and, as they say, “They don’t make ’em that way anymore.” But, though it was built to last, even this grand lady needs a little TLC.
“We recently added $13 million of improvements. The building is now air-conditioned, added an elevator where our main entrance is now located, renovated the entrance, remodeled the women’s restroom near the ballroom and added a women’s restroom on the auditorium level. We also did upgrades to the men’s rooms on all floors,” Clark says.
Back in the day, my grandfather Tom Herman was in the Mason’s Scottish Rite and never really spoke of the inner temple goings on. I did know they are a fraternal organization that unites men of good character who through different religions, ethnic or social backgrounds share a belief in the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of mankind.
For the most part though, I, along with many, were clueless, but times are a changin’.
“We do have some secrets, but not many,” Clark says. “Our initiation ceremonies are private and we have signs and handshakes to identify ourselves to another member. But are proud to tell the world who we are and what we do. We are opening our building so people can see this and experience this unique facility that we love,” he says.
And did you know it has a restaurant open to the public?
“That is correct, The Square and Compasses Cafe on our lower level is open weekdays for lunch,” Clark says. “We also offer lunchtime meeting space for civic groups like Rotary, Exchange Club, Optimists and available to host almost any kind of event—weddings and receptions, graduations, corporate parties and meetings, charity fundraisers, family events. We have rooms that will hold 50 people and up, a huge ballroom and an 1,700-seat auditorium,” Clark says.
In recent years additional land adjacent to the Dayton Masonic Center was acquired, a portion of which has been converted into a parking area that accommodates 250 vehicles. The balance of the surrounding area is beautifully landscaped, adding natural beauty to the entire complex. It is awesome.
“I’d like think we would be far better known as a place to hold your signature event and as a place where every person in Dayton can say, ‘The Masonic Center? I’ve been there lots of times,’” Clark says. “I also hope it would be seen as a place where men in our area could have the best fraternal experience available anywhere,” he says.
So, times are a changin’, but the misnomer that this place is for old men out of touch with modern times, Clark says that is “fake news.”
“We try to be more visible and open, younger men seem to be rediscovering what the men before them knew—this is a place worth being and a group that will make you a better man, father, citizen and friend.”
Bet 10-year-old Mike Turner would agree.