BAY CITY, MI — After 122 years, one of Bay City’s oldest fraternities has a new home. On Friday, Jan. 30, officials from the Joppa Lodge No. 315 of the Free and Accepted Order of Masons closed on the purchase of the former Whistling Idiots Theatre after more than a century of meeting at Bay City’s historic Masonic Temple. Next month, the Masons plan to host their first meeting inside the 5,000-square-foot theater, 701 N. Van Buren St., and begin settling in.
“It’s an exciting time for our group,” said Don Baker, treasurer of the Masons. “We’ve been looking for a building and when this came up, it was perfect opportunity.”
The Masons purchased the former dinner theater from owner Steve Steer for $115,000, about $50,000 less than the asking price, said Steve Lockey, who helped broker the deal. The building is valued at about $150,000, according to Bay County property records.
Steer, 62, has been battling throat cancer since 2013, which recently spread to his brain, his son Jeremy Steer said.
“It’s bittersweet,” Jeremy Steer said of the sale. “We loved that theater; it was his passion. Unfortunately, he couldn’t keep it for health reasons, but we’re happy about the sale and that it’s staying in the community with the Masons.”
Steve Steer is receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment at McLaren Bay Region’s new Karmanos Cancer Institute, his son said.
Mason’s building history
The Masonic Temple, located at the corner of Sixth Street and Madison Avenue, was an ideal lodge for the Masons when membership numbers were in the several hundreds. But as memberships and the condition of the building declined in the 2000s, organization leaders realized it wasn’t a viable option, said Jim Griffiths, a past master of the Joppa Lodge. At the time, an architect hired by the Masons estimated repairs to the building could exceed $3 million, he said.
In 2005, the group sold the building on a land contract to the Bay Arts Council, which expressed interest in raising funds and restoring the facility to its formal glory. That effort continues today through a group called Friends of the Historic Masonic Temple.
After the sale, the Joppa Lodge struck a deal with the Wenona Lodge, another order of Masons located on the city’s West Side, to share a space for monthly meetings. After a year, however, it didn’t work out, Griffiths said, and members of the Joppa Lodge were stuck looking for a new location.
Over the next several years, the Masons met in a couple spots — back at their original building thanks to a lease worked out with the Bay Arts Council and at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center, 614 Center Ave., which is connected to the Masonic Temple and owned by the Scottish Rite, a higher order of the Masons.
Eventually, Griffiths said the Joppa Lodge Masons wanted something more steady and a place of their own, so they went in search of a new property. They plan to begin meeting in their new building the first Tuesday of March. Today, the lodge has about 180 members.