For 60 days, the building will close so workers can replace the roof, install LED lighting and sound systems and make the building handicap accessible. The grand dome theater will get a fresh coat of paint and 24-karat leafing on its details.
“There was a huge community here, and we want to bring that back,” said Konstantin Savvon, the director of operations for the center. “We want to support and reach out to Oakland.”
The Scottish Rite of the Valley of Oakland, a Freemasons fraternity, will offer guided public tours and open a restaurant and bar. Rooms previously used only by the fraternity will be available to rent. Savvon said they want the building to become more accessible, for example, to Oakland’s nonprofits and startups.
The fraternity has a few thousand members — the exact number is a secret. However, the building was designed with 8,000 members in mind.
While those numbers have declined, revitalizing the building is a way to revitalize themselves and the community.
Savvon often hears wows, oohs and ahs when people walk into rooms. The rich architecture sparks conversations, which, Savvon said, is worth the costly restorations.
The fraternity raised nearly $200,000 and received about $1 million in donations.
“We’re trying to be as original to the period as possible,” he said.
The original hammered-bronze ceiling in the entrance room would cost more than what the center is worth today, which is about $240 million. One thousand men working simultaneously built the Scottish Rite Center in 1927 for a cool $1.9 million.
There were no CNC machines to spit out the tiny and intricate architectural details found throughout the 130,000-square-foot building. Almost everything was done by hand.
“What I have to do is reconstruct the same motifs with the same materials and techniques,” said Philip Lawson, lead restorer and artist. “It can be very labor-intensive.”
He and other craftsmen have the painstaking task of restoring thousands of hand-painted, plaster-relief and stone masonic symbols that cover almost every nook and cranny of the building.
“Freemasonry has a lot to do with symbolism, so preservation is important,” Lawson said. “The reason this needs to be done methodically and carefully is because we’re trying to protect the history, trying to honor the history.”
The Masonic history and rituals are also shrouded in mystery and tall tales to the outside world. Once construction is finished, visitors will get a glimpse of secret passageways and rooms. Some say the building is haunted. Ghosts have been spotted roaming, or floating, in the building, said Paul Adams, the librarian.
“I was not a believer until I saw one,” he said. “There are a lot of secrets in this building.”
The missions of the fraternity are to honor personal liberties and to act with good moral character. The building is like a university where these values are taught and is worth preserving, the fraternity says.
This is the second major renovation in the building’s 80-plus years.
“It’s been one hell of a battle,” Savvon said of restoring the lodge, which has been his project since he walked through the doors of the lodge three years ago. “They don’t build buildings like this anymore.”