Another Santa Fe landmark could be on the real estate market this summer. Officials with the Scottish Rite Masonic Center will soon formally inform members about their “serious consideration” of putting the century-old building north of downtown up for sale. “It is a wonderful old building, but we simply can’t afford to keep it up with our declining membership,” said Tom Payne, Scottish Rite head for the Orient of New Mexico. “It is like every other fraternal organization, with the dip claiming membership and the rising costs, we simply cannot make a cash flow. So we need to go to a more efficient building that costs a lot less to maintain.”
The “pink cathedral” at the corner of Paseo de Peralta and Washington Avenue is a hulking edifice with a footprint of nearly 45,000 square feet. A standout amid Territorial and Pueblo-style buildings still standing downtown, it was erected in 1912 in the Moorish architectural style, with some features patterned from the Alhambra castle in Granada, Spain. Masonic organizations like Scottish Rite peaked in popularity here after World War II, when more than 4,000 men were members. Today, that number is in the range of 1,400 to 1,800, Payne said. Building owners with the local Valley of Santa Fe chapter aren’t sure how much they might ask for the property, he said, but plan to make a decision about its fate before June 1. “We have not gone that far,” Payne said. “We are just beginning talks with the brokerage firm. Make a major donation and we won’t have to sell it.” The group allows various community organizations to use the facility and its cavernous theater and dining hall for concerts, plays and other purposes. It’s also rented for private meetings and weddings.
Losing the venue would be a blow, particularly for arts nonprofits, said Andrea Cassutt, operations director for the Santa Fe Concert Association. Dramatic productions staged there can make use of hand-painted backdrops on a wooden fly system and use an antique lighting and sound system that is an intrinsic feature of the building. The theater was designed for use by the all-male masons to perform ritual plays for candidates seeking to advance through “degrees” of the order. In a room next to the auditorium, costumes worn during the rituals are displayed in glass-fronted wooden cabinets that once lined the walls of a men’s clothing store on the Plaza.
“It’s a little like doing a performance in a museum, and there is definitely a sense of mystique in getting let behind the curtain of the whole masonic temple,” Cassutt said. “My guess would be that someone coming in and buying it is not going to have the reverence for the history and the lineage that it represents. I think of it as an amazing, historic, wonderful community resource and it would make that vulnerable, for sure.” The building is listed on the state and national registers of cultural properties and is protected in the city’s Historic Design Review District as a “significant” structure. Architectural historian Chris Wilson wrote in 1987 that the building was considered a “major work” of architects Sumner Hunt and S.R. Burns. The pair subsequently incorporated similar Spanish-Moorish features into the Southwest Museum they designed in Los Angeles.
Wilson wrote that the building is “a particularly good, intact (and still vital) example of the increasing theatricality of ritual which characterized Freemasonry in the United States at the turn of the century.” The building also includes an enclosed courtyard, large commercial kitchen and several dormitories. Stained glass windows, hipped roof tiles, horseshoe and keyhole arches and pink-stucco exterior also make the poured-concrete building a standout. Another notable property north of the downtown area is the defunct St. Catherine Indian School, an 8-acre campus that includes one of the largest, oldest hand-formed adobe buildings in the state.
Contact Julie Ann Grimm at 986-3017 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @julieanngrimm.