Chicago YIMBY: Lost Legends #10: The Masonic Temple Building In The Loop

Masonic Temple Entrance, by Burnham & Root. Built in 1892. Demolished in 1949.
Historic Photo Credit: Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Archival Image Collection, Inland Architect Vol. 19, no.5 (IA1905_0978)
Masonic Temple, by Burnham & Root. Built in 1892. Demolished in 1949. Historic Photo Credit: Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Archival Image Collection, Inland Architect
Inland Architect, vol. 20, no. 5 (IA20XX_1109)
Masonic Temple Entrance, by Burnham & Root. Built in 1892. Demolished in 1949. Historic Photo Credit: Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Archival Image Collection, Inland Architect
Inland Architect, no. 5 (IA2005_1110)
Masonic Temple light court and atrium lobby, by Burnham & Root. Built in 1892. Demolished in 1949. Historic Photo Credit: The (Chicago Daily News Archive – Library of Congress

“In this edition of the “Lost Legends” series, we delve into the history of The Loop‘s Masonic Temple Building, which stood tall from 1892 until the late 1930s. Designed by the renowned architectural firm Burnham and Root, the Masonic Temple Building was the city’s tallest from 1895 to 1899 (taking the title initially when the original Board of Trade Building had its clock tower removed, then surpassed by The Montgomery Ward Building), serving as an emblem of Chicago’s status as a global pioneer in architecture and engineering.

“History: The Masonic Temple Building was constructed in 1891-1892 at the corner of Randolph and State Streets in Chicago, Illinois. Rising 21 stories and reaching a height of 302 feet, the structure was owned by Oriental Lodge and was a testament to the popularity and prominence of the Freemasons in Chicago at the time. Designed by the prolific architectural firm Burnham and Root, the Masonic Temple Building employed a rigid steel frame with wrought iron wind bracing placed diagonally between the structural members above the 10th floor. Large windows were installed from top to bottom, emphasizing the practicality of a steel-framed building and allowing ample natural light to fill the interior spaces.

“Demolition: Despite its historical significance and architectural grandeur, the Masonic Temple Building faced challenges that would eventually lead to its demolition. The 1939 demolition would be influenced by two primary reasons. First, the building’s outdated and insufficient infrastructure played a significant role in its downfall. Poor internal services rendered the structure less appealing and functional over time. Secondly, the construction of the new State Street subway presented challenges for the Masonic Temple. Undertaking expensive foundation retrofitting to accommodate the subway’s construction would have been a burdensome cost, further justifying the choice to tear down the building. Today, where the Temple once stood is the 33-story Joffrey Tower, designed by Booth Hansen and constructed in 2008.

“Legacy: Much like our other Lost Legend installations, the loss of Chicago’s Masonic Temple Building reflects the ongoing tension between urban development and the preservation of architectural gems. For every modern skyscraper we see today, there’s an older structure, like the Masonic Temple, that once commanded attention and respect. Its absence underscores the ever-changing nature of our cities, always adapting to the shifting demands of time and progress. (Crawford, Chicago YIMBY, 9/20/23)

Read the full story with 3D Modeling at Chicago YIMBY

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