A Rare Look Inside Battle Creek’s Grand and Historic Masonic Center
There’s always an air of mystery surrounding the Masons and affiliated organizations. They’ve been around a long, long time and they have symbols and traditions that go back centuries. Some call them “secret societies.”
There were no secrets evident on Saturday, as I visited the historic 4-story building at 133 East Michigan in Battle Creek. The doors were wide open, and there were friendly people everywhere giving tours and answering questions. They all took great pride and showed great passion for their building and their organization. And there was ample time to just wander off to explore every nook and cranny of the building.
I walked in and one of the first things I saw was an incredible scale model replica of King Solomon’s Temple. Roger Gregory was there to explain it and give its history. It was built over 20 years by John Taylor in Parchment, Michigan. Taylor even had constructed an outbuilding just to house it. Five years ago, in 2016, when Taylor’s health began to deteriorate, his family donated it, and the Temple was disassembled, moved to Battle Creek, and re-assembled. The scale of the model is ¼”=1’. It’s made of Jerusalem marble and brass.
If you’re not up to climbing stairs, there’s an elevator. It’s worth the visit just to ride that elevator, which might be the oldest working elevator in Battle Creek.
A ride up to the second floor reveals a meeting room, where a serious fire broke out two years ago. A cab driver spotted the smoke at three in the morning, and firemen saved the building. Our tour guide, Scott, said the pocket doors in the room were shut, and held the pressure, helping to contain the fire. “It did leave a hole in the floor big enough to drop a Volkswagon,” he said. More than one member told me Saturday that the insurance company did right by the Masons, and the repairs look fantastic. Scott told me that they couldn’t get the right replacement for the pocket doors, so they had to install the recently popular sliding track doors. The room also got updated windows and frames.
There’s a great rec room with a beautifully restored antique pool table, foosball, and air hockey.
The building has two very large and ornate meeting areas, with balconies around three sides of the rooms. A member named Jerry was there explaining some things about Masons, and videos were playing to shed more light on things. One video was made a few years ago, and Jerry said it’s the very best he’s seen on the subject of the Masons. But he said the original version had 4 minutes and 35 seconds missing when it went from VHS tape to DVD. Some speculate that too many secrets may have been revealed on that original.
Jerry also had an old movie reel that was found on the property, and he had it transferred to digital and that was also being viewed.
A projection booth in one of the auditoriums also remains, where images were projected on a screen during meetings and ceremonies.
A second meeting area with balcony seating is one floor up. Each of those rooms and the entire building for that matter features paintings and photos of the hundreds of Battle Creek members who have been part of the organization. They don’t have a national organization in the US. These hundreds and hundreds of men were all pretty much concerned with their local community.
The top floor of the building also features a lunchroom and kitchen that are a throwback to another era. The pristine lunchroom features olive green tables and chairs right out of the 1950s. The kitchen looks like it hasn’t changed much since 1913.
I was exploring the dining room and kitchen with a Mason from the Coldwater lodge, and we saw a carpeted staircase extending high into the corner, so we explored it and found ourselves in the attic.
A trip to the basement found quite a spread of refreshments and an old friend I was hoping to see there. Longtime WBCK Morning Mayor Dave Eddy was there, talking with people and maintaining quality control of the cookies, salads, and sandwiches.
I didn’t know much about the Masons before the visit. I still don’t know a lot. Probably most of us don’t. It’s an organization that likes to do good things for communities in a quiet way, so an open house seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up. Service clubs and fraternal organizations in Battle Creek are fighting the same battles as those everywhere. Membership is not being replaced by younger members and is shrinking overall. The Masons are a male-only organization. Their traditions are old. They all believe in a supreme being. They have great pride in being a Mason and in their home. They all strive to lead more virtuous and socially oriented lives. I saw that on Saturday.