One of Chattanooga's oldest nonprofit groups is getting a new home that backers hope will draw a variety of uses in Chattanooga's re-emerging Southside.
Four Chattanooga Masonic lodges are joining to build a facility on a vacant lot at 551 West 21st St. across from Finley stadium to both house their lodge activities and to be available for events and parking for other activities at the stadium.
The Masons plan to break ground Friday on their new $2 million temple site, which is the third home for the Chattanooga Masonic Center since its founding in 1899.
The new 7,650-square-foot building should be completed by next year and will be home to four Masonic lodges that previously shared a building at 950 Vine Street, which the Masons sold two years ago to the Chabad Jewish Center of Chattanooga.
"We searched several locations prior to deciding on this site," said Steve Reno, a Mason for the past 29 years and is president of Chattanooga Masonic Temple Inc., which is comprised of representatives from the four Masonic lodges. "We just felt with the expansion on the Southside, this was a really good opportunity to be more visible in the community and to develop our facility to assist the community with events and parking for stadium activities and other activities."
In addition to hosting Masonic events, the new Masonic building will have an approximately 200-person capacity rental space for other special events as well as an outdoor patio area and parking lot.
Paul Smith, another board member for the Chattanooga Masonic Temple, said the building will be home to Chattanooga Lodge No. 199 F.&A.M. Temple Lodge No. 430, F.&A.M., John Bailey Nicklin chapter No. 49 R.A.M., and Lookout Commandery No. 14 Knights Templar. Collectively, the four lodges have nearly 800 members who continue the Mason tradition started in Chattanooga with the establishment of the first lodge in 1850.
"The new building will be of great use for these lodges and for others who may want to use the facilities, especially on game days at Finley Stadium," Smith said.
Chattanooga Masonic Temple, Inc., a not-for-profit real estate holding company, was chartered in 1899 to promote Freemasonry and to erect and maintain a building for Masonic purposes in Chattanooga.
Chattanooga attorney Mark Von Keller, II, vice president of the Chattanooga Masonic Temple, said the first Masonic Lodge in Chattanooga was chartered in 1850 and Temple 430 began in 1872.
Masons are part of a fraternal organization that traces its roots to the local fraternities of stonemasons, which regulated the qualifications of stonemasons and their interaction with authorities and clients in medieval times. The basic, local organizational unit of Freemasonry is the Lodge.
The Masons first home in Chattanooga was at 7th and Cherry Streets in what was formerly the Mountain City Club. In 1917, the membership in the Chattanooga Masonic Temple was extended to two other masonic bodies — Hamilton Chapter No. 49 of the Royal Arch Masons and Lookout Commandery No. 14 Knights Templar.
In 1959, the Chattanooga Masonic Temple moved into its second home, the former Jo Conn Guild mansion at 950 Vine Street in Fortwood.
Chattanooga Masonic Temple Inc. is now governed by an eight-member board comprised of Reno von Kessler, vice president, Terry Plemons, secretary-treasurer, Jim Carroll, David Olds, Richard Petty, Paul Smith and Tag Thompson.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 423-757-6340.