What is happening with the old masonic building at St. Charles and Clio, next to the interstate? It's a great-looking building. It would be a shame for it to fall into disrepair.
Many people probably have driven past that distinctive building or looked up at it while riding a St. Charles Avenue streetcar, unaware of its rich history. Others correctly will remember it as the Jerusalem Temple, a site for Carnival balls, concerts, dances and graduations, as well as the headquarters for the local Shriners organization from 1918 until 1995.
With the more formal name of the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, the Shriners is a Masonic fraternal and service organization formed in New Orleans in 1885. By the mid-1900s, its membership was large enough to require a new headquarters. Carrying out the group's Middle Eastern theme, the club designed its 38,000-square-foot headquarters, the Jerusalem Temple, in a Moorish architectural style. The architect was Emile Weil, who also designed the Saenger Theatre, Touro Synagogue and the Whitney Bank building on St. Charles Avenue in the CBD.
Shriners from across the country converged on New Orleans in December 1918 for dedication ceremonies. "The new mosque presents in all its aspects the tone of the Orient," according to a story about the dedication in The Times-Picayune. "Its outward view is that of an Egyptian temple with mosaics, minarets and golden domes." Inside, the building had two auditoriums, a seating capacity of 2,000 and a banquet hall, club rooms, a swimming pool and baths.
While the Shriners' continue philan-thropic work, including supporting children's hospitals and burn units, the group no longer is based in the large brick building at 1137 St. Charles Ave. In 1995 the Shriners relocated to Destrehan, and the former Jerusalem Temple is now owned by the Church of the King, which holds religious services in Mandeville, Biloxi and Metairie, but not at the St. Charles Avenue location. It does offer outreach programs there, including one for the homeless. Pastor David DeGarmo says there are plans to renovate the building and reopen it, possibly as early as next year.