News Austin - Austin, Texas
Best Kept Secrets: Something old is new again
11/3/2005 5:00 AM
By: Paul Brown
The Scottish Rite Theatre has been around since 1869, yet most of the thousands of people who pass by it each day have never set foot inside.
When you enter the limestone building at 18th and Lavaca streets, it feels as though you've been transported back to the mid 19th Century. It was constructed by German immigrants wanting to create a public meeting and social gathering place, much like they would have found in their homeland.
"The German community in Austin decided it wanted to have its own meeting hall, and was part of a movement called the Turneverein, which specialized in physical fitness, recreation in terms of a lot of choral singing, and beer drinking and gathering and friendship and fellowship" Gordon Kelso, the theatre's executive director said.
It would later be known as Turner Hall. Looking around, you can almost feel the celebrations that took place inside.
In the early 20th Century, the Masons of Texas, specifically the Scottish Rite Masons of Austin, purchased the building and began renovations.
The stage was re-rigged with a 19th Century wooden-arbor, cable-guided counterweight system designed to reveal 79 hand-painted scenery drops.
"Seventy-two of them (scenery drops) we were able to get from the Guthrie, Okla., Territories which were painted for them in Guthrie in 1882. They went into storage when Guthrie built a new building in 1882," Kelso said.
Many of the backdrops are still used to this day. And the Scottish Rite Theatre is available to the public, much like it was when first built. There are lots of weddings these days -- almost every weekend. But the real focus is the Scottish Rite Children's Theatre.
"Since Masons love children, and frankly we were the frontier educators in Texas, we decided we really needed to serve the children of our community in a substantial way and that's by providing wholesome children's theatre on a very regular basis," Kelso said.
In fact, they've started their own theatre company in a place that allows children to experience a fun production in an historical setting.
"This is history. This is Austin. Anyone who walks by it is perfectly welcome to come in," Kelso said.
You can find out more about the children's productions by checking visiting scottishritechildrenstheatre.org, or calling (512) 472-KIDO.