Vindy.com - Youngstown, OH
Keeping building viable is important to group
One group wants to bring in entertainment to offset building costs.
Sunday, December 4, 2005
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR PENNSYLVANIA BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. — Karl Chandler spent a good part of his youth at the Scottish Rite Cathedral — the stately looking building that sits at one of the city's highest points.
"I was raised in this building from the time I was 5," said Chandler, 63, of the family functions he would attend with his parents through the Masonic organizations that operated out of the structure.
But today's youth have far more tugging at their time than the traditional fraternal organizations that were popular in the early and mid-1900s, so the organizations that built and sustained the Cathedral are turning to the outside to keep the building viable.
"I think we're a diamond in the rough," said Rich Sbarro, president of the Cathedral Foundation, the organization that operates the neo-classic building that boasts a 2,800-seat auditorium and 600-seat banquet hall.
Second-largest in area
Considered one of the largest halls in the region, second only to the recently built 6,000-seat Chevrolet Centre in Youngstown, the Cathedral Foundation aspires to bring in monthly entertainment to offset some of the $395,000 annual costs the building incurs.
"One of our biggest assets is our auditorium, and we'd like to develop it. But we'd like to start off in baby steps and get our feet wet," Sbarro said.
In recent years, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has utilized the building for four shows a year. Most recently, Doc Severinsen of NBC's "The Tonight Show" fame performed in the hall with the symphony.
But Sbarro said they are also looking into popular music acts and comedians. The facility has had some success in the past bringing in acts such as comedian Jerry Seinfield in 2002 through a Heinz Hall series and country musicians Lonestar and Trace Adkins.
Those projects are still in their infancy, and the Cathedral Foundation is looking at other ways to utilize the sizable structure.
Only within the last few decades has the Foundation allowed alcohol to be served inside the building, which has helped in the banquet hall rentals for weddings and other events. The organization upgraded the kitchen in recent years and taken on other large maintenance projects such as a new roof.
Dawn Ayers, Cathedral Foundation coordinator, said they are also trying to make the banquet facility more convenient by contracting with a caterer who will handle all events inside the building. This package also includes the bartenders and security in an effort to make it more attractive, she said.
But those things were far from minds of the Cathedral's builders.
John S. Wallace, commander-in-chief of the New Castle Consistory, the masonic organization that first oversaw the building, in the early 1900s, lived next door to the East Lincoln Avenue land on which the Cathedral sits and wanted a central meeting place for all Masonic groups.
Cathedral archives show that the Masonic groups met in the New Castle High School, which was only a few blocks from the Cathedral site before it was built.
The cornerstone for the $1.7 million building was laid in 1925, and the building was first used Nov. 8, 1926.
Ayers said one of the more interesting facts of the construction is that the building was initially intended to face south, but quicksand on that side of property forced builders to reverse the entrance to the north.
The Masonic Association lost the building to taxes in 1940 and it wasn't until 1944 that the Cathedral Foundation was formed and took over its operation. The foundation's bylaws state that all members must first be members of the Masonic organizations that operate out of the building.
The Masonic organizations saw an upswing in members after World War II and often brought in live entertainment, such as vaudeville acts, for the members.
Richard Meredith, current commander-in-chief of the New Castle Consistory, said while the building has opened more to the public, it is still mainly used by Masonic organizations for meetings.
The consistory has also opened the building to its new philanthropy, the 32° Masonic Learning Center for Dyslexic Children. In its second year, the center offers free one-on-one tutoring for elementary-age dyslexic children. It's part of a national initiative of the Scottish Rite Freemasonry, Northern Masonic District.
Individual study rooms were fashioned on the east side of the building's first floor.
Chandler, who is the 1st Lt. Commander of the New Castle Consistory, said it costs about $5,000 per child. To date, the consistory had a grant from its international organization and has had fundraisers to support the center.
But the consistory, like the Cathedral Foundation, is turning to the public for support of its philanthropy with raffles and pancake dinners.
The organization once had numerous members to call on for finances, but now has about 5,500 members from Mercer, Lawrence, Beaver, Butler and Armstrong counties. The average age of a member is 68, and the organization is inducting classes of 20 to 30 men when it once saw 200-plus members join at one time, Chandler said.
"Instead of joining when they are 21 like I did, most of our new members are about 40 years old," Chandler said.
While the building's main function is serving the Masonic groups, it has also taken on a more public role, housing the county's 911 center on its second floor and more recently operating as an emergency shelter when numerous elderly people were displaced from a public housing complex by fire.