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International Union Local purchases Oregon Masonic Temple for new Headquarters Building

'It's a perfect fit'

g and compass

The Oregonian

Till now, bricks have kept Masonic secrets

Thursday, June 16, 2005

By Amy Hsuan

It's not exactly the Middle East, but ancient mysteries are alive and well on the corner of Southeast 64th Avenue and Foster Road.

Architect Brian Emerick ducks into a secret passageway at this former Masonic temple, where Freemasons of the Palestine Lodge used to don robes before appearing on stage in the grand ballroom.

"There's a lot of symbolism," Emerick says, pointing to the ornate brick building's Egyptian symbols. "It's just such an ancient society."

Freemasons, long known for their secret rituals and mysterious philosophies, have origins in the Middle Ages. Descended from the guilds of stone mason workers, the all-male fraternal order is deeply rooted in symbolism, with estimates of 1.7 million members in the United States, according to Masonic Service Association of North America.

"We are founded from the builders of King Solomon's Temple in Biblical times," explains Larry Ward, historian for the Grand Lodge of Oregon. "But now, we use the symbols for different meanings."

And if the walls could talk at the Palestine Lodge, they'd have an awful lot of explaining to do. Shrouded behind boarded windows and a chain link fence for years, the Masonic temple, built in 1926, is undergoing an extensive renovation that's revealing some of the fraternity's cryptic traditions. On the second floor, a stage at the east end of the lodge room was reserved solely for the master's seat. At one time, there would have been an altar in the center of the room, according to Amy McFeeters-Krone, an architectural historian with Building History, Inc.

The 16,000-square-foot Palestine Lodge soon will be headquarters for a modern-day international workers' organization -- the Service Employees International Union Local 503, which represents 33,000 workers across Oregon. The union bought the building early this year.

It's a perfect fit, says Chuck Mendenhall, SEIU project manager. The Palestine Lodge, formed in 1910, was started by Freemasons living nearby in the now Foster-Powell and Mount Scott-Arletta neighborhoods who had grown tired of traveling downtown to attend meetings, Krone says. Today, those neighborhoods are heavily populated with members of the SEIU.

"It's a working class neighborhood, and that's who we are," Mendenhall says. "So we definitely feel comfortable here."

Most residents are just happy the building's getting some tender, loving care.

"We're really excited about this," says Bill Ross, a Foster-Powell resident. "We're just glad it's not going to be an eyesore anymore."

Amy Hsuan: 503-221-8330; amyhsuan@news.oregonian.com

Unlocking the secrets

The Palestine Lodge is one of five Egyptian Revival buildings in the city, featuring common Masonic motifs laden with symbolism and meaning. Here's a guide to the architecture:

The Temple of Solomon

Most Masonic temples are modeled after this structure, built about 1000 B.C. and destroyed in 70 A.D. Considered the perfect building, all that remains of it are building plans and drawings.

Facing east

The Palestine Lodge is oriented east-west, following the belief that the east is the origin of light. Inside, the stage sits at the eastern end of the building, where the master would sit, symbolizing enlightenment.

Winged disc with uraei

Over the main entrance, a double-headed cobra with wings and an emblem of a sun uses ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and symbols to mean protection and sanctuary.

Compass and square

Freemasonry borrows many symbols from the tools of stone masons. The compass draws a circle, symbolizing unity. A square, used in making corners and angles, symbolizes strength. These two symbols encase the letter "G" at the Palestine Lodge. The "G" stands for God and geometry, fundamental in astronomy and architecture.

Source: Amy McFeeters-Krone, Building History Inc.

2005 The Oregonian

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