The Masons flee once more
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
THE announced departure of the Masonic organization from the Zenobia Shrine location it has occupied for nearly six decades on Madison Avenue is not the first time the Masons have decided to abandon the heart of the city.
Many Toledoans will recall that the Masons left their downtown temple at Michigan and Adams streets and opened a new Masonic complex in 1969 on Heatherdowns Boulevard, a complex that included a theater initially known as the Masonic Auditorium.
It was a move opposed by this newspaper as far back as 1965, when we lamented what amounted to a selfish sabotage of community efforts to rejuvenate downtown Toledo.
Despite the unified voice of Toledo government and business leaders in the 1960s that any new civic center belonged downtown — the obvious center of civic activities — the Masonic organization pushed ahead with plans to relocate to the city’s southwestern perimeter. The predictable result: the accelerated decline of the city core.
As far as we were concerned it was an open wound that was revisited in 1994 when the Masonic Auditorium was renamed for Robert Stranahan, Jr., a prominent Toledo businessman and himself a Mason and supporter of the organization. Just as it had been clear to us 40 years ago that moving a center for cultural and theatrical activities seven miles from downtown, far from the center of anything, was a step backward, we said so again in 1994, and we reiterate our disappointment in 2007.
Live theater is one of those cultural amenities that define a community, and it belongs downtown. But live theater effectively died in downtown Toledo when the Masons moved out instead of building their auditorium where it could have anchored a civic resurgence.
Saving, restoring, and reopening the Valentine Theatre years later, a project embraced by local government with some reluctance only after intense pressure by The Blade’s editorial voice, has brought live professional performances back downtown, though in a much smaller venue.
Now the Masons intend to make their abandonment of downtown Toledo complete by relocating what remains of their operations at the Zenobia Shrine to an as yet undisclosed location in Perrysburg Township.
When they cite the inadequacy of their present location, they need to keep in mind the real reason for their diminished ranks: the Masons just don’t have the same appeal to prospective members they did a generation or two ago.
Our feelings have nothing to do with the good works of the Masons and their remaining lodges, especially on behalf of young burn victims. For all of that, they deserve public gratitude.
But their commendable deeds are compromised by yet another decision that reaffirms a history and a pattern of resistance to the welfare of a community which has supported for so long their humanitarian efforts.