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RGRTA Digs Up More Buried Treasure: Seven Masonic Stone Carvings

January 9th, 2014

A stone from the Masonic Temple that once stood at Clinton Avenue and Mortimer Street. [IMAGE: RGRTA via Democrat & Chronicle]
In 2012 we were surprised to learn that RGRTA had dug up the foundation of the RKO Palace Theater while excavating for the new transit terminal. This week, Jim Memmott reported on some more fantastic treasures external link that were unearthed at the same site. Some time last year seven heavy stones (some weighing a ton) were pulled up from depths of up to 30 feet below street level. Each stone bore a symbol of the Freemasons…

The Masonic Temple at Clinton Avenue and Mortimer Street. The RKO Palace Theater can be seen next to it. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library]
Between 1901 and 1932 a Masonic Temple stood here external link at the corner of N. Clinton and Mortimer Street. This view is looking northwest from the area of the Sibley Building across the street.

Jim’s article external link states that the Masonic Temple was razed in 1932 for the RKO Theater. However, I think this may be incorrect, as the theater first opened in 1928. In fact, in the photo above you can see the theater building immediately to the right of the Masonic Temple. In actuality, the temple was razed for a parking lot.

[ Photos of the RKO Palace external link ]

An earlier photo of the Temple. Large stones adorn the cornice of the building. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library]
Studying these images of the temple, it’s difficult to say where exactly the stones were located on the building’s fa├žade. This older photo shows ornamental stones along the top cornice of the building and I originally thought it might be those. But in the later photo these stones are missing which seems to indicate they were removed prior to demolition. Although it does look like each side of the building had seven of them; and seven stones were recovered. Perhaps one side of the building kept its stones until demolition. Hmmm.

Anyway, this is a great story, and thanks to Jim Memmott for it. He also reports that RGRTA turned the stones over to members of the Freemasons and they are now “resting peacefully at a camp south of Rochester” until a more permanent home is identified.

And in case you’re asking yourself who the Freemasons are, they are perhaps the world’s oldest fraternity with lodges all over the world including here in Rochester since the 1820s. Their rituals are kept a closely guarded secret. Check out this recent story external link from the CBS Sunday Morning show.

UPDATE: The mystery has been solved by Christopher Brandt and Lynn Lonv in the comments below! Lynn found a high resolution photo on the Library of Congress website and Christopher found the exact same Freemason stone above the entrance on Clinton Ave.

Also, this article previously stated that the RKO Theater could be seen behind the Masonic Temple. This was incorrect as also pointed out by Lynn Lonv in the comments below. The RKO Theater can be seen to the right of the Masonic Temple (and it did wrap around the back side) however, the building that can be seen in the photo was actually an auditorium that was added onto the back of the Temple. Thanks Lynn and Christopher!

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This entry was posted on Thursday, January 9th, 2014 at 12:30 am and is filed under Art + Culture, Rochester History, Rochester News, Transit + Infrastructure, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

9 Responses to “RGRTA Digs Up More Buried Treasure: Seven Masonic Stone Carvings”

  1. AmyRyb says:

    It looks like there could have been some sort of design on the front of the faux balcony to the left of the top photo, under the third floor windows? Maybe there were more of them elsewhere? Or maybe the rectangles halfway between the top windows and the roof had that stonework? Or perhaps those things fell off backward onto the roof and were left there to rot?

  2. Mike Brown says:

    What a wonderful story. I would be Interested to see if the find anything else buried in the area. Also for more local information on Freemasonry people can check out https://www.facebook.com/Eunice830 . It’s the FaceBook page for a lodge out of Caledonia, NY.

  3. Chris Brandt says:

    Mike,

    My best guess would be the key stones over the fifth story windows and the two main street level entrances. As it was a Free Mason building, the keystone would be a symbolically appropriate location for their crest.

  4. That would certainly make sense.

  5. Lynn Lonv says:

    My friend loves old movies and theatres. Jan 2013 he went down to the RGRTA site when they discovered the basement of the old RKO and took a pic of a heavy piece of stone (or concrete), a piece of cornice. He asked if I could help ID where it came from. I’m no historian but I like to study old pics. Looking at old RKO pics, including the 3-story bldg next door which was part of it (and still exists today as that plain, ugly, grey and beige 7-story bldg. on Clinton next to the RGRTA site) I could find no match.

    In my search, I found pics of the old Masonic Temple bldg. The piece I was looking for came from the cornice along that bldg’s roof line. A great pic of the bldg. comes from the Library of Congress, taken from the early 1900s. If you download the Tiff file you can see it in great detail. There’s no pieces with the Freemason symbol. Two interesting things about the pic. First, there’s an empty lot behind the Temple bldg on Mortimer St. Second, at the end of Mortimer St at St Paul St, there’s a bldg that stands halfway in the middle of Mortimer St. The street had been widened, except this one place. LOL.
    http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/det1994010056/PP/

    Now the plat maps. 1900 Plat shows Clinton-Mortimer Block before the Masonic Temple was built. http://photo.libraryweb.org/rochimag/rpm/rpm00164.htm
    1918 Plat shows the Masonic Temple bldg, plus the addition of the Masonic Auditorium in back (on the empty lot from the LoC pic). Next door on Clinton is the Gordon Theatre, predecessor to the RKO Palace. In the RochesterSubway article, it states, “In fact, in the photo above you can see the theater building immediately to the right of, and behind the Masonic Temple (the theater wrapped around it).” This should be corrected. Behind the Masonic Temple in the pic you do NOT see the RKO Palace’s Mortimer St entrance. You see the Masonic Temple Auditorium addition. http://photo.libraryweb.org/rochimag/rpm/rpm00340.htm
    1926 Plat shows Clinton-Mortimer Block. Gordon Theatre is now Star Theatre. http://photo.libraryweb.org/rochimag/rpm/rpm00077.htm
    1934 Plat shows Clinton-Mortimer Block. Masonic Temple and Auditorium are gone. RKO Palace facing Clinton Ave and Mortimer Street are now built. There’s a parking lot where Masonic Temple and Auditorium once stood. http://photo.libraryweb.org/rochimag/rpm/rpm00465.htm

    In my research I recall seeing a pic of the Mortimer St RKO entrance. I’m not sure if I saw a full-on pic of the Masonic Auditorium addition. My conclusion to your story would be that the 7 stone pieces in your article were possibly what is seen along the roof line of the Auditorium addition in two pics below. My guess is the piece with the Freemason symbol is what is seen in the center. But it’s too fuzzy to tell for sure.
    http://mcnygenealogy.com/pics/picture.php?/1365/categories
    http://mcnygenealogy.com/pics/picture.php?/2420/categories

  6. Christopher Brandt says:

    Great thought to look for a library of congress photo Lynn!

    Upon closer inspection masonic insignia can be seen several times around the main entrance on St. Paul Street. The exact match to the photo above from RGRTA is the central symbol surrounded by a carved wreath in the third story balustrade directly between the dates 1817, 1901.

  7. Lynn Long says:

    Christopher,
    Great find! You’ve solved the mystery. I looked over that bldg pic, but clearly I didn’t look close enough. Now I see there’s many Freemason symbols above the main entry on No. Clinton (not St Paul). Thanks again for your post. I’m still trying to find a good pic of the Auditorium addition. I’d like to see in detail what that roof line decoration looks like. I haven’t found interior shots of the Temple and Auditorium, either.

  8. Wow! Great detective work Lynn and Christopher! Thanks for cracking the case! That certainly looks like the same stone above the Clinton Ave entrance. What a fantastic photo.

  9. Jim MacDuff says:

    Sadly, there is no Masonic Lodge IN Rochester anymore. However, Genesee Falls 507 (est 1861) lives on in ERAC 163, which resides in Webster. Go to http://WWW.erac163.off for more info.


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