With 14 floors and 1,037 rooms, the Detroit Masonic Temple is the largest Masonic temple in the world. It also has a colorful history that incorporates everything from George Washington’s trowel to Jack White’s generous donation.
The cornerstone of Detroit Masonic Temple (aka “The Masonic”) was laid on September 18, 1922. In a sign of the kind of lavishness that would accompany the building throughout its life, the cornerstone was laid using the same trowel George Washington used during the construction of the U.S. Capitol.
Designed by George Mason and Company, the temple was built on the Dickensian-sounding Bagg Street, which would later be renamed, far more fittingly, Temple Avenue. It became the largest Masonic temple in the world in 1939, when the towering Masonic Temple Building of Chicago—a 21-floor skyscraper built in 1892—was demolished.
Inside the imposing neo-Gothic temple are a whole bunch of specialized rooms ranging from classic Masonic to modern amenities. There are three theaters, the largest of which has a seating capacity of 4,650. There’s a 17,500 square foot drill hall (home to the Detroit Roller Derby, strangely enough); eight Craft Lodge Rooms and a shrine building; a chapel and a Royal Arch room; and two ballrooms for what one would like to imagine are Eyes Wide Shut-style gatherings.
Also, when the Knights Templars, Royal & Select Masters, and other Masonic members get bored of all that mystical, ritual stuff, they can make use of the temple’s cafeteria, barber shop, swimming pool, handball court, gymnasium, pool hall, and 16 bowling lanes. So if you ever want to see the Knights Templar playing handball, you know where to go.
Despite all this lavishness, or perhaps because of it, the Detroit Masonic Temple was reported to be in foreclosure in April 2013. It owed $152,000 in back taxes to Wayne County. Initially, the temple paid $10,000 and promised to pay the rest as soon as possible. That wasn’t necessary, however, as an anonymous donor gave the temple $142,000 to pay off the rest. Two months later it was revealed that the generous donor was none other than Jack White of the White Stripes.
Jack, a Detroit native, often visited the temple when he was a kid. His mother worked there as an usher, a job the temple gave her when she was in desperate need of work. The temple renamed one of its theaters the Jack White Theater in recognition of his generosity.