South Chicago Masonic Temple

South Chicago Masonic Temple, 2939 E. 91st Street, Clarence Hatzfeld, 1916. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

Overview

Another grand Masonic Temple, designed by Clarence Hatzfeld, the architect of the now-demolished South Side Masonic Temple, could be headed toward demolition as well.

Despite decades of being vacant, there is no denying the grand building on the southeast corner of 91st and Exchange is extraordinary and worth exploration for adaptive reuse potential. With $26 million being invested in the former South Chicago YMCA just two blocks east, this is a great opportunity to further spur redevelopment with a plan to restore the South Chicago Masonic Temple.

The Classical Revival 1916 Temple was designed by noted Chicago architect Clarence Hatzfeld. Hatzfeld designed several Chicago Park District fieldhouses, and has 30 properties listed in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey either under his name individually or his firm, Hatzfeld & Knox.

South Chicago Masonic Temple. 2939 E. 91st St. in South Chicago. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

History

South Chicago was a bustling community when steel mills were operating along Lake Michigan. The Southeast Side neighborhood has always been a haven for new immigrants—Polish, Irish, Mexican, Swedes, Croatians, Slovaks, Serbians and Italians to name a few of the ethnic groups that settled in the area.

When the mills closed, the community struggled with loss of population and disinvestment. Ancillary businesses closed their doors as well. The people of South Chicago are a testament to the strength and bonds of communities in the City of Chicago. While they work together and united to resolve the issues that trouble the neighborhood, they are also working to inspire art and artists. The residents of South Chicago support their local businesses, and they stand up firmly against environmental polluters who want to locate their industries in the community, such as General Iron who have been working to move a metal scrap business to the area after shuttering its existing location, near the Lincoln Park Community on the city’s North Side.

The South Chicago Masonic Association was established in 1906, the same year it acquired the land on the southeast corner of 91st Street and Exchange in the South Chicago neighborhood. The land was purchased from local real estate developer Niel Lykke, who just one month prior had acquired the parcel from the First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church of South Chicago.

South Chicago Masonic Temple. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

The Freemasons are the oldest fraternal organization in the world. Founded in the Middle Ages, they began as skilled builders. Their square and compasses logo adorns the buildings where they used to conduct club business as well as the headstones of notable Freemasons. While the issue is sometimes disputed, the “G” in the logo stands for God, or geometry, depending on an individual’s perspective.

Notable Freemasons include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Buzz Aldrin, John Wayne, and Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. The Freemasons are not a religious order, but members believe in a Supreme Being, and in morality, charity, and obedience to the laws of the land. As recently as the 1990s, the Roman Catholic Church forbade its members to be Freemasons, yet had their own affiliated order known as the Knights of Columbus, or K of C. The Shriners, originally known as “The Imperial Council of Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine” and founded in 1870, are an offshoot of the Freemasons. For the most part, the Freemasons remain a mens-only club, with a separate order composed of mostly women called the Order of the Eastern Star.

The South Chicago Masonic Association commissioned architect Clarence Hatzfeld to design the 3-story brick Classical Revival building, and construction began in 1916. Ruffner-Bloss Co. was listed as the mason on the project. The total construction budget was $100,000.

South Chicago Masonic Temple. Photo Credit: Debbie Mercer

Hatzfeld designed fieldhouse buildings for the Chicago Park District including Indian Boundary Park, Athletic Field, Independence Park, and Portage Park. He was also the architect of the South Side Masonic Temple, which was built in 1921 at 6400 S. Green Street, in the Englewood Community. The structure was part of several long-term preservation advocacy campaigns and a “Chicago 7 Most Endangered” building in 2004 and 2015. Despite these efforts, including a plan to reuse the building as part of the new Kennedy-King College Campus in 2007, the South Side Masonic Temple was demolished in 2018. Clarence Hatzfeld is known to have been the architect of record of five of the historic homes in the Villa Chicago Landmark District and is believed to have designed as many as 20 more. Listed individually and with his firm Hatzfeld & Knox, he has 30 buildings listed in the Chicago Historic Resource Survey. His partner, Arthur Knox, was an associate of Dwight Perkins while the design of Carl Schurz High School was underway. Schurz School is also a designated Chicago Landmark.

The last Masonic Lodge, “Triluminar Lodge #767,” left the South Chicago Masonic Temple building in 1975. That Masonic lodge is still in existence, operating now out of a location in the nearby suburb of Lansing, Illinois. In 1978, the South Chicago Masonic Association sold the building to Mary Ann Grochal, who lived at 3030 E. 92nd Street.

The Mexican Community Committee owned the building from the mid-1980s until 2006, when it lost the building to foreclosure. During its ownership tenure, the building housed the Welded Tube Company of America, as well as serving as the temporary site for the South Chicago Branch of the Chicago Public Library for three years while its permanent location (9033 S. Houston) was being extensively renovated.

While Preservation Chicago has been unable to tour the building’s interior, most Masonic temples have a grand lodge on an upper floor for ceremonies and large events. The Masonic temples served as a hub for the community.

The current owners, under the name “91st and Exchange LLC” and Mark R. Reynolds, purchased the property in 2008. The building has remained vacant since. 

Threat

Years of vacancy have left the South Chicago Masonic Temple in a badly deteriorated state. Even while in use, maintenance appears to have been lax on the building. The property taxes have remained unpaid since Tax Year 2010. The annual tax statement due on the property is now over $100,000. Tax bills and notices sent to the owner of record have been returned to the County, giving the impression that the current owners have walked away from this building.

The property was listed for sale, but the $750,000+ price tag likely exceeds the value of the building in light of the extensive work needed to restore it to a viable reuse. The prior listing agent has noted that she is no longer the agent for the South Chicago Masonic Temple.

Despite the disinvestment and blight which overwhelmed the South Chicago community after the closing of the steel mills, there are positive indicators that the neighborhood has tremendous redevelopment potential. South Chicago was chosen as one of the City of Chicago’s INVEST South/West communities, and redevelopment of the shuttered YMCA at 3039 E. 91st Street into affordable housing represents an estimated $26 million investment in the immediate area. Claretian Associates, in partnership with Interfaith Housing Development Corporation, is also planning a 78-unit affordable housing development at 3211-3229 E. 92nd Street. The $30 million development is expected to be complete in 2023.

South Chicago Masonic Temple. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

Recommendations

Redeveloping the South Chicago Masonic Temple would have a great impact on the immediate commercial area. The building sits adjacent to the Chicago Family Health Center, a thriving health facility with several locations throughout Chicago.

The City of Chicago can package INVEST South/West incentives and resources for a catalytic redevelopment project in South Chicago. Placing this property back into a vibrant use would further advance historic preservation as an economic development engine in the community. South Chicago has its share of vacant land, and it is well-represented by strip mall-like development. Keeping this history and character alive will contribute to a revitalized South Chicago – one that values its history as it grows stronger.

In the immediate area of the South Chicago Masonic Temple are at least two other vacant buildings, facing an uncertain future, that could be grouped together in a larger redevelopment plan.

SS Peter and Paul. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church

Started in 1882 as a Roman Catholic Church that served German families, Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church at 2938 E. 91st Street is a remarkable Art Moderne church and school that was built in 1941. The church conducted its first Mass on April 2, 1882, in the original church and school building. The school opened on November 25, 1882. The land, which was originally in the Village of Hyde Park, was annexed to the City of Chicago on June 29, 1889.

The original church campus included a rectory, church hall, and convent building. The church had originally planned to build a new facility in 1932, but the Depression impacted those plans. The grade school continued to grow its membership in these years, and they opened the high school in 1939.

Construction began on the new church and school in July 1941, with an estimated construction budget of $140,000. The architect was G.S. Smith. It was built with brick walls, and concrete floors and roof. In 1948, the high school became a girls’ school. The high school program ended in 1969. The school and church finally closed their doors in 1987, as it and two other South Chicago parishes were closed.

In 1997, the building was transferred from the Catholic Bishop of Chicago to CLCET, Inc., a charitable title holding corporation for the Chicago Legal Clinic, Inc. It held title to the property until it was sold in 2017 to the Chicago Family Health Center, which operates a facility in the 9100 block of South Exchange Avenue. 

The church and school building are currently vacant. The Sts. Peter and Paul Church and School building appears to have some deferred maintenance issues, but overall the building looks to be in good and stable condition.

The Sts. Peter & Paul Church and School building has an estimated 35,000 square feet – including the basement which housed the auditorium and stage, the church on the first floor, with ancillary rooms, and most of the school’s classrooms on the second and third floors. The church and school site includes a substantial parking lot as well.

SS Peter and Paul. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

The South Chicago Masonic Temple, located just across 91st Street, is estimated to be just over 30,000 square feet. The interior condition is unknown, but based on the roof condition, it can be anticipated to be deteriorating, due to water infiltration. There is no off-street parking available at the Masonic Temple site.

Also of note is a two-story Art Deco/Art Moderne store and office building at 9135 S. Exchange, which appears prime for a reuse, along with a restoration of its facade. Built in 1935, the colorful polychromed terra cotta tile remains intact on the building’s facade, and would be even more stunning if it were restored.

South Chicago is a strong community of people who care about their history and their future. It is a neighborhood that is worth a combined private and public investment to bring greater economic opportunity. The South Chicago Masonic Temple can be a wonderful anchor for future planned and targeted redevelopment.