Have you heard of the Prince Hall Masonic Temple? Once the cornerstone of Birmingham’s black community, the Masonic Temple Building has since fallen into a state of disrepair. However, the Prince Hall Masons are determined to restore this historic building to its full potential. Hang with me to follow my tour through this cultural jewel of Birmingham’s history.
I recently had the opportunity to explore the Masonic Temple Building in the 4th Avenue Business District. I was fortunate enough to accompany three photojournalists, as the owners of the building do not give tours to explorers.
When I first walked into the Masonic Temple Building, I didn’t know what to expect. Although I had seen pictures and read about the building’s history, I wasn’t ready. Inside, I marveled at the building’s beauty. Sure, the paint was peeling and debris littered the floors. But with a little imagination, I could envision what the inside must have looked like during its heyday.
4th Avenue’s Prince Hall Masonic Temple Building is arguably the most culturally significant building in Birmingham. For decades, the Masonic Temple Building served as the center of commerce in the area. The building held the offices of several doctors, dentists, lawyers, and even the NAACP. Additionally, the Booker T. Washington Library took up three rooms of the building. The basement pool hall offered a relaxing place for locals to unwind.
Most significantly, the Temple Building provided access to important businesses for the local black community. During segregation, the Temple Building was one of the few places where black Birminghamians could see a doctor, check out a book, and register to vote. The Temple Building’s contributions to the community cannot be understated.
When I stepped into the ballroom for the first time, I felt overwhelmed with a sense of wonder. The ballroom is undoubtedly the crown jewel of the Temple Building. In its heyday it could seat 2,000 guests and was used for meetings, ceremonies, dances, and concerts. Legendary acts such as Erskine Hawkins, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and Count Basie performed regularly in the ballroom.
Raising Awareness about the Temple Building
At the Temple Building, I met three photojournalists dedicated to raising awareness about the Temple Building restoration efforts. Austin Stone first learned about the restoration effort during his research on historic Birmingham buildings. Austin and two colleagues began putting together a book, Southern Masters of Architecture, to focus on several buildings of architectural significance in Alabama.
“With my book, I hope to present the absolute marvels of architecture and craftsmanship that make up Birmingham’s heritage. These masterpieces were born of the hands of dedicated master craftsmen, and their art deserves to be seen and their stories deserve to be told.”Austin Stone
In January 2017, President Obama dedicated the 4th Avenue Business district as part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. Recently, the district was chosen by Main Street Alabama to take part in its revitalization program. These honors help bring money and attention to the area.
The restoration of the Temple Building aims to modernize the building to help the community while also preserving the historic aspects. For instance, most people don’t need a shoe cobbler! The old shoe cobbler shop will be replaced with a modern business that can help the community.
The Masons are saving money wherever they can to support the restoration. Additionally, their GoFundMe aims to raise $500,000 to help with restoration costs for the Masonic Temple Building. Any little bit helps.
“In a few years we will be approaching the 100th anniversary of the Temple Building. Hopefully we will have it restored by then.Dennis Simmons, Endowment Secretary for the Prince Hall Grand Lodge
The Masonic Temple Building is one of Birmingham’s most culturally significant buildings. With public support, the Prince Hall Masons look forward to restoring the building to its grandeur.