$29M renovation underway for Masonic Temple Building [details + exclusive look]

Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
The Masonic Temple Building’s grand ballroom, where greats such as Count Basie, Erskine Hawkins and Duke Ellington performed. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

The long-awaited renovation of the Masonic Temple Building in Birmingham’s 4th Avenue Historic District is soon to be underway. Historic District Developers, the team behind the project, plans to restore the Masonic Temple Building as the center of commerce for the 4th Avenue Historic District with options for retail, makers, office and event space and more.

Bham Now was invited on an exclusive tour of the building before the renovation kicks off.

BONUS: Learn more about the project at the virtual “Stories and Memories” event on Sunday, February 20th at 6PM on Zoom.

But first, an introduction to the Masonic Temple Building

Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
The Masonic Temple Building, located at 319 17th St N #220 in Birmingham’s 4th Avenue Historic District. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

If you’re not familiar with Birmingham’s Masonic Temple Building, I wouldn’t blame you—the building has been vacant since around the 2010’s. I first got an inside look at the building in 2019, when I joined three photojournalists on a rare tour of the building led by Mr. Dennis Simmons, Endowment Secretary for the Prince Hall Grand Lodge—the order of Masons that own the building.

The Masonic Temple Building was built between 1922 and 1924 for the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Alabama, a fraternal organization. Located in the 4th Avenue Historic District, the building quickly became a center for black-owned businesses in Birmingham.

Prince Hall
A 1924 photo showing Grand Master W.T. Woods and other masons in the building’s grand ballroom. (Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Alabama)

During the city’s long period of segregation, the Masonic Temple Building was one of the few places where black people in Birmingham could go to see a doctor, register to vote, see a concert and more. The 8-story temple held a basement pool hall, a grand ballroom for events, an extensive library and other services like a popular drug store and soda parlor, barbershops, physician’s and dentist’s offices.

Here are a few fun facts about Birmingham’s Masonic Temple Building:

  • Masons from across the state contributed funds for the Masonic Temple Building, allowing the Prince Hall Grand Lodge to pay the $658,000 bill in cash—no mortgage needed.
  • The Booker T. Washington Library, one of the first libraries to lend books to black people in Alabama, moved into the Masonic Temple Building in 1924.
  • The building’s grand ballroom, which could seat as many as 2,000 guests, hosted legendary acts like Erskine Hawkins, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

Coming soon: a transformational $29M renovation

Prince Hall
A rendering of the renovated Masonic Temple Building and an adjoining residential building. (Historic District Developers)

One thing is for certain—the Masonic Temple Building was built to last. Although the building has suffered from nearly a decade and a half of vacancy, its bones are strong as ever. The building’s owners have teamed up with Historic District Developers to bring the building into the 21st century.

Historic District Developers—joint venture between Direct Invest Development LLC and Henderson & Company—is also working on the redevelopment of the Ramsay McCormack Building in Ensley.

Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
Llevelyn Rhone, Project Manager with Historic District Developers. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

In the coming weeks, Historic District Developers will begin removing, cataloging and archiving the artifacts that remain inside the building. Once the building is clear, the team can get to work on the renovation.

“[Historic District Developers’] vision for the renovation is essentially an updated version of the Masonic Temple Building’s original state. We’d love to attract community-serving businesses like the ones that originally utilized this space. We also want this to be a space for prospective entrepreneurs to get started in an iconic, historic building. On the second floor you have the grand ballroom, which we want to continue to utilize as an event space.”

Llevelyn Rhone, Project Manager, Historic District Developers

Historic District Developers’ plans for the Masonic Temple Building include:

  • Use as an Innovation Center, Workplace & Gathering Place
  • Complete Exterior Historic Preservation & Restoration
  • Historically Restored and Preserved Interior Public Space
  • 20 Gbps Broadband Fiber Optic Digital Network
  • Meeting Space for up to 600 people with Banquet Kitchen &  Bar
  • Private offices & Coworking Space
  • Zoned High-Performance HVAC
  • 24 Hour Access and Security
  • LEED Gold Green Building Certified
  • WELL Building Certified
  • Improved Indoor Air Quality
  • On Site Renewable Solar Energy
  • Wet Labs & Clean Room
  • 150 KW Backup Electrical Generator
  • Access to Fully Equipped Maker Space and more

According to a representative for Historic District Developers, design is currently underway and construction is scheduled to begin later this year.

“Our goal in restoring the Masonic Temple Building goes beyond just restoring the physical structure; we want this project to recreate community here in the 4th Avenue Historic District. We want to start planting the seeds of community here, with residences and new space to support small businesses.”

Llevelyn Rhone, Project Manager, Historic District Developers

An Exclusive Look Inside the Masonic Temple Building

Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
The second floor ballroom of the Masonic Temple Building. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Last week, I was invited along on an exclusive inside tour of the Masonic Temple Building. Below are some of my favorite scenes from inside of the building.

  • Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
  • Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
  • Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
  • Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
  • Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
  • Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
  • Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
  • Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
  • Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
  • Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
  • Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
  • Prince Hall Masonic Lodge

Local photojournalist Austin Stone is working on a video series documenting his experience inside the Masonic Temple Building, including its grand ballroom.

According to a press release from Historic District Developers, The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge Free & Accepted Masons (F. & A.M.) of Alabama and Historic District Developers will host a “Stories & Memories” event on Sunday, February 20, 2022 at 6PM for community members to share their experiences and nostalgia for the Masonic Temple Building.

To join, visit Historic District Developers on Facebook for more information.

Excited to see the renovation of the historic Masonic Temple Building? Tag us @bhamnow to let us know your thoughts!

Nathan Watson
Nathan Watson

Senior Content Producer with Bham Now | Originally from Tennessee, Nathan moved to The Magic City after graduating from Birmingham-Southern College. Nathan is passionate about recognizing Birmingham's history and is thrilled to learn more about the big things planned for The Magic City's future.

Articles: 677