As a proud Rochesterian and all-around lover of Rochester history, I am always very very excited to share new finds in Rochester-area archaeology (they are sadly few and far between). For a region so rich in reform-era history and significance, there is often relatively little enthusiasm attributed to Rochester’s nineteenth and twentieth century history and material culture. I just came across this discovery of seven Masonic stone carvings from Rochester’s old RKO Palace Theater, just posted online today by RochesterSubway. Check out the article and images below.
“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 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…
Between 1901 and 1932 a Masonic Temple stood here 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 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, and behind the Masonic Temple (the theater wrapped around it). In actuality, the temple was razed for a parking lot.
Studying these images of the temple, it’s difficult to say where exactly the stones were located on the building’s façade. 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 from the CBS Sunday Morning show.
This find was also discussed in the Democrat and Chronicle’s “Remarkable Rochester” column. See below for more information:
Remarkable Rochester: Buried Masonic stone carvings found
“For 83 years, the large symbol-laden stones waited to be found. Down 30 feet in the earth, buried first beneath a theater and then a parking lot, they lingered in the dark. It was a far cry from when they graced the Rochester Masonic Temple in downtown Rochester and people looked up at them in curiosity and admiration.
And then, late last year, they saw the light again. Workers on the excavation stages of the new Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority terminal along Mortimer Street between North Clinton Avenue and St. Paul Street came upon the stones and realized they could have historic value.
Taking care, they brought up the seven heavy stones — some weighed a ton — and placed them on pallets at the work site. Chris Mahood of Mendon, an RGRTA employee and a member of the Masons, or Freemasons, was shown the stones. He quickly verified the fact that they contained Masonic symbols, including the compass and square with a central “G.”
He then got the word out to other Masons, an international fraternal group that has had lodges in Rochester since the 1820s. The Masons quickly organized to retrieve the stones, all the while giving thanks to the RGRTA staff and the workers from LeChase Construction and the Pike Company involved in the terminal project.
“The people involved were so caring,” says Stephen Whittaker, a Mason from Perinton. “We as Freemasons were delighted to have retrieved such treasures.” The stones had been used to enhance the facade of the Masonic Temple at the corner of N. Clinton Avenue and Mortimer Street. When that building was torn down, officials must have chosen to bury the stones rather than cart them away.
The temple had opened to great fanfare in 1903. Civic officials – at least three judges and one future mayor — turned out for the dedication of the building said to have cost $270,000, the equivalent of nearly $7 million today. The pomp and circumstance of the Temple opening, and the A-list of attendees, suggests that the Masons had weathered the controversies of the previous century.
The most famous of the public flaps was caused by the 1826 murder — perhaps by Masons, perhaps not — of a Batavia resident who had threated to write a book exposing the organization’s secret rituals. Controversy aside, Masons have always stressed that their purpose is the moral improvement of their members. And the list of notable Americans who were Masons includes presidents (both Roosevelts among them), entertainers and war heroes.
Masonic membership here continued to increase after the construction of the temple. Thus, in 1930, the Masons moved to a new building on East Main Street, a structure that contains what is now known as the Auditorium Theatre. Left behind, the former Masonic Temple building was razed to make way for the RKO Palace Theater. That building would later be replaced by a parking lot.
See aerial view of the location of the former Palace Theater/Masonic Temple below:
Though their membership is not as large as it was 100 years ago when the Masonic Temple thrived, the Masons remain active here with 13 lodges in Monroe County. Whittaker, who is a 33rd Degree Mason, an honor given for exceptional service, notes that the Masons have several public-service programs including private funding of classes to help dyslectic children read.
He also reports that the seven long-buried stones are now resting peacefully at a camp south of Rochester. Eventually, a permanent place for them will be identified. Above ground, they will gain a new life in the light of day.”
Read the full article here.