Wichita Scottish Rite Masonic Center History
April is Scottish-American History Month and Wichita is lucky to have its own Scottish Rite Masonic Center. Built in 1887, the Scottish Rite Center is one of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in the city.
Bodies of the Scottish Rite have been in present in Wichita since 1886, striving to fulfill their mission of improving members and enhancing the community by teaching and emulating the principles of brotherly love, tolerance, charity and truth. The Scottish Rite actively embraces high social, moral, and spiritual values including fellowship, compassion, and dedication to God, family and country.
"Masonry is a way of life," said Scott Kailer, a 33 Degree Mason (this is the highest distinction that can be achieved) and Personal Representative of the Wichita Scottish Rite. "It teaches you to be a better man and a better person."
The Scottish Rite building was built in 1887, though it wasn't originally used as a Masonic facility. Here’s a look at how the Wichita Scottish Rite (which was originally known as the Elmo Lodge of Perfection) came to be.
Wichita Booms With Development
According to the Wichita Scottish Rite website, settlers from the east were continual additions to Wichita’s ever-growing population in the late 1800s and hardly a week passed where new building projects were not announced.
Because Wichita was expanding so quickly, it caught the attention of two young architects, whose names are well-known today: Willis Proudfoot and George Bird. Proudfoot moved to Wichita from Philly two years earlier, in 1885, to open an architectural firm. The time of Bird’s arrival in Wichita is undocumented, but the Wichita directory of 1886 lists the two men as partners at the architectural firm, whereas the 1885 edition listed only Proudfoot’s name. City directories continued to list Proudfoot and Bird together, annually, until 1891, when only Proudfoot’s name was listed. By 1892, the firm wasn’t listed at all, according to the Scottish Rite.
Architects Proudfoot and Bird Thrive in Wichita
Anyway, the firm kept busy during Wichita’s early years of major development, with involvement in a variety of diverse projects around town. According to the Wichita Scottish Rite website, the architectural firm was involved with twenty-nine separate projects between May and September of 1887. Among those projects were two banks, thirteen commercial buildings, three university projects, three public schools, six residences, one factory and the YMCA building (which would later become the home of the Wichita Scottish Rite).
YMCA Building to be Built in Wichita
When a $36,000 bid was accepted for the building of Proudfoot and Bird’s YMCA building, a report in the newspaper announced that, though the building was originally going to be brick, a change in plans would yield an all-stone building with a complete basement and two stories, according to the Wichita Scottish Rite.
By the time the building was finished, it had racked up $60,000 in expenses, far exceeding the projected $36,000 price it had initially been assigned. It was beautiful, featuring an outstanding tower with iron grillwork, stained glass windows, stone spires, finely carved stones and an exquisite interior, too.
Scottish Rite Seeks a New Home
The YMCA was located in the beautiful building for several years but, ultimately relocated when the real estate boom collapsed. It was at this time that the Scottish Rite Masonic Bodies, who had struggled just to find rented space in which to meet, sought a permanent home. Utilizing a space on the third floor of Hacker & Johnson Block at 503 East Douglas, the Scottish Rite Masonic Bodies were operating without the proper costumes and equipment to teach of the several degrees within the organization, or a place to call home. Within the first month of 1891, the Bodies of the Scottish Rite purchased a Baptist church at Market and First. With a permanent meeting place came a tremendous increase in membership, jumping from 119 in October of 1891 to 341 in November of1896.
Moving into the YMCA Building
By the beginning of 1898, the Scottish Rite had outgrown the former church and was once again in search of a place to call home. Because the real estate market had collapsed, the asking price for the former YMCA building was significantly lower the facility’s actual worth.
The Bodies took advantage of this opportunity and purchased the property with a major remodeling project in mind.
Including an auditorium with a proper stage, scenery and a seating capacity of 300, the remodel would transform the former YMCA into the perfect place for the Wichita Scottish Rite. The Wichita Scottish Rite laid the cornerstone for the addition on April 22, 1907, (110 years ago!) and by May 10 of the following year, the facility opened as one of the most richly furnished and elaborate facilities of its kind in the country.
Formal Dedication of the Temple
The Wichita Scottish Rite website notes that the Temple was formally dedicated on the evening of June 8, 1908, by Grand Commander James D. Richardson, 33 Degree. In attendance were several members of the Supreme Council and other dignitaries from different parts of the country. Within the following days, five hundred and twenty-nine Master Masons of this Jurisdiction applied for and were elected to receive Degrees, and Degrees 4 through 32 were conferred, delivered in strict accordance with the Ritual.
The Wichita Scottish Rite building was recognized in 1972 with placement on the National Register of Historic Places of America.
Today, the Scottish Rite has served the Wichita community for more than a century. With a total membership of 2,100, the Elmo Lodge Of Perfection (this name has hung around all these years) meets at 7:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month. Two reunions are held per year, and while Degrees from the fourth through the thirty-second are conferred, only certain ones are dramatized.
Community members who wish to learn more about this historic landmark are able to take tours of the facility during open house events held annually in December.
Wichita Scottish Rite Community Theatre
The Wichita Scottish Rite is also home to the Signature Theatre, a non-profit community theatre group. Specifically designed to bring more performance opportunities to Wichita, the Signature Theatre has been operating since 2008. The Wichita Scottish Rite Center donates the use of its facilities, resulting in ongoing theatrical entertainment and education for the greater Wichita area.
Home to Venue 332, The Wichita Scottish Rite Masonic Center invites members of the community to embrace the history it holds within its walls by hosting events like corporate meetings, company and club dinners, and weddings and receptions in the elegant venue space.
The Wichita Scottish Rite website reads:
“Since 1887, and looking with excitement to the future, The Wichita Scottish Rite of Freemasonry stands as a testimony to those best and time-tested values embraced by all people of good will in our wonderful community."