August 31, 1999
Every now and then, someone asks about the Masonic Temple Auditorium. Is it still there in the old Masonic building at the northwest corner of the square? What purpose did it serve in days gone by? Let me try to answer with information based on my own recollection and a bit of research carried out through the years.
The Masonic Temple was built-in 1924 by local Masonic fraternal orders. In recent years the Masons have moved to a location on 25th street and Victor Green owns the downtown building. The three-story building was, and still is, the tallest business structure in the downtown area. Most of the top floor was reserved for meetings of Perry Blue Lodge No. 78, Ancient Free & Accepted Masons (AF&AM); Knights Templar Commandery; Royal Arch Masons; Order of the Eastern Star; Order of Rainbow for Girls; and the Order of DeMolay for Boys. Each of those had closed meetings in the third floor lodge room at least once a month. All were under the Masonic umbrella.
Most of the west half of the third floor contained the balcony for an auditorium which had its principal seating on the second floor. The auditorium had a fairly large stage, a curtain, flats for scenery, and wooden seats for the audience. The east half of the second floor consisted of offices used at various times by physicians, a dentist, attorneys, oil and gas lease dealers, an optometrist and the Perry Chamber of Commerce. The space was considered very desirable and for years every office was fully rented. Retail businesses, a hair salon, the city water and light office and others occupied the ground floor. Dr. A.M. Crowder, a loyal and hardworking Mason, was resident manager of the property.
Touring entertainers frequently rented the auditorium for stage shows, and from time to time movies were shown there. Jack Dempsey, former heavyweight boxing champion of the world, barnstormed through Perry after losing his crown and was presented on stage at the Masonic Auditorium. The Perry Daily Journal and others offered cooking schools of various lengths in the building through the years. It was a popular place. Both the upper floors are now converted to office space.
Perry high school made frequent use of the auditorium for plays, concerts and graduation exercises. I have a copy of the May 20, 1927, PHS graduation program, held in the Masonic Auditorium. It is printed on parchment-like paper and served for both the baccalaureate service and commencement exercises. The names and program details are interesting. For baccalaureate, held May 15, Miss Ethel Knox was accompanist for the processional. Rev. David Thomas of the Presbyterian church read Scripture, Rev. Charles Henson gave the invocation and the choir, directed by Miss Mable Clement, sang an anthem. Rev. J.A. Nayle of the Methodist church delivered the sermon. The benediction by Rev. G. Frank Sanders and a recessional by Miss Knox ended the service.
For commencement, the PHS orchestra played a processional, the group sang "America," led by Miss Clement, and Rev. Thomas gave the invocation. A boys quartet, composed of John Merrell, Bill Mugler, Bill Combs and Harold Victory, sang "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes." Kathryn Laird gave the salutatorian address, and the Hon. Henry S. Johnston, Perry attorney who was governor of Oklahoma at the time, gave the principal address. Opal Johnson gave the valedictorian's address, after which "Sweet and Low" was sung by the girls quartet, composed of Lydia Widiger, Kathryn Laird, Dorothy Smoot and Mary Bowles. Dr. O.W. Boyer, Perry dentist and president of the school board, presented diplomas. Rev. Thomas gave the benediction and the orchestra played a recessional to close the exercise.
The old auditorium no longer exists, except in the minds of those who still remember it. For those who do, fond memories are conjured up at the mention of its name.