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August 6, 2004

Remembering Perry’s entertainment mecca

The other day, Janet Smith, city editor of this newspaper, asked some questions about the old Masonic building on the northwest corner of the square. It will be offered for sale at a public auction the evening of August 24. The three-story brick building is very contemporary in design, but it was built in the 1920s. It housed all the Masonic orders that existed in Perry at that time. Second floor offices were filled with professional men (attorneys, physicians, a dentist, and the Chamber of Commerce). The ground floor was home base for the city water and light office, council chambers, several pharmacies, Forney's Dairy Store, health salons, clothing stores and miscellaneous other businesses, including the Arcade Beauty Shop. Most of the latter spaces are now occupied by the Victory Baptist Church. None of the upper floors have tenants at the moment.

Janet was interested partly because the newspaper is busily putting together a spectacular special edition to celebrate life in Perry, and partly because as a news writer, she is curious about the building. That's enough justification for me, so I began dredging up a few morsels of what I remember about the old building., Here are some samples. Did I remember them correctly?

The third floor meeting room served the Masonic Blue lodge, Royal Arch Masons, Knights Templar Commandery, Order of the Eastern Star, Order of Rainbow for Girls, and the Order of DeMolay for boys. Those who achieved membership in any of those orders were hard working, dedicated and loyal. Many teenagers learned a lot of social graces in Rainbow and DeMolays. The only remnant of any of those orders still active here is the Blue lodge. It meets in a metal building on the west side of town. The Masonic building is no longer owned by the Masons.

The meeting rooms occupied the east half of the third floor. The west half later became a meeting place for dinners and other special events. But before that, the space contained a ring of theater seats for a balcony in the old Masonic Temple auditorium. The main seats were on the west half of the second floor. The stage was at the east end of the theater. Movies, home talent shows and traveling entertainers performed there. It was a mecca for those who loved live shows. The main entrance to the auditorium was through the arched doorway on the ground floor at the west end of the building. A box office was usually situated on the second floor. The seating capacity must have been about 500, counting the balcony.

The Masonic building was constructed in 1924, according to the cornerstone at the northeast corner. Dr. A.M. Crowder was building manager until the decision to move was made. Members of the original building board were Dr. Crowder, manager; J.A. Boller, G.C. Wollard, J. Seigle and H.A. DeLashmutt. On the ground floor level, at 706 Delaware, was the Arcade Beauty Shop operated by Elsie Boggs. Its permanent wave machines drew many interested glances of passersby.

Across the street at the rear of the Davis Furniture. Co. was the Temple Lunch, a small café operated by Leo and Helen Robinson. Victor Green, present owner of the Masonic building, has invested a lot of time, sweat and money in the old building to bring it up to current standards but it may never again be the entertainment mecca that many of us remember.