The life and death of a temple; Masonic Lodge 233 finds renewal in the loss of their historic building
BEMIDJI — The 90-year-old downtown Bemidji building that houses Masonic Lodge 233 could be nearing death’s door.
Dick Labraaten is the lodge’s education officer, and he also happens to be the real estate agent who listed the old building. Labraaten said the aging lodge, which sits across Bemidji Avenue from the also-troubled Carnegie Library, could possibly be razed. As of Wednesday, there were two different potential buyers, one of which may demolish the building, he said. However, the lodge hadn’t received any offers yet, he added.
“We didn’t have much choice, realistically,” he said of the lodge’s decision to sell. “It’s definitely the end of an era.”
No matter what happens to the structure, the Masons will be saying goodbye to the bricks and beams that have been their home for almost a century. Lodge Worshipful Master Robert Saddoris said the lodge members are going through various stages of the Kübler-Ross model for grief, commonly associated with the feelings that accompany the death of a person.
“Our brothers are in different stages of that,” he said. “It’s breaking many of their hearts, because they grew up with the building, they grew up in Bemidji … that was their lodge, and that was the building that’s always been there.”
Saddoris said part of the reason the lodge was asking for relatively little money in exchange for the building was in hopes that some young entrepreneur could hypothetically afford to fix it up for a new business.
“If a person was willing to buy it … by golly, we’re trying to sell it cheap enough that a person could sure fix it up and make it into whatever they wanted,” he said.
BUILDING A NEW FUTURE
Although the Masons’ time inside the old Bemidji Avenue building is over, they may soon have a new structure to which their builder’s tool insignia will be attached. Within the next 2-3 weeks, the lodge aims to close an agreement to buy a former martial arts school on Washington Avenue/Highway 71 South. Joining the Masons in the move from the old building will be the Bemidji chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, a national Masons-affiliated group composed of both men and women.
The new building is only a portion of the size of the old lodge, but 233’s leaders think the move will actually revitalize the group. The old building wasn’t handicap-accessible, which prevented some of the older or disabled lodge members from attending meetings. The martial arts studio is one level, Labraaten said, making it easier for all members to finally participate in the lodge’s activities. Since the new building is younger and made of steel, it may also be less of a hassle to maintain.
“That building should be pretty maintenance-free,” Labraaten said. “Hopefully we can afford to keep that one rolling.”
Saddoris said revenue from the sale of the old building will prevent the lodge from going into debt to buy the new building. The lodge hopes to be moved in by the end of May, he said.
Pieces of the old lodge will move into the new spot as members take their Masonic memorabilia along with them, Saddoris said.
“A lot of things are coming out of the old lodge,” he said. “A lot of the old building will be going over there.”
Even as the lodge remembers its past, it hopes to find new growth in its new home. The added visibility provided by the spot on Washington Avenue may help attract new members to the lodge’s roster of 130 people, Saddoris said.
“We’re hoping that we can get new folks interested,” he said.