South Side Masonic Temple

TL;DR: Massive, severely-decrepit fraternal lodge wasted away into complete ruin.


Chicago architect, Clarence Hatzfeld – having found success over the last decade designing numerous buildings for the Chicago Park District – shifted into building Masonic Temples at the onset of the roaring twenties. The first of these lodges – similar in styles, different in scale – rose in 1921: the Logan Square Masonic Temple on Kedzie, and the South Side Masonic Temple at 64th and Green, in Englewood.

Both were built with classical revival exteriors featuring massive ionic columns made of limestone, and several floors worth of ornate ballrooms and meeting spaces. Each chamber featured a different, historic style of architecture ranging from traditional Art Deco and Moorish design to Egyptian Revival. The South Side Masonic Temple was the larger of the two – topping out at a colossal seven floors.

South Side Masonic Temple

Located a block from the Halsted L stop, and steps away from the famous Englewood Shopping Center – at one point the second-busiest retail district in Chicago (bested only by State Street, downtown) – the South Side Masonic Temple served as both a meeting space for the Freemasons until the 1960s, and a community center until the mid-1980s, when postwar suburban growth sparked the decline of the Shopping Center, and Englewood with it. Plans to convert the Temple building into an alternate high school came more than a decade later, but at that point the building had already piled on an insurmountable list of code violations that kept any preservation efforts mired in financial red tape. The Masonic Temple soon found itself as a regular on Preservation Chicago‘s annual “Most-Endangered” list.

The Observatory At the turn of the millennium, the vacant retail buildings gave way for the new campus of Kennedy-King College, which was dedicated in 2007. Now standing with a commanding presence, no-longer obscured by the neighboring retail buildings; there was briefly new hope that the Masonic Temple would still be redeveloped for educational purposes. Sadly, nothing came to fruition and the building fell even further into a dangerous state of decay. By the turn of the 2010s, large pieces of the facade near the rooftop, which had deteriorated from lack of tuckpointing and Chicago’s notorious winds, began falling onto the sidewalk, below – prompting the addition of temporary scaffolding, and eventual concrete barricades to keep people away.

Explore: For as long as it stood abandoned, this was one of the few giants in Chicago that remained pretty-well locked down and left to almost completely natural decay. Some previous scouting runs had proven futile in finding an entry point; but finally, in early-2015, some then-recent photos on Flickr revealed a possible entry through a second-floor window.

Of course… by the time I got there, the city (or some “concerned citizen”) had already cleared-away the pile of junk to reach said window. How conveniently inconvenient. Fortunately a looted construction barrier from a block or so away filled-in. The lighting in most of the windowless chambers was god-fucking-awful and made for few photos, however I think I got most of them.

The Heart Room The Tomb of the Ancient Kings _DSC0068 The Room of Fallen Columns The Shrine of the Silver Monkey The Swamp

Did I mention “severely decrepit”?? With random, open shafts for either cooling or elevators lurking in the darkest corners, to boot. Seriously, this wasn’t the place for your Instasham sneaker-selfie weekend. RUN… back to the Damen Silos, with ye! Three decades of decay were absolutely brutal to this one. Not since the Plywood Palace had I been in a spot where I thought for a second “this is where they’re gonna find my body”. Hell, there’s a reason most of Chicago’s graffiti crews even wrote this one off.

The Steps of Knowledge The Wall Climb

It was a place that could kill you in an instant, where touching the wrong wall the wrong way could easily build your own tomb. I know this because one particular room (below) decided to try just that, WITH ME GODDAMN INSIDE IT. All I did was reach out to brace myself while stepping around a debris pile (out of left-frame)… there she went. I jumped back and got to an exterior wall just before it slammed down and violently shook the floor, knocking pieces of debris off the ceiling and shattering some of the glass panels of the cubicles. Code brown.

The King's Storeroom

OK, no code brown… but time to GTFO, regardless.


20180113_122837In late-2017 the city finally realized someone was going to die horribly in or around this place, and ordered an emergency demolition. Fencing and scaffolding along the south wall (a mere six-ish feet away from an inhabited home) went up, and slow demo commenced in early-January. Unfortunately attempts to do a reshoot never panned out, and at time of writing, a majority of the place has already come down. It appears very little of the building’s grand exterior was preserved.

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