Sunday, November 25, 2007

Photography Playday and the Holland Lodge #1

Houston City Hall, originally uploaded by Mr. Kimberly.

A couple weeks ago, I got my photo groove back on. After finishing a work-related trip downtown, I wandered the area. I visited the Art Deco city hall building and spent some time at the Houston Heritage Society Museum. After that, I drove down Montrose Ave. to get some pictures of the Masonic Temple.

Holland Lodge #1 is a beauty of a modernist building. It consists of two perpendicular intersecting rectangles; a brick, ground floor base and an upper, cantilevered, pale concrete one. The concrete one extends above the rear parking lot and houses the main hall. I'm not thrilled with the pictures, mainly due to a lack of sun and partially because I can't capture the specific architectural aspects that I like with a single picture. While wandering around the back, I chanced upon a guy bringing a ladder into the building. Being a handyman, I guessed he didn't have any authority in the building, and asked if there was someone there who could give me permission to take some interior photos. Moments later, out came a Brother Mason who said I could take all the pictures outside that I wanted, as they'd spent over 2 million on the streetside facade.

After asking if I was a mason (I'm not; my mom's dad was) he proceeded to start a history lesson on Masons in America. I had my afternoon free so I was happy to be schooled on John Paul Jones, George Washington and others. When he saw I was still interested/not fleeing, he asked if I wanted to know a bit more about Texas and Masons. I said sure, he said "No pictures," and we went inside.

The building dates from the 1950s and has a combination of clean modern lines with more decorative elements referencing the early European heritage of Freemasonry.

In one of the side rooms, there is a collection of famous Texan Masons, including but not limited to:
  • Sam Houston (1793-1863) - President of the Republic Texas, Founding Member of, Holland Lodge
  • Anson Jones (1798-1858) - President of the Republic Texas, Founding Member of Holland Lodge
  • M. B. Lamar (1798-1859) - President of the Republic Texas, Freemason, Member of Harmony Lodge No. 6 Galveston
  • Stephen F. Austin (1793-1836) - Father of Texas, Freemason
  • James Bowie (1796-1836) - Hero of the Alamo, Freemason
  • William B. Travis (1809-1836) - Freemason
  • Juan N. Seguin (1806-1890) - Member of Holland Lodge
  • James W. Fannin, Jr. (1804-1836) - Member of Holland Lodge
  • David 'Davey' Crockett (1786-1836) - Hero of the Alamo, Freemason
In the main hall, the modern, reserved design was most evident. Unlike the many Philadelphia lodge rooms (Flickr picture), this room was free of extraneous decoration; instead the wall were broad expanses of wood, with indirect lighting on the ceiling. It was a clean, modernist interpretation of a ceremonial lodge room. As I exited the room, I saw overhead two old slide projectors, and in the library there was a glass slide of a masonic image. It reminded me that many secret societies were influenced by theatrical design and some groups had members of various stage professions.

In the library, I was looking at a wall of black and white portraits. The Brother Mason said they had pictures of every master mason who had served, even the ones they kicked out. That piqued my curiosity and I asked what someone had to do to get the boot. Brother Mason paused a moment, then replied, "You know what a libertine is?" Having attended college, I said yes, and clarified, "So, it's behavior unbecoming a mason? "Yes," he said, and proceeded to detail and detailed the life of Jesse H. Jones, Secretary of Commerce and director of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation during the years following the Great Depression. Under attack by those who would take over his position of power, my host cited Jones' adherence to Masonic ideology as protection against accusations of corruption and embezzlement. Fellow masons in the Congress helped Jones draw attention to these attacks in public hearings and prevented his ouster from his positions of authority.

That pretty much ended my Freemasonry 101 class for the day, as I had to find something to eat. I had spent at least an hour at the lodge and I was getting hungry.

So the two lessons of the day were (in reverse order);
  • Freemasonry, good for Houston, good for Texas, and the country in general
  • Always take an opportunity to talk to someone going through a door - you never know how far inside you might be able to follow them.

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My Flickr pictures:
Houston City Hall
Houston Heritage Society Museum
Holland Lodge #1

For detailed biographies of all the Masons mentioned, as well as anything else Texan - Texas State Historical Association - The Handbook of Texas Online

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Shelby said...

That is such a cool story. I walk by that building all the time and have never ever seen anyone going in or coming out of it. It's so mysterious.

Mr. Kimberly said...

I was told they only use the back entrance. The front doors apparently need some work.

Bill Bradford said...

Thanks for this cool story and photographs. It's strange that they don't allow photography inside the building. The Lodge that I'm in the process of joining on the NW side of town has pictures of its lodge room on their website!