April 08, 2013

Five-Star Freemasonry

             One weekend every September, London opens up more than 700 buildings to the public that are not normally available for viewing. There are no entrance fees, but some of the more popular locations attract long lines. With so many choices available, it’s important to visit the London Open House website to peruse the structures and their opening times beforehand. This past September, I ended up in a rather unexpected place, but I quickly learned that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

             Drenched and roaming central London, I went in search of a Greek Masonic Temple located on Liverpool Street. Glancing down at my phone, my navigation tool told me that I had “arrived at the destination.” After scanning my surroundings and peering across the street, I could not see anything that resembled a temple. With my umbrella barely holding on, I decided to seek some shelter in a hotel. I soon discovered I had stepped foot in the lavish five-star hotel “Andaz.” As I was taking in the modern architecture of the spacious lobby, a sign caught my eye. It read, “London Open House.” A woman asked me if I needed any help and I tentatively asked, “Have I come to the right place to see the Masonic Temple?” She nodded her head and directed me down a corridor. Apparently I was in the right place after all.

             Rounding several corners and consulting with several people, the Temple was certainly tucked away, secretively placed underneath the grandeur of the hotel. Even the people who guided me adopted a hush-hush tone, nodding and murmuring with reverent mystique. I knew when I had reached the Temple as it provided a stark contrast to the clean lines of the hotel. A marble staircase spiraled down into a pool of black and white checkered floor. Dim-lit candles circled the space, flooding the room with a sinister glow. Rows of chairs clad in purple faced each other. However, my eyes immediately locked on two regal chairs positioned at opposite sides of the room. A gold sunburst illuminated the ceiling, its rays pouring down over the visitors.

             The “Andaz,” housed in an 1884 redbrick Victorian building, was originally a London railway hotel dubbed the “Great Eastern.” The hotel was built in 1912 by Charles Barry Jr., son of the architect who designed the Houses of Parliament. The Temple was only discovered when the fake wall concealing it was knocked down. It is rumored that Jack the Ripper was a Mason and if he was, he would have attended this temple, due to its proximity to his hunting ground. The Temple contains 12 different types of Italian marble and the throne-like chairs are made from mahogany. The decadent interior of marble and mahogany was built for £50,000, which is the same as about £4 million today, while the black and white checkered marble floor is currently worth £2 million. 

             My visit to the Masonic Temple provided me with insight into the “invisible” side of London. Clearly concealed from the public eye, the Temple remains unknown, an elusive underground spectacle. The sheer secretiveness of the Temple makes it all the more alluring. Although the temple is designated within the hotel, the hotel owners have no rights over the temple’s usage. A hidden gem like the Masonic Temple causes me to realize that there are so many treasures just waiting to be discovered in London if we choose to unearth them.

             The Masonic Temple and the accompanying hotel perfectly represent how two vastly different worlds can coincide in a blend of the new and the old. Upon learning that the Masonic Temple didn’t have a listed London address for many decades until recently, I had to give myself a reality check. This is my London, the London I live in, the London I am becoming more acquainted with every day. Most people go to the movies or go shopping on the weekends, but instead I was discovering an unusual spectacle in this endlessly fascinating city.

             However unpleasant tromping around the streets of London might have been on a dreary and dismal day, the Masonic Temple was worth the wet hair and the soaking clothes. Another thing I noticed as the rain poured down was that I was immersed in stereotypical London. Whenever I have told friends that I live in London, or even England in general, they always manage to bring up the poor weather. I never fail to find this particularly amusing. The rain in no way dampened my spirits as I set out on my trek to find the Masonic Temple. If anything, it only added to my overall journey. I came to the realization that come rain, come shine, I still absolutely adore the city of London. The weather will never hinder my desire to explore, my desire to explore everything and anything that London has to offer. The Masonic Temple offered an eerie sort of shelter from the rain. Who knows if I would have even stumbled across my destination if I had not been trying to hide from the relentless British rain.

            My mission of the day had actually been to visit St. Mary Axe, more commonly known as the Gherkin. However, when I saw heads upon heads of people standing in a line snaking around long stretches of pavement, I knew I had no chance of getting in. Scrapping my original plan, I frantically searched my phone for other available places to visit. That’s when I discovered the Masonic Temple. Yes, the Gherkin might be incredibly well known and I am sure it offers a spectacular view from the top, but I am more pleased that I ventured to someplace a little off the beaten track. I feel that is where the true heart of London lies.

            For 2013, London Open House will be held on September 21st and 22nd. For more information, visit here.

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