Scottish Rite Masonic Temple

The Scottish Rite Masonic Temple is a prominent, domed structure on Capitol Hill diagonally across from the State Capitol Building.  Technically Colorado Consistory Number 1, the Scottish Rite temple is the home of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in Colorado.  Constructed between 1923 and 1925, the temple was designed by Denver architect William N. Bowman, who was a member of the consistory before his death in 1944.  Bowman designed several other Masonic temples in Colorado, but is most famous for the Telephone Building on 14th Street and the State Office Building on Colfax at Sherman Street.

This neo-classical structure was constructed of buff-colored glazed terra cotta with a mottled finish, similar to the appearance of limestone or buff sandstone.  It also has a pink-granite base and a white, membrane-covered dome that was recently repaired.

Bowman originally designed a larger, more ornately-decorated building for the site, but redesigned the building to be the current three-story structure.  A historic photograph of the Scottish Rite temple taken shortly after it was constructed, which you can find on the Denver Public Library’s website, there have been very few changes made to the building.  It appears that the dome was originally clad with a slate shingles or perhaps flat, interlocking clay tile, but otherwise the exterior remains quite similar to its original construction.

There are very few windows on the building, and normally a building with large expanses of flat masonry would look odd and fortress-like, but instead the few, delicately detailed windows and the simple Classical ornament of the Scottish Rite temple lend it an appearance of elegant grandeur.  Take the entry, for example; accessed via a wide staircase of pink granite, the imposing bronze doors are flanked by enormous fluted terra-cotta columns and a heavy entablature.  The flat terra cotta surrounding the entry is slightly recessed from the rest of the facade, which lends the entry greater prominence. It is truly an elegant composition.

Several masonic symbols are present on the exterior of the Scottish Rite temple, including a double-headed eagle at the crest of the western pediment.  The metal eagles carry a pyramid with the number 32 on their heads.  According to Colorado Consistory No. 1, the double-headed eagle is meant to “symbolize the double jurisdiction of the Council–one which looked both to the East and to the West”.  The triangle is a symbol of the divinity, and 32 refers to the 32nd degree, the highest degree a member may attain (except the 33rd degree, which is honorary).

The Scottish Rite temple provides an elegantly curved corner where it meets the right angles of Grant Street and 14th Avenue.  Like the rest of the building, the corner has restrained ornament, including a band of terra-cotta flowers and acanthus leaves shown in the bottom of the photo above, and a simple balustrade at the parapet.  I was curious about the accretion at the cornice until I saw the frenzied activities of bees at their hive over the summer.

I was also intrigued by a color change in the terra cotta a few courses up from the granite base, which you can see below.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is an anti-graffiti coating that was applied to the terra cotta along the sidewalk to protect it from spray paint.  Unfortunately it has become discolored over time, or perhaps there was a chemical reaction with the glaze of the terra cotta that darkened the coating.  Either way, it creates an interesting, though unfortunate, datum line across the base of the building.

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Denver Turnverein

I came across the name of the Denver Turnverein when I was researching Pete Ambrusch, the lead sculptor for the Denver Terra Cotta Company.  His scrapbook, located in the Western History Collection of the Denver Public Library, has his old newspaper clippings along with certificates written in German from the Turnverein and the Schlarffia.  I had never heard of either before, but a quick Google search told me these were German cultural and language clubs in Denver.  I didn’t think much more of it until I rode my bike down 16th Avenue in Uptown several months ago and discovered the Denver Turnverein is still standing!  Not only that, it turns out it’s a Denver Landmark.

Turnverein

The Denver Turnverein was founded in 1865 and is Denver’s oldest ethnic club (according to Tom Noel’s book, Guide to Colorado Historic Places, 2007).  It just celebrated its 150 year anniversary in April.  The mission of the Turnverein, whose members are known as Turners, was to promote physical fitness and mental fitness.  Turners brought gymnastics, known then as “turning” to the United States, and petitioned state and local governments to include gymnastics in school curricula.  The Turnverein was going strong in Denver until a wave of anti-German sentiment swept the United States in the 1910s.  After World War I, the group recovered both financially and in membership numbers but had lost their club house, the Turnhalle, to foreclosure and a fire in 1916 and 1920, respectively.

The current clubhouse, located at 16th Avenue and Clarkson Street, was built in 1921 for the Coronado Club, a short-lived dance club.  Designed by architect George L. Bettcher [pdf], the Coronado Club foundered shortly after it opened.  In 1922, ten members of the Turnverein donated $100 each to purchase the building and transformed it into a gymnasium, dance hall and meeting space.  The basement was home to a Rathskeller, which still hosts regular meetings of the Schlaraffia, the German-language club.

In the 1960s, the Coronado Club name was removed from the building and the words German House were added above the door.  The neon Denver Turnverein sign probably pre-dates the 1960s, though I could not find any reference to its installation.

TurnvereinDetail1

As you can see in the photographs, the building was designed in the Mediterranean style and is clad with a warm, yellow-colored stucco.  It has clay-tile at the projecting roof eaves, which hide a flat roof.  Huge arched windows give ample light and air to the dance hall, and the entrance is framed by a simple, pale pink, cast stone surround.

TurnvereinDetail2

There is also a small cast stone frieze above the door depicting music and dance, fitting for both the original dance club and the Turnverein.  The Turnverein continues to offer dance classes and dances most nights of the week, and the Rathskeller is still busy with German cultural events.

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