'Grand Old Lady' makes an exit

HAMMOND: Site possible new charter school
2008-01-23T00:00:00Z 'Grand Old Lady' makes an exitSUSAN BROWN
January 23, 2008 12:00 am  • 

HAMMOND | Silent now for more than a decade, the century-old Masonic Temple, once dubbed Hammond's "Grand Old Lady," is slated to tumble down this year.

Bids for the demolition are expected to be let by late spring, according to Planning and Development Director Rick Calinski.

"It's a great part of Hammond's past history, but we need to look forward to the future," Calinski said Tuesday. "If we wait for someone with a passion for that building to come forward, it can become a safety hazard."

Calinski said a 2006 study concluded water damage from a caved-in roof and assorted environmental issues have rendered restoration cost-prohibitive.

The mammoth cornerstone to the ornately elegant three-story red brick building on Muenich Court was laid May 1, 1907, to great fanfare. Speaker for the day was none other than Charles Fairbanks, vice president under U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.

In 1921, the Masonic Building Association enhanced the building to the tune of $440,000. By the 1970s, its replacement cost was estimated at $4.8 million. Today, it is estimated its restoration could top $20 million.

Patrick Swibes, chairman of the Hammond Historic Preservation Commission, said the building was once a candidate for preservation.

"The building has been terribly compromised over the last 12 to 15 years," Swibes said. "Once the roof goes, it lets water into the building, which disintegrates a building pretty quickly."

Swibes said most of the damage is to the theater. The stage in the building's enormous auditorium once showcased Shrine circuses, basketball games, theater plays, miniature golf and concerts.

One of Hammond's most ornate buildings, it is heavily customized with terra-cotta designs. The Muenich Court entryway contains leaded glass windows, glazed multicolored Egyptian heads and arched, hooded door surrounds.

But its beauty has been overcome by more practical concerns, according to Swibes.

"This is to the point where, all things considered, (the question is) does the city want to invest that kind of money," Swibes said. "There's a lot of other pressing things in the city that should be addressed."

Once the building is leveled, the site will be a candidate for the city's potential charter school, city officials say.

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