Scottish Rite Cathedral … I’m smitten

So maybe you know this place … chances are you don’t. Located at the corner of 4th St and Ave E, this wonder of buildings has most likely stirred your curiosity but then faded into the threadbare fabric of your commute. But really, how could you not be a little intrigued by a giant ark-of-the-covent looking building … and why, fearless urban explorers, have you not tried to get in!

Well perhaps, like me, you have in the past tried the door and found it locked, then tried the rest of the doors on the perimeter and found them locked too … contemplated the windows but found that a little extreme, gave up and skipped off to the Bonham Exchange to drown yourself in a sea of $2 well drinks. That is the thing here folks … this amazing building is two blocks from the Alamo, visible from the highway, and is tripping distance to one of the busiest nightclubs in town … and yet the Scottish Rite Cathedral stands solemn and dignified. I like that, I really do.  There is something to be said for standing the test of time with purpose and sense of character … take note of that Alamo Plaza.

But back to the point … why have you not tried to get in?  Well, I have good news for you meek and timid explorers, the Scottish Rite Cathedral now offers daily guided tours and it is free … Monday – Friday 9:30am to 2:30pm 210-222-0133.  Who knew!  I didn’t!  Now I can return my black leotard, lock pick set, black ski mask and night vision goggles … what savings!

So, let’s begin our tour … you’ve buzzed the door and a mysterious voice has let you in … you’re pensive and with good reason … temple of secrets and all that.  Then … oh my goodness!  Marble and then some … and barrel-vaulted ceilings and a grand staircase!   One grand hall leads to another … doors to somewhere are everywhere.  Then … at some point you enter, via an imposing horseshoe shaped hall, the main auditorium.  Acoustically perfect and expansive, this imposing space is  something to be seen.  It’s at this point, if you failed to notice before, that the Cathedral is battling the ravages of time.

Paint is peeling and the  plaster is crumbling … and once your eyes are filtered to it, you see that it is everywhere.  Yet, in spite of all the damage time has done, the Cathedral has newly refurnished floors in the auditorium and lower ballroom.  Energy efficient bulbs are awkwardly gracing the vintage lighting.  Workmen are buzzing here and there.  Tables and chairs sit in tidy stacks waiting for the next event.  This building may be tired and worn but it is tended to and loved … that is obvious.

As you explore this giant, one is reminded that Ancient Rome was not ADA compliant and neither is this building … which is part of the problem.  No ADA compliance = no big time events … and this means no money for renovations.  The freemasons and the Scottish Rite Cathedral channel what money they do have to their charitable causes … there’s nothing more noble than that, but that means the work that needs to be done on the Cathedral always falls off the to do list.

This is where you come in.  Visit this wonderful place!  Get the word out!  Stitch it bright and bold into the fabric of your life.  Maybe we can help this old dame yet.

How Many Museum Professionals Does it Take…..



Chris is perched precariously on the ladder investigating wattage and voltage.

Although I am sure that my life is far more exciting than that of anyone else, I must occasionally reaffirm this notion by partaking in activities such as organizing the plastic grocery bags under my sink or lining the cat pan with clean newspapers, or, bringing the excitement to work by counting and inventorying light bulbs in each of the museum’s lighting devices.  Indeed, the thought of it gives me butterflies: The ladders! The dust! The myriad of moth carcasses in the bottom of fixtures! And we cannot forget the bulbs-or as Mr. Mathis called them, “light globes”.

Just yesterday, Villa Finale’s  Manager of Buildings and Grounds, Chris Roddy, asked me, quite early in the morning, if I had some time to accompany him in the bulb count.  And I said yes.  Armed with a flashlight, a rag, and cotton gloves, we went to work.  We took the ladder around to each room, examined the overhead fixtures and chandeliers first, then looked at free-standing lamps.   We went in the basement, in the tower, on the porches and in the bathrooms.  I had to consider which fixtures might not be aesthetically pleasing with new compact florescent bulbs, and which needed to remain clear or flame-shaped.  We will be able to replace quite a number of the bulbs because there are only a few that are visible from below.  


The lightbulb from the argand lamp.


The J. & I. Cox argand lamp.

We counted 207 light bulbs.  Some of them were ridiculously small and unidentifible with regard to wattage, but perfectly suited for the lamp and location in which it was placed.  Like this one in an Argand lamp made by the J. & I.  Cox of New York City.  This type of lamp was patented in 178o and originally fueled by whale oil.  Mr. Mathis’s Argand lamps date from 1810 – and I feel as if he did not want them to have the glow of a modern lamp, therefore he found tiny flame-shaped bulbs to place in these lamps, and several others in the house.  The effect is beautiful and appropriate.


Mr. Mathis’s Crowninshield Award Video!

In 2003, Walter Mathis was awarded the Louise duPont Crowninshield Award by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, our organization’s highest honor.  At the awards presentation in Denver that year, we showed a video giving a great overview of all of Mr. Mathis’s preservation work.  I was finally able to get a copy, thanks to Cortina Productions, who produced the video.  Watch the video here: