Masons at the Crossroads
Viewed as sinister by some and ridiculously retro by others, the 300-year-old fraternal organization professes a benign mission: "To make good men better." Members helped bankroll the school that became the University of Michigan. Ann Arbor's co-founder, John Allen, was a Freemason who later turned into an "anti-Mason." Masons remained an important local presence well into the twentieth century-in 1925, 5,000 people turned out to witness the dedication of their landmark downtown temple.
But like other fraternal groups, the Freemasons' numbers have dwindled over the past fifty years. Masonic temples, once enjoying pride of place on Main Streets and town squares, have largely disappeared. In Ann Arbor, their impressive Fourth Avenue building was demolished in 1975, and the Masons retreated to a much smaller structure on the outskirts of town. Now it too is closing. All but one of the Masonic groups still using the temple on West Liberty left at the end of last year.
With the building for sale, some older members wonder how their venerable fraternity will continue. Yet, for the first time in a long while, local Masonic groups have been attracting a steady stream of interested new members.
"I was looking for a new way to expand my circle of friends and community," recalls Bob Hospadaruk, an outgoing fifty-one-year-old engineer who recently joined Ann Arbor Fraternity Lodge No. 262. "Since all the men in my mother's family had been Masons, and because of Freemasonry's colorful history, joining a lodge naturally appealed to me."