For over a century, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite Masons were devoted caretakers of their beloved East Wheeling cathedral. Now under new ownership, Roxby Development has plans to maintain and develop this iconic Wheeling building as a unique event and social center in Wheeling.
A monumental structure, its imposing nature is reflected on the interior as well, with some fantastic architectural and artistic details. Here is a look at some of the most interesting sights you can find at the Scottish Rite.
Upon entering the stately Scottish Rite Cathedral, you’ll be welcomed by an old-world-style rotunda. The oval rotunda is edged by eight tall Carrara marble columns that were imported from their region of origin in Italy. The story goes that they were shipped out of Italy, cradled by ice, during the long voyage across the ocean. Regardless of how they arrived, the marble-laden rotunda has greeted the state’s masonic members for 105 years. Though the marble columns and walls are currently encrusted in decades worth of nicotine, plans to clean and restore the marble are in the works.
A bronze chandelier hangs high above the original furnishings in this space. The Scottish Rite still maintains its offices off the rotunda in the former Blue Lodge office. The dining room, lounge, card room and additional dining space are also located just off this space.
The exterior facade of the building is composed of buff brick, stucco and terra cotta. As with all Scottish Rite buildings – the impression of a monument or a temple was the end goal for the designer and architect, Fred Faris. Faris, a mason, worked closely with fellow Scottish Rite member, Ben Hamilton, who also served as construction manager on the project to plan and execute its construction.
Terracotta was a common building element in downtown Wheeling during this time period. No companies made the product locally since an almost limitless clay deposit is needed to manufacture terracotta on a commercial scale.
The decorative elements on the building’s facade, like these relief panels flanking each side of the front door, were all made of terracotta, including the double-headed eagle high above the front door!
Scottish Thistle and Stylized Rose
The library was part of a two-story addition that was made to the original building in 1926. Reasons for the addition less than 10 years after the building was constructed are unknown today, but it included an enlarged ladies parlor, additional kitchen and dining space, as well a 2000 square foot library.
Although the walls and ceiling of the library are fashioned to resemble stone walls and carvings – they are actually plaster cast and drawn to fool the eye. Two motifs are found at the plaster cornice – the stylized rose and the Scottish thistle.
This room was recently “refreshed” with a new coat of paint and decorative finishes to highlight the stone look of the walls and ceiling.
It is not actually known when the eagle became the masonic symbol but the eagle emblem first appeared at the head of every Roman legion. When the Eastern and Western Roman empires were combined to form the Holy Roman Empire, a double-headed eagle became their emblem. It would become a common symbol used by those in power across Europe. Some believe that the emblem was brought back from the crusades by returning soldiers; others believe that it first appeared in Paris during the 1700s. Regardless, it now symbolizes the history and inheritance of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.
Wheeling’s Scottish Rite has a large 58-piece, double-headed eagle located above the front door off 14th Street on the third floor level. This piece was molded by a company in New York specifically for this building. The double-headed eagle motif is also found in the reliefs flanking the entrance outside the front doors.
The recurring theme throughout the building is an Egyptian revival style. From the door knobs and faceplates adorning each and every wooden door to the sphinxes and the pharaoh head topped column capitals in the auditorium on the fifth floor – Egyptian style decorations can be found on every floor.
The Fischer & Jirouch Company, a decorative ornament manufacturer during the early 20th century, of Cleveland, Ohio, manufactured all of the Egyptian-styled plaster ornamentation found in the theatre. Each pharaoh head on the sides of the capital cost $25 each at the time of construction.
Theatre and the Sphinxes
Two large sphinxes flank the front of the stage. These were also ordered from the Fischer & Jirouch Company. The price for each sphinx was $75 in 1916.
The large auditorium, now referred to as the theatre, sits atop the Scottish Rite Cathedral and encompasses almost the entirety of the floor. At the time of its construction, it was boasted to be the largest in the city of Wheeling. Rooms on each side of the stage and in the fly loft served as storage to the Scottish Rite’s dress and degree props.
There are 33 degrees within the Scottish Rite membership tier and completing “degree work” is how you progressed to the next degree. This degree work was, in an overly simplified descriptor, stage plays that members memorized and performed in front of the membership.
Like every distinctive large building in downtown Wheeling, it had to showcase an equally distinctive and personalized door hardware. Each door plate reflects the Egyptian revival style flair with a pharaoh head and geometric shapes.
The hardware was ordered through the local company Greer and Laing, a hardware and building supply company in Wheeling.
Dining Room Floors
Tile floors were laid in the common, high traffic areas of the first floor level. The tiles were designed and manufactured by the Wheeling Tile Company located in South Wheeling. The floors of the dining areas feature a beautifully patterned, colorful tile floor with greens, grays, reds and blues. These are the only two uniquely tiled rooms in the building – the rest are the typical white hexagonal tile floors.
The library is one of the most well-lit by natural light in the whole building. It houses 52 oak cabinets full of books that were donated by the masonic members at the time of its construction. Approximately 2,000 books are located within the cabinets, each with a bookplate on the inside front cover naming the donor. These donors were from all over the state of West Virginia and surrounding areas. When the Scottish Rite Cathedral was built in 1916, it was the only Scottish Rite in the state, which meant that its members had to travel to Wheeling to conduct organizational business and degree work.
In a room that was originally planned to be a swimming pool in the northeast corner of the building’s basement, a custodian’s workshop was installed instead. Within that workshop are several large work tables surrounded by wooden cabinets. One such shelf is filled cigar boxes from Wheeling tobacco companies, brimming with odds and ends: screws, hardware, pins, etc. All of these items were neatly organized by the custodian, leaving behind one of our favorite snapshots of Wheeling history.
When Roxby Development took over the building, this area was cleaned out to make way for a new workshop to move in, but this shelf was not touched. Eventually, this shelf will be relocated to one of the more public areas of the building for guests to admire.
Electrical Fuse Box
It’s amazing that this electrical control panel is still working as it did 90 years ago. Modern electrical panels in newer buildings are typically hidden behind an opaque door in a box, but not this system! When you approach the panel, you see the connections, fuses and throw switches for each line. This electrical control panel was installed in the basement of the addition when it was constructed in 1926 and electricity has never stopped running through its wires.
This electrical control panel was recently surrounded by an enclosure with glass doors so that it can be protected but still visible to passersby.
Part of the same room that was destined to hold a pool was finally updated in the 1920s to house a large men’s restroom. In its heyday, there were often 1,000 or more men attending events at the cathedral, so a large bathroom was necessary to accommodate such a crowd. The entrance to this bathroom is down a long set of marble-clad stairs from the rotunda. You enter the room through a set of leather swinging bar doors.
Two rooms are adorned with Carrera marble wainscoting and white hexagonal floor tile. One room is full of sinks and coat hooks, and the other, the urinals and toilets. The urinals are rather exceptional, as they are two-sided! There are plans to rehab this bathroom and have it functional for future events at the building.[template_part type="video" title="Restoring the Scottish Rite Cathedral" description="An inside look at what's happening inside the Scottish Rite." url="https://youtu.be/A05IB78nfLI"]