By Monique Jones
The Birmingham Times
One of the most important buildings in downtown Birmingham’s 4th Avenue Historic District is about to get a major upgrade.
The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons (F&AM) of Alabama, Temple Building is a civil rights landmark whose story was in danger of being lost. But after 95 years, the building will be brought back to life as the result of a planned massive renovation project that is expected to take about two years and around $10 million to $15 million dollars to complete.
Birmingham Mayor William Bell has been a part of the building’s revitalization effort from its earliest stages.
“Several years ago, I asked the leadership of the lodge how we could come together and work toward a common goal of rehabilitating [the Masonic Temple] and bringing it back to life as a place [where] businesses [can thrive],” said Bell. “… We could preserve it for the current generation as well as future generations.”
“We want to try to re-instill the building’s vigor and vitality so it can continue to be a contributor to the growth of the [4th Avenue Historic District] business corridor,” Bell added.
How to Help
Alabama’s Prince Hall Masons have started a GoFundMe page to raise $500,000 for the first phase, which “will cover the planning, assessment work (environmentally-safe removal of potentially hazardous materials), and further the redevelopment concepts” for the building. Other funding is expected to come from the National Park Service.
Donations for the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, F & AM, Temple Building revitalization project can also be sent to the Prince Hall Legacy Foundation Inc.: 319 17th St. N., Suite 220, Birmingham, AL 35203.
National Park Service
“We’re making formal applications to the National Park Service and the state of Alabama [for] their historic tax credits,” said Joseph C. Clark III, CEO of Community Concepts Agency Inc., the company hired to oversee the project.
Clark added that the funding will be in conjunction with the National Park Service’s work on Birmingham’s Civil Rights National Monument, which includes parts of the 4th Avenue Historic District, as well as the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the A.G. Gaston Motel, and Kelly Ingram Park.
“The [Masonic Temple] is separately listed in the National Historic Register, and it resides in a national historic district, … so, what we’re trying to do is parlay all of this into the renovation of the building,” he said.
The Masonic Temple’s interior and exterior will be renovated according to the Secretary of the Interior’s National Park Service recommendations for historic buildings. In addition, Clark said, the restoration will preserve the building’s architectural history while bringing the structure up to code by removing the current asbestos wiring and old plumbing system and replacing it with wiring and plumbing fit for the 21st century.
City, State Support
Clark said he’s received “excellent support” from Mayor Bell and Birmingham’s Department of Community Development, as well as from the state of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM).
“[ADEM’s Chief of Redevelopment Section] Sonja Favors … has been extremely helpful in helping us move forward to obtain funding to take care the environmental concerns,” he said.
When the building is complete, it’ll be used much like it was in its prime—as a business hub, a place for the community to meet, and an entertainment venue.
“[The masons] want to give back to the city of Birmingham and to its residents,” said Clark, adding that he and the organization are already in the process of designing programs to help veterans, low-income families, families who need credit counseling or loan modifications, and teenagers who are preparing for college.
“We’re designing some programs that can be based in and administered out of [the Masonic Temple]—life-centric-type programs that show young people how to start a credit account, how to build up credit, how to bank,” he said. “[We’ll do] these things for the young folk so they’ll be better prepared when they get out of high school.”
Bell said the building will also provide office space, where new companies can work at a reduced cost. He believes the Masonic Temple can become the “center of small business,” as it was in its heyday: “It can be developed as a business incubator facility where people just starting out [can] have a place to rent office space and get administrative services necessary for them to succeed.”
Clark said businesses have already expressed “a great amount of interest” in renting space.
“[The Masonic Temple] serves more than just a huge space on [17th Street] and 4th Avenue,” he said. “If you drive by it every day, like a lot of people do, you don’t know the story. You don’t know the contributions made.”
Thanks to the revitalization project, however, Birmingham will once again know the impact the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, F & AM of Alabama, Temple Building had not just on Birmingham but on the nation’s fight for civil rights.
Other stories in this series:
Building history: Inside the closed Masonic Temple in Downtown Birmingham