SCOTTISH RITE CATHEDRAL CENTENNIAL
Driving south on Common Street out of downtown Shreveport affords motorists with the most expansive view of the Scottish Rite Cathedral. Located at the corner of Common and Cotton, it was completed in July 1917.
The impressive structure sits in a footprint of 133 by 110 feet. It stands as a sort of gateway to the Common Street Viaduct and the on-ramps to I-20 and the suburbs beyond. In 1917 dollars, the final cost of construction was $186,477.28. Many of the building’s original furnishings are still in use, as well as many original fixtures. There has been some modernization. Air conditioning and an elevator have been added over the years. Last year, the front entrance was updated to make it more accessible for visitors.
Renowned architect Edward F. Neild, a member, was commissioned to design the edifice. His design includes a three-level auditorium capable of seating 500, a wardrobe room, a marble lobby, a pair of matching marble staircases, a kitchen, a banquet hall, a masonic library, a parlor, as well as offices and classrooms.
Other buildings Neild designed include A.C. Steere School; the Shreveport Municipal building; Robinson Hall at Louisiana Tech; the Maricopa County Courthouse in Phoenix, Ariz.; Bossier High School, Fair Park High School and C.E. Byrd High School. Neild is also credited with the design of the Shreveport’s Shriners’ Hospital for Crippled Children, the first Shriners’ hospital in North America.
As interesting as the overall architecture is for historians, the intricacies of the detail provide far more insight into the Scottish Rite. In the details of the woodwork are symbols that have great meaning to the Masons who meet there. The interior boasts paint and moldings that continue the themes inherent in the Masonic tradition.
The symbolism is carried down to the smallest details. The number of sconces in each room has an historic significance, according to Troy Jones, an official with the local chapter. Careful examination of the medallions in the extensive molding reveals other symbols. Robert Langdon, the movie symbolist/hero, would be right at home in these ornate corridors.
The lobby boasts portraits of the local members and state and national officials. The portraits each depict a member who is still alive. On other floors, members who are deceased are displayed. This leads to the very Masonic rejoinder of “I’m still in the lobby,” when asked how they are doing.
The Scottish Rite of Freemasonry is one of two divisions of Masonic membership. It has been defined as a secret order whose object is mutual assistance and the promotion of brotherly love among its members.
Some notable historic figures who were Freemasons include George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.
According to Jones, “People say we’re a secret society, but, I mean, we’re in the phonebook. We have a society that is like a board. Board meetings are not open to the public. We have meetings where things are passed down from mouth to ear.”
Probably to most of the people who walk or drive past the building every day, the day-to-day activities inside the Cathedral are as mysterious as the “secret” rituals of Freemasonry. Children in need of speech therapy from across Louisiana are assisted by the Masons. The Cathedral is used as a speech and language center for those children. Other speech and language centers are located in Shreveport, Monroe, Baton Rouge, Hammond and Lafayette but are all headquartered out of the building in Shreveport. All of this therapy is provided free of cost to the children.
Jones said local membership is over 600 men, and is 1.6 million in the United States. He said the basic tenets, the socalled landmarks, of Freemasonry have not changed since the order was formalized in 1717 in England. The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry is commonly known as the Scottish Rite. It is one of several groups that are part of the worldwide fraternity known as Freemasonry. Scottish Rite is the largest and most widely practiced Masonic Rite in the world.
To mark the centennial anniversary, the Cathedral held a dinner on Thursday, Sept. 21, with a program entitled “Who We Are, What We’ve Done, and What We Represent.” It included recognition of dignitaries, a time capsule dedication, presentations and reception of guests.
Tours of the Cathedral are not only conducted, but encouraged, said Jones. Anyone wanting to visit can inquire about a tour by calling (318)221-9713. The Cathedral maintains a website with history and additional information at http://shreveportscottishrite.com.
According to Jones, “We believe in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man,” and by walking the halls of the Cathedral, it becomes obvious they also believe in intricate architecture, high symbolism and preservation of America’s historic treasure.