The Masonic Lodge became involved with the building in 1935, when Nelson Story III, a member of Lodge #18, suggested the lodge lease the second floor. The lodge had been without its own home since its 1872 founding. They had intermittently shared space with Lodge #6, until they began using the second floor of the Chambers-Fisher building at 7 West Main in 1906. They explored several options from 1935 through 1948: new construction (they had bought land at S. Tracy and Babcock), renting the Story building, and ultimately purchasing the building. World War I, post-war inflation, and the Depression had squashed their plans to build anew in the 1920s and 1930s. In March 1947, they voted to purchase the Story Building for $185,000 with payments due over a 25-year period. The $27,000 sale of their Babcock lot and a Story promise for the final $10,000 payment — along with the sale of $200,000 in stock to their members — helped them close the deal.
Architect and lodge member Fred Willson designed the lodge’s 1950 remodeling, which cost $387,500. The work was extensive and ultimately devastating, a product of a stylist application that Willson’s staff later claimed he wasn’t comfortable with — that of the International Style. The parapets were all cut down to the same level, protruding brick detail sheared off, the second floor walls concealed with stucco, and the wood windows replaced with steel sash. All was neat, clean, and precise — until the stucco showed unsightly stains and cracks. After deliberation and membership appeals, the temple board decided to renovate the exterior.
The Spring 1980 Montana Masonic News summarized the project:
The exterior walls on the Main and Tracy sides are badly in need of repair. The plans call for insulating and closing many of the windows on the Tracy and Main Street sides. Much heat loss is currently experienced with the large number of second-floor outside windows. An attractive plan for new brickwork and exterior finishing was presented. The remodeling cost is estimated at $62,000.
Architect Hulbert Cheever designed this facelift, which included the above-described work, a second layer of stucco, and a series of gently sloped brick arches over the storefronts.
By 2014, the lodge had tired of the lack of transparency at Main Street and decided it was time to have a stronger, more interactive, presence. Thus began a three-year process of exploration, design, and construction to transform the building’s exterior. A feasibility study partly funded by the Downtown Business Partnership resulted in a plan to restore the Main Street façade and its South Tracy corner.
Holes cut in the 2.5-inch-thick stucco revealed that much of the original brick and stone detailing had not been removed during the 1950 installation of studs to support the stucco. The treatment of the South Tracy façade in 1950 called for a different response. All of the brick detailing had been cut off and the stucco applied directly to the brick, leaving little as a basis to restore. This provided an opportunity for a new expression sympathetic to the original, by application of a screen wall of cementitious panels over the stucco. A two-story curtain wall thrillingly interrupts this neutral façade and reveals the new lobby and stair sequence of the Masonic Temple entry, which used to be tucked away in a recess at South Tracy.
This building’s story is not unusual in Bozeman, where other buildings have been restored. Yet its history of ownership, design, alterations (both those implemented and those only considered), and uses — not all of which could be recounted in this article — is rich and instructive. It teaches us that buildings adapt to our ever-changing needs and inspire us to reflect on them.