Prince Hall Masonic Temple
Parish: East Baton Rouge
Location: Baton Rouge
From the East Baton Rouge Public Library Places website, written by Henry Kiely
“(The) Prince Hall Masonic Temple in Baton Rouge…started in 1924. The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows contracted with contracted with Conner, Bryant and Bell, a Baton Rouge black contracting company, to erect a building at 1335 North Boulevard. Occupation of the Neo-classical brick building with concrete accents began in 1925…At the time the building was completed, there were some forty merchants and businesses between 12th Street and 16th Street. There were meat markets, grocers, a motor car company, a furniture company, a dry cleaners, a hardware store, a jeweler, a tailor, a drugstore, a dry goods store, a lumber company, a coffee company, and a funeral home.
The two major attractions of the building were the Temple Theatre, occupying most of the first floor and part of the second floor, and the Temple Roof Garden occupying the fourth floor. The rest of the space on the second floor and all of the third floor contained offices for various businesses and professional people…
The Roof Garden, now the Grand Ballroom, was the glamour spot for black Baton Rouge social functions. Best known were the appearances of national big name bands such as Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. When they played in the spring and summer months, the huge windows of the Roof Garden were thrown open and the music reverberated throughout the neighborhood. Today, local bands provide music for scheduled activities, which are held either in the ballroom or the theatre.
In the early ‘30s, the Odd Fellows experienced some financial difficulties…In 1948, the Temple was sold to the present owners, the M.W. Prince Hall Grand Lodge, F.A. & M. of Louisiana. The building became the headquarters of 179 Masonic lodges.
When it became available, air conditioning installed in the Roof Garden provided a significant change for the summer months. The windows were bricked in and plywood paneling was installed on the interior. Despite these changes, the space retains much of its original character, including handsome Neo-classical detailing. Two sets of stairs at the north end of the room lead to an original balcony from which spectators relaxed while viewing the activities on the ballroom floor. Steam heated radiators provided heat during the winter months for many social activities. Debutante parties included prominent socialites of the black community. Other catered social events were fraternal dances, wedding receptions, sorority cotillions and banquets.
As the social hub of Baton Rouge’s black population, the Temple is an important addition to the National Register of Historic Places. This much deserved recognition is the result of a project launched by the Foundation for Historical Louisiana to nominate buildings important to the black community in Baton Rouge. SOURCE: Preservation In Print, (New Orleans, LA.) vol. 21, no. 5, June 1994.”
From the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism webpage http://www.crt.state.la.us/dataprojects/hp/nhl/attachments/Parish17/Scans/17045001.pdf:
“The Temple’s legendary claim to fame in Baton Rouge’s black community is the Temple Roof Garden. Stories about dances held in the ballroom are legion. Apparently its heyday as the place to go was in the late 1930s and 1940s. It was particularly popular among youth clubs for dances. Interviewees recall hiring a band when they were flush, or when times were tight, paying someone to “spin” records. However, it was the “big name” bands brought to the Temple Roof Garden by the management that fill the memories of black Baton Rougeans, who reminisce about hundreds of people dancing the night away to the sounds of such well-known bands and entertainers as Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Louie Armstrong, Cab Calloway, and the like. An ad appearing in January 1938 proclaimed the Temple Roof Garden the “finest dancing hall South.” A headline in the same issue of The Baton Rouge Post read “Harlem Play Girls Swing Before a Record Crowd.” “It was a gay night for all on the beautiful Temple Roof Garden,” wrote the reporter. Like the theatre, the ballroom drew its patrons from Baton Rouge and nearby Southern University. According to interviewees, there were no other comparable facilities in the city available to blacks during the historic period.”
Bill Bolens: “Got to go up in there last year during the Baton Rouge Blues Festival. I’d been waiting something like nearly 30 years to go up in there and finally got the chance when Dege Legg had a rent party gig there. I took a bunch of pictures also. The place got history…….”
Photos courtesy of Crt.state.la.org and creolegen.org