Scottish Rite Cathedral, 160 S Scott Ave

The cornerstone of Tucson’s Scottish Rite Cathedral was laid in December 1915 and the building was dedicated only five months later in May of 1916. Henry Trost’s design firm had already moved from Tucson to El Paso, however, due to his prior reputation in Tucson and expanding portfolio of impressive projects throughout the southwest, he was chosen to design more buildings in Tucson. The builder was Weymouth Crowell of Los Angeles and the construction cost is believed to have exceeded $150,000, or $4 million in today’s dollars. The building is two stories tall with dimensions of 76 feet across and 163 feet deep. The first floor is elevated above the street level. Below the main floor is a full basement with windows at street level. There are attic rooms without windows. The basement was designed to be large enough to accommodate drill practices by the Knights Templar. White marble stairs lead to the lobby from the entrance. There are several formally decorated rooms and a spacious Prairie style lobby. The primary focus and function of the building is a banquet hall and grand parlor called the Red Room due to its bright red carpeting. A 22-rank organ, built by the California Organ Company in Van Nuys, California, was operational by the time of the dedication.

In 1950 and 1951, additions to the north and back of the building were added. The annex was named after Peter Howell who was the Venerable Master of the local Freemasons before the construction of the original cathedral. In 1979 the entire building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In recent decades, the cathedral has been available for public events.

The Scottish Rite Cathedral is probably the only non-residential Tucson building designed by Trost that is still operated by its original owner, the Freemasons. It is also unique in Tucson with large scale Neo-Classic Revival architectural style, except for the adjacent Carnegie Library, another Trost design. The cathedral is taller than wide, the opposite aspect of the library, which was designed to convey a more inviting, less exclusive presence of the cathedral. The stately formal style of the cathedral was a suitable statement for a fraternal meeting hall for those select members that had shown that they valued humanity and morality and the freedom of democracy. These members were men only then, however women are welcome Masons now. Trost showed how he could execute a traditional architectural plan yet integrate features of Frank Lloyd Wright, whom he admired for stylistic innovation. The façade’s columns, while rectangular and in relief from the front walls promote the desired lofty sense of a temple. The columns have massive ionic caps. Yellow brick was used instead of white or grey stone that was less abundant. Trost had perfected the use of “hollow tiles” that were said to keep the interior temperature comfortable in all seasons. The interior lobby’s Prairie style contrasted with the exterior yet extended the use of structural details to define its space. The grand parlor’s extensive white plaster ornamentation shows an outstanding display of detailed craftsmanship.

The double headed eagle is the most common symbol for the Scottish Rite of Freemasons

The cathedral’s brick, from Quintus Monier’s Tucson Pressed Brick Company, commonly used for Trost-era building exteriors, is one of the few examples of a building of this era that was not later covered with plaster when brick facades were no longer as fashionable. Construction with brick in Tucson architecture seems to have evolved initially as a renaissance material that allowed much more elevated and longer lasting buildings than the traditional Spanish construction means. This was followed by a time when a return to Spanish influence represented a desire to cover the ubiquitous naked brick. After the second period of ‘stucco’ Tucson returned to a short period of favorability for the aesthetic of the town’s earlier heyday; red brick. That ended in current times as the high cost of brick became prohibitively expensive. One exception is the University of Arizona campus’s almost continuous expansion of brick buildings, post “Old Main”.

The Scottish Rite is a Masonic body attributed to Albert Pike. A ‘Rite’ is a progressive series of degrees or levels of learning. There are 33 degrees in the Scottish Rite. They represent a lateral movement in Masonic education rather than an upward movement of rank. Masons are known to donate millions of dollars to causes, many relating to special needs of children.

The Tucson Masonry initially organized in April 1875 and meetings were held in the home of Jacob Mansfield. One story is that Mansfield, a prior mason, arrived in Tucson with a wheelbarrow loaded with books. He worked his way up as a newsman, library supporter, legislator, and university regent. Later the Masons rented a hall From Chairman Edward Fish. One initial member was the town sheriff, never a bad strategy for success, however, the organization ultimately did falter for a few years.

Eight years later, the famed Albert Pike presided over a formal organizational meeting. It was the participation by George Roskruge, a prominent local resident, that launched the Tucson lodge. His inexhaustible energy led to his eventual reputation as Arizona’s “Father of Masonry”. Roskruge was a Master Mason from his country of birth, England. He was also the Surveyor General of Arizona Territory for the U.S. Government. This same year, 1883, that the Tucson Mason lodge was reestablished, Roskruge produced a hand-drawn topographical map of Pima County. The map that measured 4 by 8 feet illustrated "every stream, arroyo, road, town, river, and mountain range" in the county. The map was "a remarkable piece of work" and may still be on display in the county offices. His maps helped lay out the grid of Amory Park neighborhood which is the location of the cathedral. Roskruge eventually helped start other lodges and became Grand Secretary of the Royal Arch Masons of Arizona. Much more can be written of Tucson pioneer Roskruge.

Also attending this 1883 formal initiation of local members into the Freemasons was Morris Goldwater who rode into town from Prescott on his horse. (Morris was a US senator and the uncle of Barry Goldwater).

George Roskruge was the force that set the Tucson Masonry on its course. He recruited men that sought fellowship and to associate with other decent, respectable, and ambitious gentlemen. The masons looked after each other and their families. The Masons were respected for their public creed stating a model for high standards and honest behavior toward all, yet it was also their secretive ceremonies and ancient rituals that provided a flair that that gave them an edge over other local fraternities.

After a succession of meeting places for the growing membership, there was a growing urgent need for a place that was' free of prying eyes'. Leading members, including Sam Hughes, who listed his profession in the town directory as “Capitalist”, were able to secure funds for the construction of a second floor of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, located where City Hall resides today.

In 1912 Harry Drachman was part of the building committee and was appointed Deputy of the Tucson Scottish Rite.

The 1916 dedication of the Trost designed building was preceded by a parade of the members marching up Scott St, likely in proper regalia. In attendance of the ceremonies were the families of members. A dedicatory presentation was conducted by Perry Weidner, followed by an organ musical program by J. M. McBride accompanied by a choir. Col. Roskruge spoke of the history of Tucson Masonry and then Judge Rhodes Hervey, a 33rd degree Manson and head of the Scottish Rite of Los Angles, addressed the audience with a lecture on the cardinal principle of Masons; separation of church and state, free speech and press, freedom, and liberty. The judge explained how 994 Masonic lodges aided the French Revolution. The practical democracy of the people was to be admired and for its day their general acceptance of persons independent of race or heritage was remarkably open-minded.

The Egyptian Room

An Event in the Red Room reveals detailed relief on the Walls

The Cathedral is only one of over a dozen active Masonic lodges in the Tucson area.