Behind The Scenes

When New York City Center Was A Shriner Temple

On 56th street and 6th avenue sits the New York City Center for Music and Drama, and incredible venue with a neo-Moorish facade and beautiful interior of desert murals and gilded accents. But this building wasn’t always used for concerts and performances. In 1923, it was built as a meeting place for the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, commonly known as Shriners.

Established by two Masons living in Manhattan, the Shriners are a fraternal society best known for their Shriners Hospitals for Children.  They’re also famous for the pseudo-Middle Eastern style they’ve adopted. For instance, check out this pin, featuring imagery like crescent moons, stars, and pyramids.

Two gold colored metal Shriners' pins., 1930. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bella C. Landauer

Two gold colored metal Shriners’ pins., 1930. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bella C. Landauer

The first Shriner “Temple” was established within the New York City Masonic Hall 141 years ago, on September 26, 1872. In 1875 they had just 43 members, but by 1900 membership ballooned to 55,000, and some meetings took place in Carnegie Hall or Madison Square Garden. The Shriners realized they needed a place of their own.

The “Mecca Temple” on 56th served as the meeting place for larger gatherings, but after fifteen years they were unable to pay taxes and the building became city property. The building was slated for demolition in the 1940s, but in 1943 Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and City Council President Newbold Morris, who transformed it into an affordable and accessible performing arts center. On December 11, 1943, New York City Center opened with a concert by the New York Philharmonic, which Mayor La Guardia conducted.

1 Comment to When New York City Center Was A Shriner Temple

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