- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Ever since the Masonic Temple was built in 1906, it has looked north over the Chena River. And for those 108 years the building has remained remarkably unchanged.

In 1908, the Freemasons fraternal organization purchased the wood-frame building at 809 First Ave. from the Tanana Commercial Company, Miners and Outfitters.

President Warren Harding spoke from the building’s steps when he visited Fairbanks in 1923, and in 1980 the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Now the vacant building feels like an abandoned project. Original floors and ceilings contrast newly painted walls that still sport blue painters tape.

Local businessman Harold Groetsema, who owns adjacent Big Daddy’s barbeque restaurant, purchased the structure around 2006. Groetsema admits his main interest in the property was the attached parking lot. He did have plans to renovate the building and create a Venetian banquet hall for weddings, concerts or comedy shows - but those have been stymied by structural problems from foundation to roof.

Former Master of the Lodge Monte Ervin said the Freemasons last utilized the building in 2006. The organization sold the property because it was more economical to purchase and remodel a new building.

According to Groetsema, to bring the building - assessed at $150,000 - up to code would cost around $600,000.

It needs a new roof - Groetsema said the current covering is 2-by-4 construction on four-foot centers. The east and west walls aren’t vertical, and need to be straightened. Vertical supports in the basement need to be encased in cement instead of just dirt, and there are cracks in the foundation.

Groetsema suspects the cracks appeared during Barnette Street bridge construction, but has no proof they didn’t exist prior.

Wide steps lead up from First Avenue into a recently added arctic entryway. A tin-pressed facade emulating stone construction was added to the building in 1916. A large hallway leads to the downstairs reception room. The original tin-pressed ceiling became visible after a drop ceiling installed to hide sprinklers was removed. Kitchen appliances, surplus chairs and tables and restaurant apparel occupy the first floor.

The second story has a break room with a table, chairs, couch and television. Lights don’t work in the large meeting hall or adjacent robe room - which according to the historical registry are mostly original. A small porch overlooks First Avenue.

In 1913, the whole building was raised and the basement was added. According to Ervin, the lowest level once housed a gun range for the Freemasons youth group, DeMolay. Now the basement notably consists of an old chimney, coal chutes, a vault and safe.

Broken windows and repaired doors are visible on the facade, a frustrating fact for Groetsema and his wife, Ida Groetsema. Evidence of squatters was common until a rear entrance was properly secured - the pair say they’ve spent $100,000 on renovations already.

Ida Groetsema has looked for grants, but couldn’t find any available for a for-profit organization. She said any money they made off the building would be re-invested into the structure, “We really want this building to go back to the community.”

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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