Clues of its history are scattered across Jackson’s former Masonic Temple – like ornate moldings, an old safe, stained-glass windows and dozens of lockers decorated with Masonic symbols.
Built in 1907 at 145-157 Cortland St., the Masonic Temple became the home of Vermeulen Furniture in 1987. Much of its turn-of-the-century features were covered up to become a furniture store.
Now owned by the city of Jackson – and to be leased to the Jackson School of the Arts – the history of the building is being uncovered piece by piece.
“We are trying to get as much history as we can. It’s interesting, the Masonic association, you can’t Google and find out anything,” JSA Executive Director Kim Curtis said. “We’re really hoping to connect with some local historians who might have some more information to share.”
Curtis is reaching out to a Masonic Lodge in Michigan Center, professors at Spring Arbor University and employees at the Jackson District Library to fill in the knowledge gaps.
The city has been working in the building, taking down interior walls and coverings to expose its original character. Asbestos has been abated and the city is making sure the building is up to code.
City Council agreed in September to designate $51,000 to demolish existing circuits to allow for interior wall, ceiling and floor removal in the building.
JSA hopes to raise $2 million and move into the building by fall 2018, Curtis said.
A lease hasn’t been finalized, but JSA has negotiated three potential options for a 15-year lease with the city. The total lease would cost between $780,000 and $1.49 million, depending on how much of the building costs JSA picks up.
The building is roughly 40,000 to 50,000 square feet, but JSA will lease 12,000 to 14,000 square feet. Other organizations have shown interest in sharing the space, but nothing has been agreed to yet, Curtis said.
The five-story, Claire Allen-designed building features tall ceilings – which Curtis said are ideal for dance classes – a theater space with a small stage and balcony, an elevator shaft and restrooms on every floor.
JSA has an architect surveying the building to calculate the exact square footage and determine which rooms would be best for which classes.
“It will be a little bit like putting a puzzle together to figure out the best use of the space,” Curtis said.
JSA has 93 classes a week and serves between 800 and 1,000 children every year. In addition to dance, theater and art classes for kids, JSA has adult programming – including ballroom dance.
“Using this building will give people yet another reason not just to come downtown, but stay downtown,” Curtis said. “This will give people a place to come before or after they go out to eat, to look at exhibits or bring their kids to the hands-on center or take some ballroom classes.”