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Masonic Hall to come down, façade to remain

Architect
Architect's image of a rental tower to be built in place of the Freemasons Hall on Agnes Street with the hall's façade retained.
— image credit: City of New Westminster report

Plans are in the works for the century-old Masonic Hall in Downtown New Westminster to come down to make way for a 19-storey rental tower.

But much of the building’s heritage will be retained for the new structure.

The Freemasons established their first lodge in B.C. in New Westminster in 1860. They moved into their current hall at 508 Agnes St. in 1912 which was built for $28,000 mortgage free. But like many other service organizations these days Freemason membership is dwindling and costs are rising. So the plan is to build a highrise with 155 rental units to provide perpetual income to the lodge and also a new home for their operations.

Masonic tower“It’s served us well, but it’s a very old building. And with an old building you never repair anything, you replace. It’s very costly to maintain,” said Terry Campbell, president of the Masonic holding company that owns the building. “There seems to be less of us, costing more and more. In New Westminster, and you can’t blame the city, but property tax costs are a killer and they cost a lot.”

LEFT: Artist rendering of the new tower.

Heating is also expensive because the building has many holes for heat to escape through.

The Freemasons provide help to the community including helping sick children. “The whole organization is we give back,” said Campbell.

He added for them to continue their community work they need an auxiliary source of income. They’ve been looking for some sort of other income for 50 years.

“We’re not trying to make a fortune, what we’re trying to do is exist. That’s been a bit of a challenge,” said Campbell.

The tower would be built where the current hall is as well as the parking lot they own next door. Campbell said the organization feels there’s a better chance a rental building would accommodate the market and their needs better than selling condos.

“It will create an income stream so it will have no mortgage and we will have perpetual freemasonry in New Westminster,” said Campbell.

The Freemasons have agreed to retain and restore the original building’s front façade. They would also keep some of the building’s interior historic artifacts for the new building such as vintage clocks and gas lamps. The list will include a cathedral-style pipe organ, although it hasn’t been played much since the passing of organist Herb Pook, who played it for 50 years, said Campbell.

The hall’s façade would be part of a two-storey podium that would contain new space for the Masons, amenities and a banquet hall.

Plans call for three ground-oriented residential units on the Victoria Street side where entry to the three-level parkade would be located. The current proposal is for 71 studio, 46 one-bedroom, 27 two-bedroom and 11 three-bedroom units ranging from 420 to 1,100 sq. ft.

There are two outstanding issues the city wants resolved. One is a monitoring system for subsidized transit passes the masons have proposed to offset reduced off-street parking. The other is adjusting some suites whose views could be affected by an adjacent proposed tower at 57 Sixth St.

Masonic front

ABOVE: Current front of Masonic Hall at 508 Agnes St. Image credit: Grant Granger

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