Germantown Masonic Hall Shakes Hands With Development

 

The future of Germantown Masonic Hall was anyone’s guess after Cunningham Piano Company moved their showroom to King of Prussia in 2016. The 134-year old Gothic Revival meeting hall is now positioned for reuse. Real estate developer and new owner Ken Weinstein plans to bring ground floor retail and 14 apartments to the eye-catching, Germantown Avenue building. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Germantown’s historic building stock is unlike any other neighborhood in the city. Vampy Victorians, sparkling Colonials built with Wissahickon schist, and gorgeous Gothic and Georgian Revivals blanket the area in a patchwork of architectural riches. The old Germantown Masonic Hall at 5423–27 Germantown Avenue is one of many jewels in the neighborhood’s bottomless treasure chest. The building’s current owner, real estate developer Ken Weinstein, is in the planning stages of adapting the 143-year-old building into two, commercial storefronts and 14 apartments.

Germantown Masonic Hall was built on the site of Pine Place, a mansion notable for being the birthplace of Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women. The origins of Germantown Masonic Hall began in 1855, when Masonic order Hiram Lodge #81 moved to Chestnut Hill where the group still operates today. Members of the lodge from Lower Germantown who were opposed to making the long trek by foot petitioned the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania to start a new chapter closer to home. On December 22, 1855, Mitchell Lodge #296 was officially installed with 22 charter members, 19 of which had come from Hiram Lodge.

Germantown Masonic Hall in 1905. | Image: The History of Mitchell Lodge #296 by Lincoln E. Leeds, 1905  

The new chapter had no official meeting place for two years. Mitchell Lodge members bounced between meeting at the local Oddfellow’s Hall and Germantown Town Hall. They eventually landed a lease on the third floor of Hopkin’s Hall, which still stands at 5719 Germantown Avenue. By 1867, plans to build an official meeting hall began to percolate. On February 20, 1873, a vote confirmed the old Pine Place property as the site for the new hall. The property was purchased for $12,000.

Later that year, the Masonic Hall Association of Germantown was formed by 10 appointed brothers of the Mitchell Lodge to develop, build, and manage the new Germantown Masonic Hall. Construction began in the summer of 1873 and continued for over a year. The architect of the distinct building is unknown. John D. Caldwell, an architect and builder that was a member of Mitchell Lodge at the time, may have been the designer.

Germantown Masonic Hall opened on November 12, 1874. The Gothic Revival hall stood out among the other, much older buildings on Germantown Avenue with its arched windows, embattled, metal cornice, and a façade using different types of polished stone.

In 1900, a large banquet hall was installed on the 2nd floor for use by Mitchell Lodge and outside venue rentals. A rear addition was built in 1915. The building’s interior underwent a full renovation in 1920.

The ground floor retail space was combined into one storefront in 1940. It was occupied from 1940 to 1967 by Eugene Maurer, Inc., a hardware store that also sold home furnishings and toys. From 1971 to 2016, it was the showroom of the Cunningham Piano Company, just around the corner from the piano maker’s workshop and factory on East Coulter Street.

Left: Interior, 1905. | Image: The History of Mitchell Lodge #296 by Lincoln E. Leeds, 1905 || Right: Interior, 2014. | Photo: Peter Woodall

Mitchell Lodge sold Germantown Masonic Hall in 1980 to Doris C. Reber, the former co-owner of Cunningham Piano Company, who converted the upper floors into showrooms. The members of Mitchell Lodge moved to the Jenkintown Masonic Hall where they still hold meetings today. When Cunningham Piano Company was sold to Tim Oliver and Rich Galassiniin 2007, they took ownership of Germantown Masonic Hall as well.

Oliver and Galassini announced the impending move of the piano company’s showroom to King of Prussia several years later. Germantown Masonic Hall was listed for sale at the end of 2014 for $925,000. The building remained on the market for the next two years.

In 2016, Ken Weinstein, president of Philly Office Retail, purchased the property for $500,000. The zoning designation of the property still stands at RSA-2, which requires a variance for mixed use. The Upper Northwest District Plan, which will go into effect in this fall, will rezone the parcel CMX-2.5, which will allow Weinstein to adaptively reuse the property for both commercial and residential use.

About the author

Dennis Carlisle (AKA GroJLart) is the anonymous foulmouthed blogger of Philaphilia, where he critiques Philadelphia architecture, history, and design. He resides in Washington Square West. GroJLart has contributed to Naked Philly, the Philadelphia City Paper's Naked City Blog, and Philadelphia Magazine's Property Blog.



7 Comments


  1. It’s site right next to the historic St Luke’s Church with its lovely grounds makes this property all the more appealing. I’m so glad it looks like it has a good future.

  2. Great article – so much history. I’ve lived in lower west Germantown for 36 years and love the eclectic and diverse mix of beautiful old houses and buildings – people, too! Hope we can save as many historic structures as possible with original use or repurpose. Was sad to see Cunningham’s go, but know building is in good hands. Looking forward to seeing its next itineration under Ken Weinstein’s direction.

  3. I am one of the owners of Cunningham Piano Company and we were so sad to have to move out of this beautiful property. We are still committed to Germantown though. Our restoration factory remains right around the corner at 26 East Coulter St. and that facility is visited by people who drive hours to make an appointment to visit. It is still available to visitors by appointment.

    We just needed to have a showroom in a more accessible location to today’s shoppers. Our King of Prussia location gives us that reach. please visit us there at 198 Allendale Rd., King of Prussia.

    Rich Galassini
    http://www.cunninghampiano.com

    • Dennis Barnebey

      I appreciate your comments. I bought my Schafer and Sons upright there long ago and was very sorry to see this bit of Germantown’s uniqueness vacate the space. Glad the restoration site is still operating and commitment to Gtown with it.

  4. Sad to lose Cunningham Piano showroom but looking forward to seeing how property is developed and particularly interested in the apartments.

  5. I hope that Germantown can save its wonderful history and architecture. The area is only slightly less important to our City’s treasure of National History than the Independence Square area. The architect in the area is better preserved in G-town. Germantown should be part of the City’s focus for the 250 National Celebration and filled with the same number of tourist as Independence National Historical Park and the Old City Area. Make it accessible but don’t ruin it!

  6. Thank you for sharing this detailed history. I grew up in Germantown from 1959 until I left for college in 1968. It is a gorgeous community, and I am so grateful that it has bright, interested people who see its beauty and significance. Please keep it up! Many thanks.

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