Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Scottish Rite Town Hall in Philadelphia

Out of a number of Philadelphia's architectural treasures were lost to the parking craze of the 1980's, the Scottish Rite Temple, which was also known as Town Hall was located at 150 North Broad Street (Broad and Race Streets). The Temple was built in 1926 and designed by Horace W. Castor (1870-. It is one of those lost treasures of which I hold fond personal memories. The soaring, stone walls of the Scottish Rite Temple fell to the wrecking ball in 1983 to make way for Parkway Corporation's poorly designed garage and headquarters. The latter unlike the beautiful Scottish Rite Temple, is unfortunately still with us.

The Scottish Rite Temple was most often called Town Hall when it was an active venue for entertainment from at least the 1950's until shortly before its demolution in 1983.

I never attended any events directly related to the Scottish Rite there, but I did attend a number of concerts there, especially in the 1960's.

The Architectural style of the Scottish Rite Temple was called variously Classical Revival, Beaux Arts, or Art Deco. It should be noted that at the time that an agency of the City of Philadelphia demolished it, it had an eligible status for placement on the National Register of Historic Buildings. It was constructed of Limestone with Steel Reinforcement, and Terra Cotta.

During the time when the  Philadelphia Orchestra was under the batons of both Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy, they recorded at  the Scottish Rite Cathedral which had a 1,692 seat auditorium with bright resonant acoustics that made for "high fidelity" recordings.

In the late 1950's after especially during the 1960's, big name acts often performed there. In 1957, Tom Lehrer and Josh White performed there. On November 17th, 1955, and March 1, 1959, Ray Charles performed concerts there. Bob Dylan performed there no less than three times in the fall of 1964. The Doors and Nazz performed there in June, of 1967.

I went to one of the Dylan concerts in 1964, and while I cannot recall the full set list of that concert, I do recall hearing him sing "Mr. Tamborurine Man", "It Ain't Me, Babe", and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright." However, the Live Show Archive lists the set he played at The Scottish Rite Temple on October 25, the year before, as including the following:

1. The Times They Are A-Changin'
2. Girl from the North Country
3. Who Killed Davey Moore?
4. Talkin' John Birch Society Paranoid Blues
5. To Ramona
6. Ballad of Hollis Brown

7. Chimes of Freedom
8. I Don't Believe You
9. It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)
10. Mr. Tambourine Man
11. Talkin' World War III Blues
12. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
13. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
14. Only a Pawn in Their Game
15. With God on Our Side
16. It Ain't Me, Babe
17. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
18. All I Really Want to Do

I remember the Doors concert as being even more impressive than Dylan.

Among others who performed there were Todd Rundgren, Keith Jarrett, Charles Lloyd, Ron McClure, and Jack DeJohnette.

Ironically, one of the things I remember most clearly was that my brother and I sat so far up in the nosebleed section that I felt actually scared for the first few minutes.

My last recollection of the old Scottish Rite Temple was not as fond. I walked past it while it was being demolished, and had a flood of recollections, and felt profound sadness at seeing such a beautiful building being torn down. Not even world class architecture is a match for the lack of vision that most government bureaucrats possess.


Unknown said...

The architect, Horace Castor, died in 1966. I was never inside, but from interior photos I have seen, there also appeared to be Egyptian Revival elements mixed in as well. It is difficult to assign a strict architectural style to the building. Very unique.

Unknown said...

From the photos I have seen, it is difficult to assign a strict architectural style to the building. On the interior there appear to have been Egyptian Revival elements mixed in as well. Very unique.

Thanks for the additional history on the Bob Dylan performances!

The architect, Horace Castor, died in 1966.

Southphillykid1 said...

Dylan must have performed there before that because I ran the elevator to get people into the balconies. I left for grad school in '63 and I saw him there as a worker. Also I ran the elevator when the phila orchestra recorded there under ormandy. They didn't record in the theater they used the banquet hall on the top floor. Once I deposited them up there I wasn't allowed to run the elevator until they finished to avoid any background noise