The Irem Temple is an abandoned Shrine mosque in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Completed in 1908 and vacated in 2005, the building is one of the best examples of Moorish Revival architecture.
The Mystic Temple, the 71st Shrine mosque chartered by the Imperial Council, was formed in September during the imperial session of 1895 with 54 charter members. 2 5 Named for “the most beautiful of all earthly paradises,” the temple was named in accordance with the Constitution of the Imperial Council that required an ancient Arabic or Egyptian name. 8
Before the formation of the Mystic Temple, eligible masons had to travel to the LuLu Temple in Philadelphia or the Rajah Temple in Reading, Pennsylvania. 5
The first Potentate of the mosque was J. Ridgeway Wright. The opening ceremony took place on December 19 with 47 members crossing the hot sands. 2 By October 18, 1905, Mystic had become the 11th largest temple with 1,750 nobles.
With a bustling roster of nobles, the Mystic Temple needed to secure a larger facility.
On March 8, 1907, the Building Committee announced that they secured a location for a new mosque. 6 The Committee acquired two frame residences from Charles and Esther Wood and Lucy and Robert Abbott for $39,025 and $13,000, respectively.
The Committee estimated that a new Shrine temple could be completed for $75,000 but recommended a bond issue to be authorized for $100,000 to provide ample funds for the construction of the new building and the furnishing of the interior. 6 The bond was issued on May 1.
In June, architectural plans submitted by Frederick Lawrence Olds and Francis Willard Puckey were selected 6 with detailed plans and specifications finished by July 20. A construction contract was let on September 1.
By September 18, the old frame buildings once owned by the Wood and Abbott families had been razed. 6 A $13,334 contract was let to John Curtis & Company for the excavation and construction of a foundation for the new mosque.
At 8:00 am on Saturday, September 21, 1907, Potentate Frank Deitrick broke ground for the new temple. 2 6 Those attending the ceremony included members of the Mystic Temple, PuckeyTheand Curtis. 6
Work on the excavation for the new temple began promptly Monday, September 23. 6 By mid-October, a considerable amount of the foundation had been constructed.
The cornerstone of the Temple was laid in a late-night ceremony at midnight on November 28. 6 The principal address, delivered by Bishop Talbot of the Episcopal Church, was followed with speeches by various Nobles of the Temple. At the conclusion, the Temple choir sang the following chorus:
Now the corner-stone is firmly laid
Here shall our Temple stand
The glory of the Mystic Shrine
Let God be praised.
The following contracts were let by April 1, 1908: 6
- Steel to John Curtis & Company for $4,588.
- Concrete driveways and coping to John Curtis & Company for $6,044.
- General building to John Curtis & Company for $84,161.
- Steel to Phoenix Iron Company for $10,500.
- Heating and ventilating to Turner & Van Scoy for $9,000.
- Electric and gas fixtures to Shepherd & Rust for $1,215.
- Plumbing to Held & Wendel for $3,150.
- Boilers to Keeler & Company for $3,000.
- Terra-cotta to Atlantic Terra Cotta Company for $1,295.
- Hardware to C. Morgan’s Sons for $870.
It was estimated that the art and leaded glass would cost $1,500 and that painting and decorating would cost $8,500. 6 Miscellaneous expenditures were expected at $2,000 and the architects’ commission at $7,700.
Projected to cost $100,000 and then $150,000, 6 the new $230,000 mosque was dedicated over the course of two days on December 15 and 16 in 1908. 2
Upon opening, the new Mystic mosque featured: 6
- The main banquet hall, measuring 76×110 feet, with seating for 1,250 persons.
- A small banquet hall, measuring 26×76 feet, with seating for 230 persons.
- A musicians’ gallery overlooking the main banquet hall.
- 500 lockers.
- Kitchen, pantry and serving rooms.
- Boilers and mechanics.
- First Floor:
- Candidate’s’ room, Recorder’s office and officers’ room on the western side near the lobby.
- Patrol rooms on the eastern side near the lobby.
- The main auditorium (Shrine hall) with seating for 575 persons.
- Clear space in the centre with room for 600 seats measuring 50×85 feet, stage measuring 33×49 feet.
- Dressing rooms.
- Second Floor:
- Two reception rooms, measuring 27×37 feet each, with toilets and closets, on the western and eastern side.
- A gallery of the auditorium with seating for 800.
- Third Floor:
- A dancing hall or lodge room with a clear space of 40×40 feet and a seating capacity for 300.
The minimum seating capacity was set at 1,375 for the Shrine hall and gallery and 1,480 for the banquet rooms. 6
Noble Robert Rieman Harvey, Oriental Guide of the Temple, installed a $10,000 electric pipe-organ, with chime and echo, in the auditorium as a memorial to his deceased parents. 6 The organ was built by the Austin Organ Company of Hartford, Connecticut, and was more extensive than any organ in the area except for St. Stephen’s Church. It contained 1,860 pipes and a blowing apparatus consisting of a 5½-horsepower motor.
Noble Leo W. Long first conceived the idea of purchasing a country club for the Mystic in 1920. 2 Any member in good standing would be welcomed at the club and “properly entertained at a moderate expense.”
The Shrine acquired the Derr Estate and adjoining Watkins Farm in Dallas Township for $53,300 in December 1922. 2 Work on a club and golf course soon commenced. The Shrine then purchased the 45-acre Honeywell Farm for $30,000 for a shooting gallery.
The first significant event at the country club was held on August 1, 1923, when 85 new members crossed the hot sands.
In 1931, the Mystic Temple was extensively remodeled. 2
The Mystic Temple, at its peak in 1920, brought in 1,058 new Shriners with an active membership of 7,000. 7
Due to a decrease in active participants, most of the Shrine’s operations shifted to the Mystic Temple Country Club in 1984. 7 The mosque remained in use for limited Shrine functions and for musical and art performances by the community into the late 1990s.
By the mid-2000s, the Mystic Temple only had a class of 150 with 3,714 members, 750 of which were active. 7
In early November 2005, the Shriners bid farewell to their mosque. 7 The Mystic Temple was acquired by the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce for $992,000 using a combination of federal, state, and chamber funds. 3 The Chamber began the restoration of the temple with roof repairs, but following the 2008 financial crisis, the Chamber could not complete further work. 8
In 2012, the chamber and city sought $2.4 million in state gaming funds to bring the building up to code and stabilize it pending a full restoration into a performing arts center. The Little Theatre and King’s College expressed interest in using the Mystic once renovated.
On March 20, Ross Macarty, an official from the chamber who advocated using gaming funds for the restoration of the temple, was fired. 4 The decision to fire Macarty came the day that the Commonwealth Financial Authority announced that it awarded $12.5 million in gaming funds to several county projects. The funds the chamber and city requested for the temple were not one of the 37 projects on the list.
Additionally, the chamber expressed frustration that the public knew of the chamber’s involvement with the steady deterioration of the temple. 4 Since the temple was acquired, the building fell into disrepair.
“Now the public knows that the chamber owns the Irem Temple and is letting it rot. I have not spoken to anyone who doesn’t wholeheartedly agree with the restoration of the building, but unfortunately, it’s sitting in the hands of an organization that can’t do anything about it and doesn’t have the ability or interest to focus on it.” 4Ross Macarty
In May 2016, the Mystic Temple Restoration and Preservation Fund was launched at the Luzerne Foundation to raise funds for the building’s repair and stabilization and eventual restoration. 1 The Luzerne Foundation was also soliciting funding from area universities, philanthropists, foundations, and state and federal funding. It was estimated that it will cost $15 million to rehabilitate the mosque.
The Mystic Temple Restoration Project was formed towards the restoration of the facility. 8 One proposal called for the Main Hall to return to its original configuration, leaving the stage and balcony unchanged. It would become an event and performance space. The remaining space on the Main Hall level would become a museum and virtual learning space focused on the Wyoming Valley and Wilkes-Barre. The space above the Main Hall, the locker room, and the basement would become a museum and small event space.
- O’Boyle, Bill. “Last-ditch effort to save the Irem Temple building in Wilkes-Barre begins.” Times-Leader [Wilkes-Barre] 5 May 2016.
- “History of Mystic Shrine.” Irem Shrine, 16 Sept. 2007.
- Allabaugh, Denise. “Funds sought to restore Wilkes-Barre Irem Temple.” Times-Tribune [Wilkes-Barre], 24 Jan. 2013.
- Allabaugh, Denise. “Chamber fires Irem Temple advocate.” Citizens Voice [Wilkes-Barre], 22 Mar. 2013.
- Harvey, Oscar Jewell. “The Shrine in Wilkes-Barre.” A History of Irem Temple, 1907, pp. 23-29.
- Harvey, Oscar Jewell. “The Temple’s New Quarters.” A History of Irem Temple, 1907, pp. 80.22-80.43.
- Ruckno, Heidi E. “Area shriners battling sinking membership.” Citizens Voice [Wilkes-Barre], 6 Nov. 2005.
- “Home.” Irem Temple Restoration Project, 2018. Article.