The first African American Masonic order in the south, the Prince Hall Masonic Temple has been a leading activist in supporting DC's African American community. The Temple building is six-stories, rectangular in shape, faced with Indiana limestone, and an excellent example of classical institutional architecture.
The Prince Hall Masonic Temple was built between 1922 and 1929. It is associated with one of the nation’s earliest Prince Hall lodges, founded in 1825 by both enslaved people and free African Americans. Early lodge members worked to better the lives of DC's African American community and were important leaders in ending slavery in the city.
In 1919, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge decided to move its headquarters. The group purchased the lot on U Street, which was a significant cultural and social destination for DC’s African American community at the time.
The group decided to hire Albert I. Cassell to design its new building. Cassell was a prominent architect and the third black Washingtonian to be officially registered as an architect, in 1928. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture from Cornell in 1919, Cassell practiced at the Tuskegee Institute and helped design five buildings for the school. He then moved to the DC area and taught at Howard University. Cassell became the school’s leading architect and by 1921, he was the chairman for the university’s Department of Architecture.
Similar to other establishments in the U Street corridor, Prince Hall supported the African American community by acting as an important communal space in a time of racial segregation in the city. Discrimination resulted in many black Washingtonians being denied opportunities to socialize in public establishments. To combat this issue and provide an inclusive space for this community, Prince Hall hosted commercial office spaces and social clubs. The building also housed a bowling alley in the basement, a ballroom, and a restaurant called “The Bamboo Inn.”
Today, the Prince Hall Masonic Temple is the headquarters for the Prince Hall Freemason & Eastern Star Charitable Foundation, founded in 1986. The foundation continues the work of the Grand Lodge by providing support for DC’s African American community. Its programs include providing disaster relief, assisting the homeless, funding grants for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and scholarships for students, mentoring youth, and sponsoring community services like blood and health drives.
DC designation: December 9, 1982
National Register listing: September 15, 1983
Within Greater U Street HD