New owner sought for former Masonic Lodge

By Vicki Hyatt | Oct 13, 2016

A renewed effort is underway to market the historic Masonic Lodge in Waynesville, a commercial property formerly operated as The Gateway Club, a restaurant, event center and office space.

James Harrison said his company, Whitney Commercial Real Estate in Asheville, recently listed the property at a reduced price of $1.295 million, which is $82 per square foot. The previous listing price was $1.4 million.

“That’s a fair asking price,” he said of the building, vacant since 2014. The property owner is Bowden Holding Company, a limited liability corporation registered with the N.C. secretary of state. The property owners are originally from Texas, Harrison said, and are part-time Waynesville residents.

Harrison said his firm has met with the head of Preservation North Carolina to inform those in that network of the historic property on the market.

The building would work for a number of uses, Harrison said. The commercial-grade kitchen makes it an obvious choice to have a restaurant on the first floor, while the second floor has plenty of office space or meeting rooms.

“One guy mentioned the idea of incubator space, or as a corporate headquarters,” he said. "The third floor has a banquet hall and would make a great event center.”

While the historic building is commonly referred to as the Masonic Lodge, the fraternal organization only operated it for two years before losing it to the bank during the Great Depression.

The brochure put together to market the building contains the following information on the property, which is listed in the National Historic Register:

“When the cornerstone for Waynesville's Masonic Hall was laid on April 5, 1927, it marked a high point in the commercial development of Haywood County during the pre-Depression ‘boom’ period of Western North Carolina. Between 1890 and 1930, Western North Carolina witnessed tremendous growth because of its natural beauty, extensive natural resources and its pleasant climate, deemed good for health and recreation.

“The rapid development of Asheville and Buncombe County was reflected in nearby counties, and by 1927 Haywood County, adjacent to Buncombe to the west, was ready to make an architectural contribution to the burgeoning commercial development in the region .... on Oct. 23, 1913, Waynesville Lodge #259 purchased from C.E. and Minnie Ray, of Waynesville, a lot containing about one-fifth of an acre on Church Street in downtown Waynesville. The Masons paid $2,590 for this lot, which was part of a parcel running north from Main Street along the west side of Church Street.

“The adjoining lot on the corner of Main and Church streets had been sold by Ray to the United States government, and in 1916, a post office building was erected on that corner. However, it was not until 1927 that the Masonic Hall, designed by W.H. Peeps of Charlotte — an architect and one of North Carolina's leading Masons — was erected by the Waynesville Lodge.

“The Asheville Times said that the building cost $100,000; minutes of the Lodge for Aug. 27, 1927, give the final cost as $80,156.63. William H. Peeps (1368-1950) is best known for his design of the Latta Arcade in Charlotte and for the Myers Park Club House and the J.B. Ivey Department store in that city. He held a number of important posts for the Masons of North Carolina, ultimately becoming the Most Illustrious Grand Master of the Grand Council of North Carolina ...

“Waynesville was not immune from the ravages of the Depression in Western North Carolina, nor were the Masons. They were forced to default and the property was sold at the courthouse door to the Imperial Life Insurance Company on Aug. 8, 1930, for $52,000.

“After default by Waynesville Lodge #259, the Masonic Hall became a community center of sorts, acting as dance hall, movie theater, radio station, wrestling arena, concert hall and government office building. It was the site of the first county community theater which opened in 1972.”

Harrison said he sees the ideal buyer as someone from the area who understands the value the building offers to Waynesville.

“It was renovated in 2012, so everything was up to code at that time,” he said. “That’s not to say there won’t be some cleanup, but it is in good shape.”

Mark Clasby, executive director of the Haywood Economic Development Council, said having the property occupied and open for business would be an obvious benefit.