Better Know The District: The House of the Temple

Call it the Dan Brown effect… Following the success of “The Da Vinci Code” readers flocked to the Louvre and went on organized Da Vinci Code tours of Paris after the book became a bestseller and movie. With Brown’s latest book, The Lost Symbol set entirely in Washington, the district’s tourism agencies are bracing for the influx of Lost Symbol fans. Destination DC has launched a web page to highlight the various sites and themes expected to receive attention. One such site happens to be located near my office and so I took the opportunity of a long lunch break last week to visit The House of the Temple, before what my tour guide Colin expects to be a 500% increase in visitors.

500% increase?? Why yes, you see The House of the Temple doesn’t get very many visitors currently and it is the site of the prologue of the book. Indeed, in the very beginning of the story, villain Mal’akh is initiated into the Masonic rites’ higher ranks in the House of the Temple’s Temple Room. It’s been getting lots of local and national media attention already, like this segment on ABC’s Good Morning America or this visit from The Today Show’s Matt Lauer. Besides being featured in The Lost Symbol, The House of the Temple is quite an interesting monument. Located on 16th and S, NW, it is the headquarters of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction. The building launched the career of its architect, l’Ecole des Beaux Arts trained John Russell Pope, who then went on to design a few other buildings…the National Archives…the Jefferson Memorial…D.A.R. Constitutional Hall…among others 😉

The House of the Temple, finished in 1915, is an adaptation of the famous Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World”. It’s a great example of neoclassical architecture, with tall columns, 17-ton sphinxes guarding the entrance and Egyptian hieroglyphic writings in the lobby. Its library was the first public library in D.C. and is still open to the public. It houses some 250,000 titles, most of them on Freemasonry.

In the back of the monument, one can also find a community garden which, unfortunately, has such a long waiting list that it is no longer taking applications for new plots. Sad.

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