The Moolah Temple in 1997, boarded up
A vintage postcard view
The Temple in 1997. Note the 1931 east wing at right - compare with the postcard view above.
The Moolah Temple of the Mystic Shrine
Architect: Ernest Helfenstellar, Jr. (Helfensteller, Hirsh and Watson)
East and west wings added 1931
North wing - date unknown
This festive, exotically decorated building is located on Lindell Boulevard in Midtown. The Moolah Temple was home to the Moolah Shriners, a Masonic organization founded in East St. Louis. Opened in 1914, the temple features the Moorish design elements common to many fraternal temples of the time, including a pharoh's head at center with a curved broadsword and stylized crescent moon. Brown-red brick is accented with lavish yellow and blue terra cotta ornament.
Reader Laura Schafsnitz provides some great commentary on the building's interior:
"The inside of this place is HUGE!! I remember A LOT of marble.....a
winding marble staircase, marble benches, marble pillars in the front
hallway. I can't remember if it was the ceiling or the wall that had a huge
mural painted on it. Ceilings were vaulted throughout. There was a working
elevator system, as I said before, office space and meeting rooms. The one
meeting room that was in use was gorgeous. Plush red velvet carpet down the
middle with an altar in the middle. There was raised seating a few rows
deep on either side of the carpet. At the front of the room was a raised
area where officers of the organization sat with a large carved wooden
podium and three very ornately carved chairs. This was backdropped and
framed by white Grecian-style pillars. At the back of the room was a small
staircase that ran up to a choir loft which could have seated about 20
people. This outside of the loft was richly carved dark wood.....mahogany,
perhaps? There were two or three massive windows, each curtained in red
velvet and surrounded by Grecian style moldings. Where the walls and the
ceiling met were molded as well and I think etched with gold leaf..."
"Anyway, during the temple's heyday before the Great Depression, there were 10 or 12
more rooms decked out in much the same style and in use almost every night
of the week. There was also a large auditorium in the building, but I don't
remember much about it.....I do remember the one at the Scottish Rite
though. It was huge and very grand with a stage and seating that seemed to
reach to high heavens. It reminded me a lot of the interior of the Fox
Theater. Anyway, I think the auditorium in the Shrine Temple was very
similar to the at the Scottish Rite. The basement of the temple was used as
a dining and banquet facility. It wasn't too lavish, pretty much a typical
cold concrete basement, but it did have full kitchen and catering facilities
and a full bar."
The Temple was doing well enough in the 1960s to construct another addition, a Midcentury north wing with a folded-plate roof.
Eventually, though, the decline of the city caught up with the Shriners. Rooms within were rented out to various other Masonic groups and chapters, but as the middle class fled to the suburbs, they took their rental income with them. Eventually the changing residency of the Shriners' membership prompted them to move to West County in 1988. With heating and restoration costs looming, the building was sold.
After a decade of vacancy, the building was offered for sale by Craig Cervantes Realtors offered the building for sale. A September 13, 2000 article from the Post-Dispatch reported that long-time owner TRiSTAR Business Communities planned to renovate the building to the tune of $11 million, to the designs of Cleveland-based GSI-Architects Inc. Office space would be installed in the unique interior spaces, with state historic tax credits requiring that they remain intact. An 1880s house located next to the temple was slated for demolition. The renovation never got underway, however; the building sat idle for several more years.
Naturally, decay had set in; plaster and interiors deteriorated. By the turn of the century, the building was a mess and getting worse.
November 2003 - construction about to begin. Image courtesy of Kevin Kieffer.
Image courtesy of Kevin Kieffer.
In 2003, a $42 million renovation finally got underway, under the stewardship of developers Amy and Amrit Gill.
February 2005 - the Moolah Apartments and Theater
In December 2004, the former Masonic temple re-opened with 40 apartments. The massive auditorium became a single-screen movie theater under the leadership of Harman Moseley, boasting the largest screen in the area, with in-theater dining and drinks, and leather couches among the seating. A bowling alley and grille in the basement rounds out the place. A new garage stands behind the building, serving the Moolah Temple as well as SLU.
About Moolah Theater and Lounge - from the theater's official site
KETC Living St. Louis: Moolah Temple Theater video tour