Temple of the Scottish Rite

Historic Site
Temple of the Scottish Rite photo
Debbie Morello/For The Washington Post
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Editorial Review

You've driven by and seen folks working out, Rocky-style, on the front steps. Or walked past and glanced up at the hulking sphinxes perched over 16th Street. It's imposing. A little spooky. And they'd love for you to drop by for a quick visit.

Seriously. Though it might not be that quick. Every weekday, the Temple of the Scottish Rite opens its doors to visitors, in part to dispel that sheen of spookiness. The fact that there are two dudes buried in its walls might not help that agenda, but it's certainly a tour highlight.

Actually, the whole thing is pretty fascinating. Designed by John Russell Pope (who did a few other buildings in town, including the Jefferson Memorial and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art), the temple dates to 1915 and is the headquarters of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry's Southern Jurisdiction. The grand meeting rooms are impressive, as are the libraries and the ornate hieroglyphics in the lobby. But before you over-think that last part, the guides (often interns from local colleges) will assure you that there's no real significance to the Egyptian decor. That was Pope's doing.

The best part is the breezy explanation of Freemasonry, a centuries-old fraternal organization with millions of members around the world. Conspiracy theorists will still conspire, but these folks will tell you their whole mission is to make members into better men.

Look closely at those sphinxes, by the way. One's eyes are wide open; the other's are half closed. That's "Power" and "Wisdom," respectively.

Tip: Call ahead. It's not super busy, so docents aren't always plentiful. One day there was a note on the door saying the guide had gone home sick. It's worth your time to give them a heads-up that you're coming.

-- Ellen McCarthy (January 25, 2008)