When I was a young boy and it was time to go to bed, my father would say, "It's time to climb the iron stairs." Although this was a figure of speech, as our stairs were wooden, it carried with it the concept that the stairs would lead you to the upper level, there to find rest and be refreshed for the next day.
Little did I realize, that in the future, I would also climb the iron stairs of the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia there to find rest and refreshment among the Brethren at Grand Lodge Communications and/or one of the many lodges which call the Masonic Temple home.
The New Masonic Temple, as it was called while under construction, was well on its way to completion when bids went out for stairs to enable the members to ascend and descend to the various levels in the Temple. There were to be six staircases constructed and put in place by the company which received the contract from the Building Committee. Since Pennsylvania was, at that time, the center of iron production, foundries in the state cast some of the most impressive decorative pieces of ironwork. Robert Wood ( including the ironwork surrounding Brother James Monroe's tomb) produced many of the most decorative cast iron pieces found in the United States. Therefore, it was not surprising that the Building Committee, chaired by Right Worshipful Grand Master Samuel C. Perkins, awarded the contract to the Philadelphia and New York Ornamental Iron Works owned by Mr. Wood.
The staircases to be made of iron were: the Grand Main staircase, Central staircase, and rear staircase, a staircase in the Grand Secretary's office, a spiral staircase in the south tower and a staircase leading from the regalia storage area to the second floor. Once the contract was signed, the Building Committee insisted that the architect, James Windrim, or the building superintendent, Allen Bard were to be totally in charge of the satisfactory installation of the six staircases even though the Ornamental Iron Works was responsible for the installation.
Originally, the Building Committee wanted the Grand Staircase in the front of the Temple to be made of bronze and prepared for "stone steps." However, the Building Committee felt the $34,560 price tag was too high. Instead, they chose to have the Grand Staircase made of cast iron and the tread, which was not included in the agreed-to price of $5680, to remain stone. This stairs consists of two wall flights ascending to a continuous platform, in length the width of the stair hall, and from this platform, a central flight ascends to the principal, or second floor. A marble facing, or wainscot, now obscures all visual aspects of the iron superstructure.
Possibly the most impressive staircase is the Central staircase which rises continuously from the first to the third floor. The fact that it is cantilevered adds to its beauty. That was a unique design for its day. Wainscot also hides the ironwork and rubber treads which were utilized as opposed to stone treads. The price of these stairs was $10,900 and included the other rather routine rear stairs, which is not visible to the general public.
The remaining stairs, those in the Grand Secretary's office, the stairs leading to and from the regalia storage area and the spiral stairs in the south tower were forged and installed for $3,484. The spiral stairs consisted of 210 risers ascending to the top of the south tower. They are no longer in use by order of the fire marshal and, for safety and security reasons, are not open to the brethren or visitors.
The total cost of the contract awarded to the Philadelphia and New York Ornamental Iron Works was $20,064. While all the staircases are important to the Temple, the Grand and Central staircases are two of the prominent "Treasures of the Temple" and offer an outstanding example of the Masonic Temple's participation in the golden age of ironwork.