The Fountain Ballroom in Detroit’s sprawling Masonic Temple venue is a mix of old and new. Its two central pillars have recently been retrofitted with eye-popping color-changing LED lights, and the plan is for water to soon once again flow through the actual forgotten fountain that is its namesake.
That’s according to Jessie Miller, special events director of AEG Presents, the Los Angeles-based entertainment company that entered into an exclusive booking and operating deal with the 100-year-old Masonic Temple in 2019. AEG pledged $2 million in renovations to the building as part of the deal, which the venue showcased to members of the media and local entertainment industry on Thursday night.
“It was called the Fountain Ballroom because they had a working fountain in it,” Miller says. “Through the years, it fell into disrepair. But now we’re bringing it back.”
Much of the upgrades went to the Masonic Temple’s two live music spaces, the 4,400-capacity Masonic Temple Theatre and the 1,586-capacity Cathedral Theatre, including new flooring and lighting. Most importantly, the audio and lighting control consoles were moved to improve sound quality.
“What we did in each theater is we moved the front of house so that the technicians could really hear and see,” Miller says. “Before, the sound quality was not the best in this room. And so we realized right away that was the first thing that we had to do.”
She adds, “AEG is the second-largest concert promoter, so it was really important for them to come in and make the room look and sound perfect, not only for the patron experience, but also to attract the right artists for the spaces.”
Other changes include renovated bars and the installation of a new women’s restroom.
“We just really put a lot of thought into the patron experience, so we changed that whole landscape,” Miller says.
Construction of Detroit’s Masonic Temple started more than a century ago, with the first cornerstone laid in 1922, allegedly using a trowel once owned by George Washington. The massive building, the largest Masonic Temple in the world, was commissioned by the mysterious fraternal order of the Freemasons. The undertaking was never completed, a sign of Detroit’s decline in fortune since the early 20th century.
Some changes that casual visitors might not notice on their own come in the venue’s Crystal Ballroom. There, one of the Freemason members restored its chandeliers, doing the work pro bono. A crew also restored the ornate frescoes painted on the ceiling to their former glory.
“We didn’t want to disturb anything, or make it look new,” Miller says. “We wanted everything to look like it had always been here, but function.”
One of the Masonic Temple’s unfinished features is the building’s top floor, which was originally intended to hold a third theater with a capacity of about 900. Detroit Masonic Temple president John Kashinsky says a separate group has approached the Masonic Temple about renovating the theater as well as some other rooms in the 550,000-square-foot complex, though a deal has not been finalized.
“I don’t know if that will happen or not,” he says.
Still, he says he’s grateful for the investment from AEG Presents. “They’ve been a great partner,” he says.
“We’ve been working on renovating about four years,” he says. “Piece by piece, the different layers have come together.”
Kashinsky says much of the funding came from federal COVID-19 relief funds. He adds that aside from AEG Presents, funds were raised by selling a nearby property owned by the Freemasons, as well as through a partnership with the exclusive ticketing partner of AEG Presents.
The renovations were also made with the goal of making the Masonic Temple attractive for rental events like weddings and corporate parties.
“We put the money back into the building, so we could have more corporate event money coming out,” Kashinsky says.
During the Thursday event, AEG Presents activated the various rooms with entertainment including a silent disco in the Fountain Ballroom, an aerial dancer in the Cathedral Theatre, and musicians in each room to show off the potential of the space.
“I think it’s a perfect place to do corporate events,” Miller says. “You could do an award ceremony and a gala at the same time. And then if you have a seminar or anything else, you can have tons of breakout rooms. There are just so many options here, and it’s just such a beautiful building that I feel like a lot of people have forgotten.”
She adds, “The whole appeal of this building is the history behind it. So you have to honor that and bring it out however you can.”
Changes at Detroit’s Masonic Temple, the largest in the world!♬ Shedding My Velvet - Jack White
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