The Way We Were: Masonic Building dominated corner of Eighth and Broad

1966 Augusta Chronicle file/ Demolition can be seen on Nov. 1, 1966 during demolition of the old Masonic Building at Broad and Eighth streets.

The old Masonic Building dominated a Broad Street corner for half a century.

 

Constructed in the heart of the business district at the corner of Eighth and Broad, the Masonic Building went up on the site of the old Dyer Building, known as the starting point of the Great 1916 Fire.

A news feature 30 years after the blaze blamed a neglected Dyer iron as the culprit, although initial reports suggested burning trash.

When the city began to both clean up and build up a scorched downtown in 1916 and 1917, the community Masonic organizations saw an opportunity. Having lost their own building in the fire, they swapped a lot in the middle of the 700 block for the more useful corner on Eighth.

Construction was completed in 1918. The building designed by famed architect Lloyd Preacher leased lower floors for business use while the fifth and sixth floors were reserved for Masonic functions.

It featured many of the usual Preacher touches, including reinforced concrete, brick and terracotta. Because of the recent conflagration, the public was assured the building would be “fireproof throughout.”

By all accounts it did its job, as reported in the news columns of The Chronicle, in the decades that followed. It is mentioned as the site for offices for a variety of businesses and business professionals. A variety of Masonic orders and groups also used it as the site for their meetings and events.

That would change after May 1966 when First National Bank not only purchased the Masonic Building but also the nearby Estes Building and the Stewart Block for $650,000 in what The Chronicle called “one of the biggest property transactions in the history of downtown Augusta.”

The old building came down in late 1966, demolished by Ralph Claussen, a man who had helped demolish the famous 1964 New York World’s Fair.

It was a slow process.

“You don’t just go in there and get happy with a (wrecking) ball,” the cigar-puffing Claussen told a reporter.

But it did come down.

According to an October 1966 account, “From Reynolds Street, the building now looks like a false front for a Hollywood set. “

It made way for the First National Bank, later Trust Company Bank and today known as SunTrust.

 

More