Mystic's old Masonic Temple goes condo in upscale style

The exterior of the nearly century-old building at 7 Gravel St. in Mystic was stripped of the asbestos siding that was added in later years and restored to its original stucco-like finish.
The exterior of the nearly century-old building at 7 Gravel St. in Mystic was stripped of the asbestos siding that was added in later years and restored to its original stucco-like finish.

The nearly 100-year-old former Masonic Temple on Gravel Street in Mystic has had a facelift and a tummy tuck.

The building, marked by its pitched roof festooned with Greek columns, is now one of Mystic's most expensive and urbane condominiums, with two approximately 2,400-square-foot units on the market for $1.3 million and $1.4 million.

"It has an urban feeling in historic downtown Mystic," said Judi Caracausa, owner-broker of Market Realty in Mystic, who is marketing the property for an ownership group named GRVL, LLC, whose principals are local businessmen Bob and Rob Valenti.

"There were no shortcuts taken in this job, I can tell you," added Robert Robotham, co-owner with son Michael of Crossroads Building in West Mystic, which basically gutted the old Masonic Temple and started over. "We had a very cooperative owner that wanted to do it right."

Robotham estimated it took about 10 months to finish the project, which he said required a lot of engineering work as two big rooms - one upstairs and one downstairs - had to be converted into luxury living quarters.

The outside also had to be renovated, with the ornate wood carvings in front scraped down to the bare wood and painted over. Crossroads Building also re-created the stucco effect that once graced the front and removed old asbestos siding.

The building's original wood floors were saved in all but one room in the condominium, which has three bedrooms and three bathrooms per unit. Ceilings range from 9 to 22 feet high, with the tallest parts of the building on the top floor, where the original truss soars upward.

New uses

"The building is essentially a new building," Robotham said. "The building itself was in pretty good shape - it was straight and true - but we were putting it to a different use."

The Masonic Temple dates back to its public reception Nov. 4, 1911, according to long-time Mason Charlie Maxson. But the Mystic lodge's history goes back even further - to Aug. 25, 1825, and there were actually two lodges in Mystic at one time before they merged, he said.

Maxson said the Mystic fraternal organization's lodge was located in the Central Hall building on West Main Street until it was razed by fire in December 1910. Afterward, the Masons decided to build a new temple on Gravel Street, he said.

The Mystic Masonic Temple was conveniently located across the street from the Mystic Hook & Ladder Co., said Maxson, who pointed out that many Masons were also firefighters.

"In the old days, everything was volunteer," he added.

In more recent times, however, the Gravel Street location became a problem because of lack of parking, he said.

"During the annual meeting, you couldn't get anywhere near the building," he said.

The Mystic Masons also faced a declining membership, which prompted the group to merge with the Pawcatuck and Stonington Masons to form a stronger organization. The group now meets at larger quarters on Pequot Trail in Stonington.

Maxson helped arrange the sale of the Mystic lodge to the Valentis in January 2008. But plans for the condominiums became stalled as the Historic District Commission took a long look at the project

"We must have had 10 meetings, at least," Robotham recalls. "But their hearts were in the right place; they wanted to see the building brought back."

Among the more interesting relics retrieved from the building during renovation was a huge attic exhaust fan with a cast-iron ring about 5 1/2 feet around that included a date: June 13, 1906. The fan now sits in the basement, awaiting a final decision from the new condominium owners of how they want to use it.

River views

The renovations also uncovered a beautiful tin ceiling on the second floor that unfortunately had to be covered over for structural reasons.

In addition, two or three huge safes were found in the building, and the builders had a struggle getting them out. Another oddity that no one has figured out, according to Robotham, was the discovery of a heavy piece of canvas into which were sewn hundreds of marbles.

Once the temple was cleared out, the interior design by Ellen McKenna of Jamestown, R.I., could be realized. McKenna said she tried to take full advantage of the Mystic River views afforded by the building on both the bottom and top levels while re-imagining the space with sophisticated yet casual touches.

"I tried to make the finishes really elegant," McKenna said. "I really focused on quality details."

An entertainment wall including beverage cooler, fireplace and space for a flat-screen television and stereo dominates the main living area, which adjoins the large and well-appointed kitchen that features a solid cherry island and high-end KitchenAid appliances. One of the rooms downstairs has an attractive tray ceiling, and the upstairs unit includes a reading nook, while the master baths on both levels boast British soaking tubs and vanities created using Carrera marble.

"I was trying to make it appealing to everyone," McKenna said.

The home includes a geothermal heating system and exceeds Energy Star requirements, said real estate agent Caracausa. It also offers access to a dock across the river for boaters, and room in the basement to store kayaks or canoes.

McKenna said she could foresee anyone from an older retired couple to an urban family with children being interested in an upscale condominium in downtown Mystic.

As for the asking prices of the two units, Caracausa pointed out that upscale property has started to sell again locally. She cited four high-priced Masons Island houses, three of them listed for more than $1 million, that either sold or have gone under deposit in just the past few weeks, and a Stonington property on East Neck Road that changed hands in March for $4 million.

"We have always been a very strong second-home market," said Caracausa, who has been selling real estate in Mystic for more than two decades.

And homes with water views within walking distance of downtown are a rare commodity, those involved in the project agree.

"It's hard to duplicate that kind of space in downtown Mystic," builder Robotham said.

The former Masonic Temple building's two open floors were converted into two airy three-bedroom, three-bathroom units, with most of the original hardwood flooring preserved.
The former Masonic Temple building's two open floors were converted into two airy three-bedroom, three-bathroom units, with most of the original hardwood flooring preserved.

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