Almas Temple

The Shriners are instantly recognizable. But have you ever noticed this facade on K St. by Franklin Square, and wondered what was inside?

It’s the Almas Temple, the headquarters of the D.C. Shriners organization. The local Shriners were kind enough to give us a tour of the building, and tell us more about their work.

As soon as you walk into the building, the Moorish motifs are prominent on the floor and ceiling of the large foyer.

The Moorish motifs continue throughout, in the furnishings and memorabilia (the Shriners have no ties to Arabia, but used the Moorish designs to create a distinctive visual identity when they started in the 1870’s).

The building was designed in 1929 by a member of the Shriners, Allen H. Potts. But in the late 1980’s, the developers of One Franklin Square wanted to use the land where the building sat, so a deal was worked out where the Shriners building was moved about 175 feet down the street.

The facade of the building is on the D.C. historic register, and was carefully preserved when the building was moved. But the inside of the building was newly constructed at the time of the move. The facade was taken down piece-by-piece and carefully stored for the three years it took to construct the new building.

A few of the elements of the interior were preserved, like these light fixtures in the club room.

Most of the interior is new as of 1990, like this large ballroom on the lower floor. This ballroom is used for some Shriners’ events, but since they do not need to use it frequently, and since the Hamilton Hotel next door does not have a large ballroom, the two organizations struck a deal where the Hamilton will manage the rental of the ballroom space. They’re also going to construct an entrance from the lower floor of the Hamilton directly into this ballroom space.

As part of the deal with the One Franklin Square development, the Shriners sold the air rights above their building, so the temple fits in tight against the surrounding structures. For example, from the balcony of The Washington Post next door, here’s the view looking down at the top of the temple:

The Shriners are a combination of a fraternal and a charity organization. Their charitable mission is the network of Shriners’ hospitals for children, offering care for children up to the age of 18 regardless of the families’ ability to pay. There are 22 Shriners’ hospitals in the U.S., which treat children with orthopedic and spinal injuries and birth defects, cleft palate, and burns. They’ve been treating children since 1922, and treated 145,000 children in 2019. Since there are no Shriners’ hospitals in the D.C. area, the mission of the local organization is to transport children to the hospitals – Philadelphia for orthopedic issues and Boston for burns. The D.C. Shriners arrange transportation and often drive the families themselves, providing access to treatment for local children.

This bronze bas-relief summarizes their mission of helping children. The photo on which this is based was taken in 1970 by Randy Dieter, who saw a Shriner carrying a girl and her crutches at an Indiana event for children with disabilities. The Shriner is Al Hortman, and he is carrying Bobbi Jo Wright, who received many years of treatment at Shriner’s hospital in St. Louis for her orthopedic problems resulting from her cerebral palsy.

The Shriners are frequent participants in local parades, raising awareness of their mission. They may be in their go-carts, or firetruck, or as clowns (in the 1940’s, the Shriners produced a circus at the old Uline Arena).

And no, they don’t store the go-carts and firetruck inside their K St. building – they are stored in a warehouse somewhere in NE.

You can find out more about the local Shriners on their website, and read more about the Shriners’ hospitals for children.

Written by Karen Ramsey and Victoria Pickering. All photos are copyright to them.

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  1. I did not realize it was moved 175 feet. My father belonged to Almas Temple, was a member of the Oriental Band. I went to dinner and dancing with my folks in the club; joined with my father on the bowling team in the bowling alley in the basement. The Oriental Band opened baseball games at Griffith Stadium and the circus at Uline Arena. Took my kids to the Temple to the dinner theater to see “Fiddler on the Roof.” Great memories.

    1. How interesting! It was fascinating to get to see the elaborate old furniture and interior design and imagine what it must have been like during different time periods. Thanks for adding all these memories.

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