House of the Temple – Washington, D.C. - Atlas Obscura

House of the Temple

This imposing Masonic temple a mile from the White House was the first public library in Washington, D.C. 


When, in 1909, a decision was made to build a new House of the Temple for the Scottish Rite of the Freemasonry in Washington D.C., the charge of getting the job done was handed to Grand Commander James D. Richardson.

Richardson was determined to build a magnificent temple worthy of the capital city and the Freemasons, and after a rigorous screening process, selected the design proposed by architect John Russell Pope, who later designed the National Archives building and the Jefferson Memorial. The Temple was inspired by the Tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Pope was instructed to make “the new Temple as magnificent as art and money can make it” and the construction began in 1911. Richardson passed away before the structure was completed and unveiled in 1915.

Inside, visitors are treated to awe-inspiring vaulted ceilings and Greek/Egyptian designs in marble. The Temple library was one of the first libraries open to the public in the District of Columbia and it remains open, housing over 250,000 works of Masonic literature. The Temple gained popular attention after its appearance in Dan Brown’s 2009 novel The Lost Symbol.

Know Before You Go

The Temple is approximately a half-mile walk from the D.C. Metro's Dupont Circle Station (Red Line) or U Street Station (Yellow/Green Lines). Temple guides are available for public tours Monday through Thursday, and admission is free.

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