WHEELING – A historic East Wheeling gem has operated out of public view for over a century, but under new ownership, the Scottish Rite Cathedral opens a new chapter in its rich history – and opens its sacred halls to the public.
Major renovations are underway at the 14th Street monument, and a handful of public and private events have taken place in recent months in some of the building’s stunning venues. As recently as last week, the Wheeling Rotary Club met in the Marble Rotunda Hall at the entrance to the Scottish Rite Cathedral – now owned by Roxby Development – with Roxby President Jeffrey Morris as guest speaker.
Rotarians were also able to split into groups and take tours of the sprawling facility, which, for decades since it opened in 1916, has only been seen and used by members of a “valley” in Virginia. -Old and accepted Scottish Rite Western, a Freemasonry council often seen as a very private fraternity of community leaders who conduct much of their business in private.
Rabbi Joshua Lief, president of the Wheeling Rotary Club, said members were very grateful for Roxby’s efforts to build a new future while preserving the treasured past of the historic Scottish Rite building.
âWe care deeply about our role as stewards of the community,â said Lief. âWhen you can combine both historic preservation and economic development – and at the same time look at our past and build for our future simultaneously – it’s a very exciting project. We wanted to lend our support by hosting our reunion here to see everything they do, and we look forward to opening the space to the general public soon.
The Scottish Rite Building is just one of a few iconic Wheeling structures that Roxby is currently working to renovate and revitalize. Roxby is also the new owner of the McClure Hotel in downtown and the Mt. Carmel Monastery in Edgwood, both of which are undergoing major renovations propelled by exciting new visions for their futures.
Roxby officials noted that as part of their deal when purchasing the property last year, the Scottish Rite will continue to use the halls of the historic building, while more public and private events take place will also take place there. Morris noted that a stunning theater that occupies the fifth and sixth floors of the building will soon be in use in the coming weeks.
âWe have the option of using it for special occasions,â Morris said. “We’re going to have the symphony here on the 20th.”
Roxby presents and hosts SoundBites Vol. 3 opening night of its 2021-22 season inside the Scottish Rite Cathedral Theater. The evening combines the music of a chamber orchestra with a gourmet multi-course meal and signature cocktail, as well as a special guest artist – Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke.
Morris said Roxby is working with the Wheeling Fire Department, which in the meantime is expected to allow a limited occupancy of around 350 people for special events. The renovations will include improvements and additions to fire extinguishing systems and escape routes, opening the door to events with more guests.
âThe eventual occupancy we want to get is 1,000 people,â Morris said.
Events hosted by local chambers of commerce have already taken place at the rotunda site, and use is also being considered for a number of eyebrow-raising rooms in the building. Last month, Wheeling Central Catholic High School held their prom in the cavernous ballroom.
Despite the mantle of âmysteryâ behind its largely indescribable exterior walls over many decades, the Scottish Rite Cathedral has hosted great events. Most noticed was in 1927, a reception and banquet celebrating the non-stop transatlantic flight of revolutionary aviator Charles Lindbergh, who was the special guest.
Even the smallest rooms of the building are rich in history and character. The library is anchored by a fireplace and is surrounded by walls lined with dozens of oak cabinets filled with old books. Roxby officials have indicated that the library is one of the rooms available for meetings, receptions and other events.
There is also a women’s lounge, a kitchen on the first floor, and a full kitchen adjacent to the ballroom.
Historian Bekah Karelis, who worked for many years with Wheeling Heritage, most recently served as project manager for Adventures in Elegance prior to its merger with Roxby Development. She is now Roxby’s Director of Historic Preservation, working on renovation projects for the first floor of the Scottish Rite building and provided a tour of the building to a group of Rotarians last week.
âWe like to share the building,â Karelis said. “This is one of the gems of Wheeing.”
Karelis said Roxby plans to create a restaurant and bar in the dining area – which is adorned with stained glass – to likely extend into the billiard room.
Some of the historic elements of the building offer snapshots of the past, so much so that many of them are planned to be showcased. From bookcases to billiard racks, the functional furniture itself serves as artifacts that showcase local history. A wall in the lower level maintenance room houses a large display of historic cigar boxes and containers of screws, nuts, bolts, and other working materials that can themselves be considered a mosaic work of art. Karelis said they plan to move the support from the workshop and present it as it was left by the old caretakers of the buildings.
Also in the basement, the building’s huge period electrical control panel – installed by the Gee Electric Construction Company of Wheeling in 1926 – is still in use. A historic centerpiece on its own, the power panel was recently recessed behind glass as a highlight of a museum-worthy visit. The gigantic boiler in the basement is also reminiscent of the industrial might of the hometown of the past, as it is engraved with the label of its maker, the Schofield-Cowl Company of Wheeling.
A room used by the Scottish Rite is literally covered with group photos of the biannual âreunionâ meetings of its members. The building has served members from across West Virginia, but the dwindling number of faces in the most recent photos tells an unintended sub-story – one that reveals why the towering structure changed hands last year. Black-and-white member photos from decades ago are packed with dozens of people, while more recent color photos show only four or five members.
The greater number of active members in the past helped support the maintenance of the large facility, but dwindling resources among the small group in recent years have required a call for a helping hand.
Karelis said the agreement with the Scottish Rite provided for not only the future use of the facility by Freemasons, but also the necessary rehabilitation and maintenance of the facility, as well as the protection of artefacts at the inside. And in the future, a large part will be presented to the public.
Roxby has moved into the building and uses various rooms as workshops not only for Scottish Rite renovations but also for other Roxby restoration projects. New ADA toilets are being installed and work continues to modernize many spaces inside while retaining the original character of the building – which over the decades has had great custodians.
“They have done a wonderful job maintaining this building,” Karelis said of the Scottish Rite members.