For over a century it has been one of Lewiston’s most familiar landmarks, yet it remains shrouded in mystery and superstition, an enigma to all but the members and families who regularly enjoy its resplendent treasures. And while the main thrust of the FEZtival of trees is indeed the collection of fully decorated Christmas trees to be raffled, the event also provides a rare opportunity to experience the interior of this enigmatic structure.
An architectural gem, the Kora Shrine Center at the corner of Sabattus and Main streets is among the most opulent facilities still in use anywhere in the Shriners’ organization. “We’re at least in the top two or three,” said amateur Shrine historian, Frank Preble. “People tell me that as little kids, they used to walk by the Temple to and from school everyday. Some of them would cross the street because [they found the building] too intimidating!” On the other hand, Shriners and Masons from all over the world have been coming to Lewiston for generations, specifically for the chance to visit this unique edifice.
The original Kora Temple was established in 1892, with the first physical location on Lisbon Street. A group of enterprising local businessmen and civic leaders, members of the early Shrine, committed themselves and the local chapter to creating the first temple in Maine, effectively preempting Portland.
Eventually, “they decided they needed more room, and a building of their own” Preble explained, “so they moved to Sabattus and Main streets, which was considered the outskirts of town at the time,” with construction undertaken shortly after the turn of the 20th Century. Construction was completed in late 1908 and the center was dedicated in 1909. Far more intricate and nuanced than public buildings typical of the mill towns of northern New England at the height of the industrial revolution, the new Temple quickly achieved iconic status both in the local community and among the Shriners’ own burgeoning community throughout North America. The official 100th anniversary Rededication Ceremony was held in March of this 2009.
The Kora Temple is dominated by two large gathering spaces: the grand Ceremonial Hall, and the imposing dining hall, which is noted for its priceless collection of murals painted by the renowned Maine artist, Harry Cochrane. Born in Augusta in 1860, Cochrane achieved prominence as the architect, designer and interior artist responsible for Cumston Hall, in Monmouth, in 1900. During the period between 1922 and 1927, Cochrane, himself a lifelong Shriner, created 15 distinctive murals for the Lewiston temple, some painted directly on the dining hall walls, some in his studio and later hung in the Temple.
In addition to the big rooms, the temple is also home to some two-dozen clubhouse rooms occupied by the ceremonial, parade and circus units that are the public face of the Shrine. The Potentates’ Room, a sizable lounge area, includes portraits of the leaders of the Kora Shrine dating back to its earliest days, and the building also provides office space for current leadership and staff, storage, massive kitchen areas, and precious archives.
While you can see the major gathering spaces and the murals, online at www.korashriners.org/about-us/inside.shtml, the virtual experience is nothing at all like the breathtaking opportunity to actually be inside that space, immersed in century-old tradition and surrounded by precious artwork, distinctive architecture, and the palpable mysteries of a millennium of Freemasonry. And for the $2 price of admission to the FEZtival, you now have the unusual opportunity to satisfy perhaps a lifetime of wonder and speculation. Tour to your heart’s content.