Support Local Journalism


Doug Campbell gets pretty enthusiastic as he talks about the restoration of downtown Bozeman’s historic Masonic Temple building.

“It’s going to be just gorgeous,” said Campbell, head of the Masonic Temple Inc. board, who spearheaded the renovation effort.

Workers have already stripped away layers of stucco to reveal the original 1890’s brick façade, hidden for the past 66 years.

Now they’re busy replacing damaged bricks and restoring ornate work that was chiseled off in 1950 to make the building look streamlined and modern.

Campbell, 53, gave a tour of the building at Tracy Avenue and Main Street on Friday. He said the century-old brickwork turned out to be in better shape than expected. “It’s been essentially wrapped in a blanket for 60 years, protected from the weather.”

Lots of people share Campbell’s enthusiasm. Even the building’s resident ghost seems to be pleased.

“It’s a beautiful old building,” said Edwin St. Clair, one of the hard-hatted workmen with Coon Restoration & Sealants of Ohio, which specializes in masonry repair. “It was a shame they covered it up all these years.”

Since May, a temporary wooden walkway has been set up on the Main Street sidewalk, from F-11 to Miller’s Jewelry, to protect pedestrians.

It’s a little inconvenient, but it will be worth it, said Tim Crawford, who restored the Gallatin State Bank building, right across Tracy Avenue, 22 years ago.

“I think it’s terrific,” Crawford said. “Downtown is the heart of this community.”

Cec Johnson, manager of Miller’s Jewelry, said he’s excited to be getting three new windows, a better bathroom and better workspace for the jewelers.

“Everybody is so positive that I’ve talked to, they’re excited about it,” Johnson said.

Nelson Story Sr., Bozeman’s richest and most entrepreneurial founding father, originally constructed the building in 1890.

Lesley Gilmore, CTA Architects’ director of historic preservation services and project manager for the Masonic Temple project, said it appears on the 1890 Sanborn fire insurance map as being under construction.

“Our whole team has loved working on this project,” she said.

Story built it as commercial space for six stores, Campbell said, with the upstairs probably rented out as residences. Over the years, it housed many businesses, including a hardware store that sold horse carriages and buggies.

Nelson Story Jr. inherited the building. Both he and his father had been Masons, and Masonic Lodge No. 18 rented space there for meetings.

Around 1949, Nelson Jr. decided to sell the building and offered the Masons a favorable deal, Campbell said. The Masons scraped together savings and sold shares for $25 around the community to raise the money to buy it.

The Masons hired Bozeman architect Fred Willson in 1950 to enlarge the second story, raise the roof 8 feet, combine the original Main Street building with a smaller building in the rear and update its appearance.

That’s when the first layer of stucco was applied, to cover the Victorian brickwork and give the facade a sleek International Style look. Willson’s drawings directed workers to chisel off ornamental brickwork that stuck out too far. Furring strips of wood were bolted to the brick, wood sheathing was put up and a thick coat of stucco applied.

Then in 1980, the Masons decided the building needed a new coat of stucco. That’s when the second-floor windows were covered over, to save on heat. That was cheapest solution, Campbell said, to problems like the cold, noise and water leaks.

Campbell who joined DeMolay at age 12, had DJ’d at dances as a teen in the 1970s. He said covering up the big windows in the 1980s made the upstairs feel dark and prison-like. It also cut the Masonic Temple off from Main Street, and made the fraternal group seem secretive, he said.

“I was missing the windows,” he said. “You used to be able to stand in the upstairs room at Christmas and look outside – it was beautiful, amazing. Now it felt claustrophobic.”

Two years ago, Campbell, an information technology manager for a Texas retail electric company, and the rest of the Masonic Temple board faced rising property taxes. They were going to have to raise rents for the tenant stores and for the Masonic groups – including DeMolay, Eastern Star and Rainbow Girls — that used the upstairs for meetings and events.

That, Campbell said, would go against the mission of the for-profit Masonic Temple Inc., which is not to make a profit but to support the Masonic groups and the Bozeman community, which it does through giving bikes to encourage kids to read and supporting after-prom events.

He said he felt if Masonic Temple Inc. were run more like a corporation, and less like a mom-and-pop business, it could bring in more revenue by renting out the upstairs for more birthdays, weddings and community events. But that would require renovations.

With a $25,000 matching grant from the Downtown Bozeman Partnership, the Masons had a master plan prepared.

The cost estimates came in at less than they’d feared. Campbell said he spent weeks working out a budget to show that fixing up the building would pencil out, especially with today’s low mortgage rates.

“The hardest part,” Campbell said, “was convincing the board members and older stockholders” that it would be wise to take out the $1.7 million loan agreed to by Yellowstone Bank. “That was a huge stretch for many old-timers.”

Today general contractor Walker Construction and Coon Restoration are hard at work. Vintage brick from interior walls will be used to fill in missing bricks on the Main Street facade. The corner parapet, which looks like Godzilla bit a chunk out of it, will be reconstructed.

On the Tracy Street side, there will be a new glass-walled entry, leading to a new lobby and a new, larger elevator. New, larger restrooms are being constructed.

Pedestrians will be able to look inside through the glass wall, Campbell said, which will make the whole building feel transparent and more “warm and inviting.”

He gave a tour of the upstairs rooms, which include a commercial kitchen, dining room, ballroom, main lodge room, ladies tearoom and poolroom.

There has been some evidence of paranormal activity – ghosts – in the building, “if you believe in that kind of thing,” Campbell said.

Caretakers reported doors closing and lights going off for no reason. A secretary heard a voice asking, “Did you check the lights?” and went back upstairs to find lights were on. People have reported getting chills or feeling a presence. Campbell said he and others have heard a music box playing.

But the building’s restoration doesn’t seem to have upset the resident spirit, who has been quiet lately, he said.

Now his goal is to have the Main Street side finished and the sidewalk back to normal by Aug. 15, which should help the tenant stores. The rest of the work should be finished by the end of the year. He hopes to hold an open house by the Christmas Stroll.

“We really, really do want to make it historically accurate, for the community’s sake,” Campbell said, “because we have such a gorgeous Main Street.”

People can check out the restoration’s progress on time-lapse images online (

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at 406-582-2633 or

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.