March 15, 2011

The Crown Masonic Centre

It's been nearly a month since the February 22 earthquake and it is still almost impossible to process the event -- still almost impossible to move beyond the sense that it has only just happened, that we are in the immediate aftermath. This is partly because so much of the central city, the best known part of Christchurch, remains behind a closely-guarded cordon, and we see images, in newspapers, on television and on the internet, of streets we struggle to recognise. The event is still beyond our comprehension.

I have been inside the cordon just once, from the north side, as far as Peterborough Street, to retrieve a few belongings from the former teachers' college building, where my father in law has an apartment. My sister in law made the same trip on a different day and reached for a movie metaphor: it's like the opening of Vanilla Sky. She meant that she was more overwhelmed by the quiet and emptiness than the physical destruction.

You can only understand it in small pieces, by registering what it has done to your immediate surroundings or to familiar landmarks. But these are small changes and against the tragedy of events at such sites as the CTV building and the Pyne Gould building, and the much greater tragedy in Japan, our snapshots of cracked footpaths and fallen bricks must seem trivial.

The building pictured here is the Crown Masonic Centre, a lodge on Wordsworth Street, Sydenham. For a time, this building was for sale. Indeed, a pre-February 22 Masonic newsletter (link), tells us that it was sold to the New Zealand Sikh Society in August, just under a month before the first earthquake. The damage from that quake caused it to close "and its long term future remains in doubt". That comment was made in December. It didn't look like this then.

There is something unexpectedly moving about the way events have overtaken these plans. The newsletter gives the history.
The Crown Lodge 138 celebrated its last night in The Crown Masonic Centre in Wordsworth St, Sydenham on Thursday 5 August 2010 with a small gathering of Brethren who marked the passing from one part of history and into its future. While The Crown Lodge Masonic Centre has existed since its foundation stone was laid on Saturday 9 December 1922 and it opened its doors to its first meeting on Thursday 2 August 1923, the Masonic Centre has been home to many different Lodges, side orders and long term tenants.

In the newsletter, Brethren of the Crown Lodge are pictured in a blue room with white columns. In the picture above, taken seven months later, the same room is ruined and open to the elements.