Shriners, or Shrine Masons, belong to the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for North America (A.A.O.N.M.S.). The Shrine is an international fraternity of approximately 393,000 members who belong to Shrine Temples throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Republic of Panama. Founded in New York City in 1872, the organization is composed solely of Master Masons (those holding the third degree). The Shrine adopted a Middle East theme but is not connected to Islam. The only formal connection to religion is that Masons must acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being. Once called Temples, Shriner meeting places are now called Shrine Centers to avoid any religious connotation.
Built by ACCA Temple, Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, as its headquarters and convention center, the Mosque overlooked Monroe Park. The Mosque contained the most elaborate and largest theater, with approximately 4,600 seats, ever built in Richmond. Shriners began construction on the Mosque in February, 1926, and the process took two years to complete. During construction a spring located underneath the building affected the stability of the earth and delayed construction until the foundation could be reinforced. The building was formally opened on October 28, 1927 by the ACCA as the Temple of the Mystic Shrine. The Mosque cost $1.65 million to build. Into the dome alone went 75,000 square feet of gold leaf, and another 35,000 square feet of aluminum leaf was used. The auditorium decorations include Saracenic decorations and five paintings bordering the proscenium arch of the stage. Ornamental tile used in the interior was imported from Spain, Italy and Tunis, along with lush carpets, silken curtains and paintings which suggest the rich tents and equipment of a Saracenic nobleman.
The Mosque contains what was originally called the greatest pipe organ in the South, a replica of the organ in the Paramount Theater in New York. Arched grilles on either side of the stage cover 17 unit ranks of pipes. The smallest of the 1,384 single pipes is about as big as a soda straw while the largest measures 16 feet and is 14 inches across the top. The heart of the organ is on the sixth floor in the blower and drier room where the 10-horsepower blower has its own generator. Miles of threadlike wires carry current from the keyboards, enabling the organist not only to interpret musical scores, but to imitate an auto horn or a boat whistle blast, the sound of surf or the call of a bird.
The building was purchased by the city for $200,000 in 1940. A partial restoration and renovation was completed in 1995 for $5.4 million. During the 1990s there was considerable controversy over the name of the building given its close resemblance to a Muslim Temple. During that time the Mosque was renamed Landmark Theater as a result of that controversy.
Richmond ‘s Landmark Theater
6 North Laurel Street
(804) 780-8226 (Administration)
(804) 780-4213 (Box Office)
Profiled prepared by Whitney Shank