Hidden Joburg: The Freemasons’ Hall in Parktown

by | Dec 1, 2022 | Hidden Joburg, Johannesburg, Johannesburg City Centre, Museums and Buildings | 19 comments

My quest to visit all of the places featured in the Hidden Johannesburg book continues. With my recent trip to the Freemasons’ Hall, which I’m about to tell you about, I have now visited 20 of the 28 places in the book. This will be my final Hidden Joburg post of the year and I think it’s a good one.

Outside of the Freemason's Hall in Parktown
The façade of the Freemasons’ Hall. Tiny Gail gives you an idea of how big the building is — too big to fit the entire length of it into a photo. Although the front of the building looks quite old, with its neoclassical columns, it was actually built in the 1950s.

You’re probably wondering how I got access to the Freemasons’ Hall. It actually happened through the Rand Club, where I joined recently and where several Freemasons are also members. I met a bunch of Masons at a networking event at the Rand Club two weeks ago, and one of them was kind enough to arrange this visit for me, Eden (also a Rand Club member), and my friends Fiver and Gail. Although some Freemason rules and traditions are secret, the building itself is not, and pre-arranged visits are welcome. I’ll include contact details at the end of this post.

Columns at the Freemasons' Hall
I love these columns.

The Freemason’s Hall, designed in 1954 by South African architect Gordon Leith, is a wide, imposing building that sits on the border of Parktown and Hillbrow and shares a parking lot with Brenthurst Hospital. The hall is home to the District Grand Lodge of South Africa, North, which falls under the United Grand Lodge of England.

South Africa is unique in the Freemasonry world because it has two networks of lodges: a group that falls under the United Grand Lodge of England, and another group that falls under the Grand Lodge of South Africa. I could ramble on for ages about what Freemasonry is and the history of this vast, loosely affiliated network of organizations. But it’s very complicated, some (but not all) of it is secret, and I would inevitably get things wrong and offend Freemasons the world over. (In fact, I’m sure I will do that anyway. Please don’t mansplain me, Masons. Despite the fact that I happen to share your name, I am clueless. I am also a woman and women aren’t allowed to be Freemasons.)

Anyway, from here on I’m going to skip over most of the details and just show you pretty pictures, all taken during our informative tour with the Freemasons’ District Grand Secretary, Roland Dunstan.

Inside the Freemasons’ Hall

Lobby of the Freemasons' Hall
Fiver in the Freemasons’ entrance hall.
Freemasons' stairway
The beautiful stairway (which reminds me a lot of the Rand Club stairway), is the star of the show in this building.
Landing of the Masonic stairway
Vertical stairway
I took so many pictures of the stairway.
Balustrade metalwork at the Freemasons' Hall
I think there’s a lot of symbolism in the metalwork of this balustrade.
Masonic stairaway
The first floor of the Freemasons’ Hall has portraits of all the different District Grand Masters who have served over the decades. Here is a detailed history of District Grand Lodge with a list of all the Grand Masters. (I know, I know, the term “Grand Master” sounds weird, especially for Americans. But that’s what the leaders of the Masonic lodges are called and it has nothing to do with that other thing.)
Stained glass in Freemasons' Hall
Cool stained glass window and a bust of Merton Sidney Freeman, District Grand Master from 1989 to 1994.

Roland also took is into the library, which I thought was very cool.

Eden and Gail browse through the library, which has lots of interesting things to look at.
WWI memorial in the Freemason library
A World War I memorial in the library.
Book of Masonic thought
A Treasury of Masonic Thought.
Masonic crowns
There is a lot of regalia in Freemasonry — crowns and sashes and jewels and such. It’s kind of like Miss America! (Sorry, Masons.)

Thanks so much to Roland and the rest of the Masons for letting us visit — it was fascinating. If you’d like to learn more or schedule a visit to the Freemasons’ Hall (the hall also hosts events and film shoots), call 011-643-3311.

Heather on the Masonic stairway
Photo: Fiver Löcker

Browse all of my posts about Hidden Joburg places here.

19 Comments

  1. dizzylexa

    Thanks for letting me tag along, great pics.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks for coming!

      Reply
  2. Nancy McDaniel

    OMG, your dress matches the railing on the staircase!!!! How cool is that. Miss America indeed!

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Ha! I didn’t even notice.

      Reply
  3. AutumnAshbough

    That is a GRAND staircase. I feel it needs someone in a ballgown and train to do it justice (plus regalia, of course).

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thy do hold weddings!

      Reply
  4. Albert

    “…kind of like Miss America!”. LOLOLOLOL

    Reply
    • 2summers

      I made myself laugh too.

      Reply
  5. Peggy Laws

    There are two Orders of Wimen Freemasond. Only women can join. I personally don’t see the point of it but they follow the same Rituals as the men and do a lot fir Charity. It is a lovely building!

    Reply
  6. Eden

    I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next😍😍😍

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks for being part of the adventure!

      Reply
  7. Derek Smith

    You might know by now that I am a bit of a contrarian – and I need to say that I have never been inside the Rand Club and have no desire to even see the inside of the Freemason hall as I have an intense aversion to clubs, cliques and secret society (never belonged to a golf club either).

    Incidentally read something by James Baldwin this morning that makes sense to me in this context

    “Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.”

    But let me rather tell you about Col C Graham Botha’s musical saw that interest me much more as it forms part of my weird and wonderful collection of shyte that most probably will be burned on the pyre when they immolate me (most probably on the stake – not steak) one day. I enclose two links to photographs you might care to view – https://www.flickr.com/photos/43066879@N06/16521215089/ and https://www.flickr.com/photos/43066879@N06/29572332687/

    I found this saw many moons ago in an antique shop in Prince Albert wrapped in newspaper with the Colonels signature on it with the words – “Do not sell” what I think was in his writing and being a contrarian bought it DESPITE HIS EXPLICIT INSTRUCTIONS – Don’t try to rule from the grave dear Colin. I didn’t know then that it was a musical saw but it had this lovely patina and rhinestone inlays. Recently, with Karoo Gothic, I asked Frankie Beagle to come play it at the opening and she would have loved to do it but she had other engagements – so until next time I have this here pimped musical saw that once belonged to Col Colin Graham Botha (1883-1973) Chief Archivist of Union of SA; first Grand Master of the Free Masons in SA; also the commanding officer of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Rifles in my collection of weyrd wonderfulness (All told to me by Auntie Google) and maybe Frankie will play it when Karoo Gothic comes around again

    Nice blog, as always

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Hi Derek, wow those are beautiful photos and that was a great story. Thank you. Part of me wants to make it a personal challenge to convince you to come with Alicia and me for tea at the Rand Club, but I know better than to try to change your mind!

      Reply
  8. Alice

    “The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it…” – JFK 1961

    Reply
  9. rose2852

    An interesting read. My paternal grandfather was a member of the District Grand Lodge of the Transvaal, circa 1914. I have his apron which I’m storing in a plastic bag because every time I handle it, another piece falls off! I tried contacting one of the Jbg lodges a few years ago with a view, among others, to donating the apron, but didn’t get a reply. If Roland were interested, I’d be happy to hand it over plus a few other mason ephemera that belonged to my grandfather. Only problem is I’m in Australia, so getting the items to him safely would need to be considered.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Hi, thanks for the comment. I would definitely give the lodge a call — I’m sure they’d be interested in the apron! +27 11-643-3311

      Reply
      • Rose saltman

        Thanks. Do they have an email address? Easier for contact, what with the difference in time zones.

        Reply

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