Justinian of All Trades 

A Boise preservationist works to restore the Boise Masonic Lodge to its former glory

click to enlarge Justinian Morton stands in the Red Lodge, the room he is renovating at the Boise Masonic Lodge.

Xavier Ward

Justinian Morton stands in the Red Lodge, the room he is renovating at the Boise Masonic Lodge.

Justinian Morton stood among a mess of plaster, paint and tools in the Boise Masonic Lodge's Red Room. All of the permanent pieces of the room were quarantined in the right side while Morton was working to restore the historic space.

Each piece, Morton said, has a specific purpose or meaning tied to it.

"Everything in here has some kind of symbolism to it," he said. "The principles of freemasonry are the principles of the United States—the good principles."

Morton lobbied for years to help restore the Masonic Lodge in Downtown Boise. He got the go-ahead from the Masonic leadership this year. He isn't a Freemason—not yet, anyway— though he said he has an interest in every old building in downtown Boise. Morton is larger than life, a classically-trained organ builder and former circus performer, and his passion for the buildings and lifestyle of yesteryear were apparent.

The room Morton was restoring, the Red Lodge, an all purpose room. Masons will use it to have meetings, dinners and other ceremonies. In its current state, it's hard to see an image of what it was, or what it will become, littered as it is with scraps of paint, the room's furniture and tarped-over decorations, painters' tape and recently laid plaster on the walls.

click to enlarge A piece of the original Masonic Lodge in Boise, which burned down years ago. - XAVIER WARD
  • Xavier Ward
  • A piece of the original Masonic Lodge in Boise, which burned down years ago.

"There are all these developers that want this building, and they want the Shrine building," Morton said. "So I'm kind of, on a certain level, trying to get people excited about the building again and get this more into the condition of when people were proud of this building. And they're proud of it, but this 60s paneling is terrible."

Boise hasn't done a great job maintaining its history, Morton said. The older downtown buildings gave way to cinder block stucco structures that pepper the downtown. To Morton, those modern buildings are grotesque and lack character. For him, preservation is deferred maintenance. He was originally brought in to restore the ceiling, which had sprung a leak during a rainstorm, but when he arrived, he saw that he could do much more with the space to restore it to its former splendor.

"This place started out better than most," he said. "The more something is already intact, the more I want to make sure it gets the care it needs."

The lodge is one of the remaining pieces of Boise's history. It was built in 1906, and an addition was put on the building in 1913. That's when the air conditioner, "Bertha," as Morton called it, the one the building still uses, was installed.

"This plaster work was probably done by someone outside of Boise, because the time this was done Boise was really podunk, it did not have this quality of workmen," Morton said.

There has been talk of the Masons moving to another location, abandoning the space that was the second Masonic lodge in Idaho—the first being in Idaho City, and it's still standing. The Masons leaving their historic Boise building would be a shame, Morton said, considering the craftsmanship and history of the space.

Beyond restoring the space, Morton plans to become a Mason soon. It's an arduous process, requiring research and readings, as well as a rigorous application.

"I kind of brought myself in. I've been fascinated with Masonry and fraternal orders for a really long time. I actually have a huge collection of Masonic lore," he said. "But I primarily am a preservationist and I do dedicated historical preservation. I have an interest in every old building in Boise."

The tenets of Masonry promote inclusivity and personal improvement, which is one of the appealing aspects, Morton said.

"Most of masonry is a series of allegories that teach life lessons basically," he said. "It's a lot of mentoring."

Masons are often seen as a social club for old white men, but Morton said they would like to diversify their ranks. It's difficult, however, considering Masons are not allowed to advertise or recruit. Everyone who wishes to join must do so of their own free will. A lot of the values that are taught are inherently inclusive, Morton said.

One of the main symbols of masonry is the keystone, an obtuse looking stone that joins the two sides of arch. Without the stone, the arch collapses. The arch represents society.

"The keystone isn't square, right? There's some parable where the keystone was discarded because it wasn't square. They got to the middle of the arch, and the arch wouldn't stand without it," Morton said.

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