Nile Shrine

“From Whence We Came”

By Freddie Hayden, Past Historian
Updated 1999 by Noble James O. Wood, Potentate 1999
Revised and updated 2013 by Noble Richard M. Kovak, Historian and Potentate 2008

 

In 1901, Seattle-based Shriners belonged to the Seattle Shrine Club of Afifi Temple of Tacoma, WA.  By 1907, because of many transportation difficulties in attending stated meetings in Tacoma, members of the Seattle Shrine Club proposed to the nobility of Afifi Temple the dispensation of a new temple to be located in Seattle. Tacoma was a bustling city on the move and with Afifi’s membership mounting, our mother Temple gave her warm and amicable support to our plan.

The first meeting to take steps to form a Seattle Shrine temple was held in the Elks Hall, Alaska Building, April 1908, presided over by Noble Frank Parker, who later presented the petition, signed by 467 Nobles, for a dispensation to the Imperial Council in St. Paul, Minnesota in July. Dispensation was granted July 15, 1908. In St. Paul, Ernest B. Hussey, Past Potentate of Afifi Temple, was elected as Nile’s first Potentate and held that office to July of the following year. Also at this meeting, ‘NILE’ was selected as the Temple’s name, a name that inspires honor and recognition to this day.

The first ceremonial was held in the Moore Theater in downtown Seattle on December 2, 1908, increasing membership with 121 candidates. On December 9, a letter was received from Nobel Ellis Lewis Garretson, Potentate of Afifi Temple, congratulating the Nile nobility on a very high-class ceremonial.  On June 9, 1909, Nile received its charter.

In August of 1909 when Nile was only one year old, it was the first Temple to carry the message of the Shrine to the Land of the Midnight Sun, with the Divan making a 5,600 mile round trip pilgrimage to Nome, Alaska, and staging a ceremonial there.  In 1912, another pilgrimage was made to Nome via the Yukon River, staging ceremonials at Fairbanks and Nome. In 1914, Nile was the first Temple to carry the same message to the Land of the Southern Cross, making a 1,700 mile round trip to the Orient, staging a ceremonial at Manila, Philippine Islands. It since has made many other pilgrimages to the Orient and Alaska.

In 1914 when only six years old, Nile Temple petitioned the Imperial Council to hold its next Imperial Session in Seattle. After receiving permission to do so, Noble J. E. Chillberg, General Chairman of the Executive Committee, called for a convention slogan and after much debate, the slogan suggested by Noble Herbert A. Schoenfield was chosen: SMILE WITH NILE. Usually after a convention slogans are soon forgotten, but in this one and only instance, the slogan became a part of and has lived down through the years as one of the most famous slogans in Shrine history.

Nile Temple holds a record, which never has and never will be surpassed! For the first and only time in its history, the Imperial Council held its annual session (1915) in a city whose Temple was only seven years old and which had a membership of only 1,731 Nobles. Never before or since has a Temple of that age and size ever attempted a pageant spectacle of such magnitude.  The Seattle Chamber of Commerce contributed $150,000, and Nile Temple raised an additional $150,000 to entertain 40,000 visitors to Seattle to a most colorful, seven-day event. Nile and Seattle would hold two other Imperial Sessions in 1936 and 1969.

In 1916, the Seattle Masonic Temple (SMT) was completed with Nile Temple being one of the investors and owners. This provided a more appropriate meeting place in the “Shrine” auditorium, which had been lavishly and authentically decorated in an Arabic motif employing stencils, highlighted designs, and murals. The SMT Shrine auditorium could hold 2,500 people and was the locale for many ceremonials as well as installations, dances, and other events.

No history would be complete without a mention of a little romantic interest such as was experienced at Nile. While on a pilgrimage to the Orient in 1922, Illustrious Potentate Hugh M. Caldwell and the Divan purchased in China a young female camel and brought her home with them. At a special ceremony, she was christened “Nile”. She was a great favorite of the nobility and a welcome companion in many parades. She was quartered at the Woodland Park Zoo where the keepers and attendants were also fond of her.  The following year realizing how lonesome she must be, the Potentate had China send a boy camel and christened him “Potentate”. To make a long story short, they met, fell in love, and were united in wedded bliss. The product of that union, a son, was christened “Outer Guard”. Both “Potentate” and “Outer Guard” answered the call of the Black Camel some years later, but dear old “Nile” lived to  the extraordinary age of 26 or 27 (the average age of a camel is 12 to 15 years) when on February 5, 1947 she too went on the long trail.

In the early 1920’s, when Nile Temple had a growing membership of over 4,000, it became apparent to an active and farsighted Divan that, in building for the future and for the enjoyment of the Nobles of Nile, a site for picnic grounds, country club, and future golf course should be found and purchased. After considerable study and inspection of available properties within 30 miles of Seattle, William A. Eastman, Oriental Guide of Nile at the time, located and submitted the present Lake Ballinger site of 92 acres of waterfront plus an option on an adjoining 60 acres of upland. The Divan and Potentate Walter F. Meier, after visiting the property, enthusiastically endorsed the purchase of the 92 acres. At a regular meeting held at the Seattle Masonic Temple March 22, 1924, the motion to acquire the site was overwhelmingly passed. In April of 1924, additional land was purchased bringing the area to 135 acres.

Following the acquisition, the Potentate appointed a number of committees with instructions to “get the grounds ready for summer use.” The First Annual Picnic, held at Lake Ballinger August 9, 1924, was a resounding success, and the tradition continues to this day.  In April of 1926, $5,000 was borrowed by the Temple from the Dexter Horton Bank to pay off a portion owing on the land purchase and to pay for a preliminary survey and design for the country club by Olmstead Bros. of San Francisco, landscape architects. Also in 1926, an additional 20 acres were added, bringing the total area to 155 acres at an overall cost for the land of $33,200, including about three acres added later. During early 1927, the members were asked to approve a $50,000 loan to cover construction of a clubhouse, access roads, and ground improvements. After unanimous approval, bids were asked and awarded and construction started on the clubhouse. In 1928 the clubhouse opened with a large ballroom for dancing, a commercial kitchen, and several meeting rooms. In 1936, the second Imperial Session held at Nile in Seattle was attended by 55,000 Nobles and 300,000 people lined the streets of Seattle to view the Shrine parade, a highlight that broke up the melancholy of the Depression Years. That same year, General Douglas MacArthur became a Nile noble at a Nile ceremonial held at the Bamboo Oasis Shrine Club in Manila. Years later in November 1951, General MacArthur spoke at a Nile stated meeting attended by 5,000 Nile nobles.

In 1955, Nile Temple constructed a building for the Temple at 229 Third Avenue North that provided space for not only offices, but also a Potentate’s lounge, unit rooms, kitchen, and auditorium, and all under one roof!  In 1959, the State of Washington made overtures to the Temple regarding the condemnation of 35 acres for a proposed freeway which would extend through the easterly unimproved portion of the country club property in a generally swampy area.  Approximately $35,000 was suggested by the State as the value of these acres at the time. After nearly two years of negotiations, in 1961 Nile Temple deeded the 35 acres to the State for the freeway purposes and received the sum of $241,961. A severed 14 acres lying east of the freeway and considered surplus to the Temple’s needs were sold in 1964 for $151,000. An additional condemnation by the City of Mountlake Terrace of one and one-half acres of lakefront for park use brought $45,000, and the taking of a strip of land along Nile’s north line for road purposes took approximately three acres but still left the country club with an outlet to the north to the freeway. The income to Nile Temple resulting from the above condemnations was in excess of $560,000, part of which was used to pay off the bonds that were sold to build the office headquarters building downtown, remodel the clubhouse, and build the new 10 hole executive golf course, which opened in May 1968 with Bob Tindall as its first pro.

In 1969, Nile and Afifi co-hosted the third Imperial Session in Seattle that actually was a celebration of the installation of Imperial Potentate Chester (Chick) Hogan, a Past potentate of Afifi Temple. Over 100,000 shriners and their families attended the various events of that session.

In 1960-61 the City of Seattle attempted to condemn and take Nile’s Seattle headquarters building for the upcoming Century 21 Exhibition to be held in 1962. However, the legal beagles of Nile, including lawyers Ford Q. Elvidge, Past Grand Master and the Potentate of Nile at the time, and Nile Noble Alfred J. Ring, Grand Master at the time, successfully stalemated this attempt. The Nile HQ building was leased to the Century 21 Corporation for a handsome sum while Nile nobles made even more money selling souvenirs from the Nile’s adjacent parking lot. 

In the late 1970’s Nile Temple’s Seattle location was again threatened. The building downtown was coveted by the City of Seattle for an addition to the Seattle Center grounds. The Temple was located adjacent to the Seattle World’s Fair site. The property was condemned and taken by the City in 1979, and it was necessary to move, but where? Let’s go “home” to the country club was the resolution passed by the Nile nobility.

Construction was begun on a two-story addition to the original country club and in 1983 the nobility moved in. For this move, however, the Temple borrowed no money; construction was paid with the monies received from the City of Seattle as payment for the downtown building.  Besides the Nile Temple offices, additions to the clubhouse included the gallery connecting the two lobbies, the Red Room, the Unit Kitchen, Scimitar Room, Potentate’s office and lounge, the Board Room, and unit rooms and library. A new restroom was built on the south side of the picnic area; in addition, new covered barbecue stations were erected through the picnic area.

In 1994, Illustrious Sir John G. Lien was instrumental in forming the Nile Temple Belles, whose membership was composed of the wives of deceased Nobles. There were as many as 135 active members, and they met five times a year. From their dues and luncheons, they made annual contributions of $500 to Nile.  Sadly the Nile Belles group dissolved in 2008.

Work to enlarge the golf course to 18 holes took place during the 1990’s and a full 18 hole course opened in 1998 to the public. A new pro shop was completed in 1996 adjacent to the first tee. This was accomplished by volunteer labor, under the direction of Nobles Andy Warner and Bud Wheat. Ralph Wright donated a building, which was taken apart and the materials were used in the new construction along with other materials necessary to complete the new, two-story building.The building which was repainted in 2012 consists of the actual pro shop, which is located on the upper floor of the building, a few steps below the level of the first tee, and the cart storage area which is provided on the lower level.

A bond program was successfully initiated in 1998 to retire the commercial loan required to enlarge the golf course to 18 holes. Bonds were sold to members and to lodges with a history of support of Nile programs and 1.5 million dollars were raised. The bonds were eventually retired in 2011. In 2008, a variance from the City of Mountlake Terrace was obtained and a 15 foot high state-of-the-art digital sign to advertise Nile and its facilities was erected near the entrance to Nile off 205th Street. In 2011, Nile started a Halloween Haunted House fund-raising venture which is proving to be one of its most successful fund raisers. Currently, this event is ranked as one of the top 5 haunted house fright sites in the Pacific Northwest and is now known as the Haunted Nightmare.

Today the Nile property consists of approximately 93 acres with over 3,000 feet of choice waterfront on Lake Ballinger, a popular, public 18 hole golf course, and of course the original 1928 clubhouse with its massive timber ceilinged ballroom, meeting rooms, a full-service bar, and a large commercial kitchen. Extensive picnic and parade grounds with rest room facilities and picnic shelters, recently structurally upgraded through the donated labor of the local Bricklayers Union, are available for Nile and community events. A series of warehouses provide storage space for First and Second Section equipment and their meeting areas and also house the groundskeepers’ equipment and maintenance sheds.  Well-lighted blacktop roads and parking areas for hundreds of cars enable safe access to all facilities. Finally, there is a two-story administration building which also contains several meeting rooms and a large basement area for storage and for holding Second Section in inclement weather. Not a bad investment in pleasure and happiness for the Nile Temple Nobles, their families, and friends during the past century for picnics, parades, Shrine events, and pride of ownership on an original outlay of $33,200 for the land!