An imposing domed building called Mecca Temple lies on 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues in the very heart of Manhattan. Or at least it was once called that.
Today the building is known as the New York City Center and is a theater with 2,750 seats. When it was first built in 1923, however, it was christened Mecca Temple and served as a meeting hall for its builders the Shriners, more bombastically known as the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. And what a shrine Mecca Temple must have been for these noble gentlemen of New York with its immense green dome (now red tile) and its profuse Islamic and Arabesque motifs. Though the building is now hidden by its towering neighbors, it was once (see vintage postcard below) an imposing structure in its own right.
We can revisit our 1939 New York City Guide for a more historic perspective on Mecca Temple as it once was. It succinctly reports:
MECCA TEMPLE, the largest Masonic Shrine in the city, is at 135 West Fifty-fifth Street. The mosque-like façade is framed with shallow-arched recesses in blue, green, and orange mosaic. The hall itself, which seats 3,500, is crowned by a tiled dome surmounted by the Scimitar and Crescent. (p. 180)
The architecture style seen here is known as Moorish Revival and reflects a Western fascination with a mysterious/mystified orient, particularly with romanticized Ottoman and Andalusian elements. Such fanciful imaginings of course, extended beyond building design and is equally evident in the habit and customs of the Shriners themselves, their most notable piece of apparel being the red fez.
More images of Mecca Temple can be found over on the appropriate gallery page. Of course, if you are ever in town I encourage you to see it for yourself. It’s worth a visit.