IREM TEMPLE RESTORATION AND PRESERVATION FUND
The Irem Temple is the most spectacular Shriner’s Temple in the world, saving it will provide a substantial lift to our local economy. The main auditorium will be returned to its original configuration — a flat-floored hall. This would create a multi-use event space, allowing for everything from weddings to farmer’s markets and ring-based sports. It would allow our community to attract the 50% of touring acts that demand this configuration (no seats on the main floor) and be synergistic with existing downtown venues. The rest of the building will be a museum that speaks to the revolutionary history (American and Industrial) of Wilkes-Barre and the Wyoming Valley. Heritage Tourism will be a broad-based driver of economic growth in this community and saving this building is the best next step.
History of the Building
The Irem Temple building in Wilkes-Barre is a national treasure and the nation’s most significant example of Moorish Revival Architecture. With its four towering minarets and large stained-glass dome, the building is unlike any other Shriners auditorium in the world and was the crown jewel of Wilkes-Barre for over 60 years. Construction on the building began in 1907 and the building was dedicated in December of 1908. In 1931, the flat floor of the main auditorium was replaced with a sloped floor, auditorium seating, and a stage.
The building was the primary performing arts theater in Wilkes-Barre for much of the 20th century and hosted various ritual and social events for the Irem Shriners and the community at large. Thousands of local residents celebrated weddings and graduations or attended orchestra performances and theater productions within the ornamental Main Hall. The Wilkes-Barre Fraternal Order of Police held their annual fundraiser in the Irem Temple building and the radio show “Welcome Travelers,” hosted by Tommy Bartlett was broadcast live from the stage. Sadly, once newer and better equipped seated-theaters, such as The F.M. Kirby Center, entered the area, the Irem Temple Building was forced to close its doors.
In 2005, the building was bought by the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce, who had plans to preserve and revitalize the building. The preservation began in 2008 with critical roof repairs that saved the building from irreparable damage that would have ultimately resulted in demolition of the building. However, following the 2008 financial crisis, the Chamber of Commerce was not able to continue restoration of the building. Today, the Irem Temple Building is listed as part of Wilkes-Barre’s Riverfront Historic District on the National Historical Registry; a designation that requires rigorous evaluation to determine historical places that are worthy of preservation. Now, the Irem Temple Restoration Project, in partnership with key community organizations, are offering this exquisite, one of a kind Shriners auditorium a second, and final, chance at restoration.
The Future of the Building
The purpose of the Irem Temple Restoration Project (ITRP) is to restore the Irem Temple Building as part of the ongoing revitalization of downtown Wilkes-Barre. The building’s thousands of square feet of usable space will serve two main purposes. By returning the first floor Main Hall to its original configuration and leaving the stage and balcony unchanged, it will be an event and performance space unlike anything in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The remaining 18,000 square feet of usable space will be turned into a 1st-class museum/virtual-learning experience focused on the amazing history of Wyoming Valley and Wilkes-Barre.