Located in the Borough of Collingswood, the Scottish Rite Auditorium is one of the largest privately owned theatres in South Jersey. Resting on several acres of land, the Scottish Rite property is comprised of two separate buildings. The largest building is a five-story structure that houses the Collingswood Grand Ballroom on the bottom floors and the Scottish Rite Theatre on the top floors. Both facilities are operated by the Collingswood Foundation for the Arts. Connected to this structure by a narrow breezeway is the Hurley Mansion. The mansion is the oldest and most historic part of the entire property.
Built in the 1890's by William Leonard Hurley, owner of Hurley's department store in Camden, NJ, the Hurley Mansion is a three-story house built in the colonial style. Hurley was a very wealthy man and the house was used as his suburban residence away from the busy city of Camden. Upon his death in 1928, Hurley's wife sold the property to the Excelsior Scottish Rite.
Today the mansion serves several functions. The Scottish Rite freemasons operate offices on part of the ground floor. There is also a large parlor known as the Washington Parlor that is used as a bridal suite for weddings in the ballroom. The top floors are occupied by a small Masonic museum and the offices of the Collingswood Foundation for the arts.
Rumors abound that the Hurley mansion is haunted by Mr. Hurley himself. Hurley was a Knight of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order that has historically feuded with the Freemasons. It was therefore a great insult to Hurley when his wife sold the property to the Excelsior Scottish Rite. Many people who have visited the building for events or have worked in the building fervently believe that they have seen the ghost of Mr. Hurley.
Main entrance to the Hurley Mansion
In 1931, the Scottish Rite Freemasons built the main building which now houses the Scottish Rite Auditorium and the Collingswood Grand Ballroom. During construction the masons put all of their energy and creative skills into designing the theatre. Built in the art-deco style, the auditorium seats 1,050 people and has near perfect acoustics. The fantastic acoustics of the auditorium is one of its greatest and most surprising features. The theatre was originally built for Masonic rituals and classical organ concerts not rock & roll shows. The auditorium is also furnished with its original mohair seats, stained glass windows imported from Florence Italy, painted plaster ceilings, carved statues, and a fully functioning three-story pipe organ.
Since 2003 when the building was leased by the Borough of Collingswood, many renovations have been made to the theatre. In 2005, much of the rigging system for stage lights and set pieces was replaced. In 2006, a new state-of-the art lighting system was installed and in 2009 a new sound board was purchased. Future plans for the theatre include a new elevator system, more accessible handicapped seating, and air-conditioning.
View of the stage from the upper-level
The theatre was beautifully and carefully designed, but originally not much care was put in to the lower level of the Scottish Rite facility. What is now the Collingswood Grand Ballroom use to look like a bad high school gymnasium. However, when the Borough of Collingswood and the Collingswood Foundation for the Arts took over the facility in 2003, the first thing they did was to begin a multi-million dollar renovation of the ballroom.
The Ballroom during renovations in 2003
Today the Collingswood Grand Ballroom is one of the best venues in the area for corporate events and weddings. Complete with a digital surround-sound system, wireless internet access, and one of the largest dance floors in the area, it is the perfect place to host an event. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the ballroom is its elaborate central staircase.
The staircase at the Collingswood Grand Ballroom