Masonic Temple has August date with wrecking ball
June 14, 2006
By BRIAN WALLHEIMER
NORWICH -- The Masonic Temple's days are numbered. In fact, it could have as few as 52 days.
Dave Fowler, planning department manager for the Mohegan Tribe, said the demolition permit for the temple, which is now owned by the tribe, was submitted June 5. A 60-day waiting period will end in early August, he said. The process of tearing the building down is expected to take four to six weeks.
The land originally was sacred Mohegan burial ground. In the past century, however, the land has been built on, desecrating the graves. The tribe bought it in 1999 and is moving ahead with plans to correct what members have viewed as a historical wrong.
"You'll probably never see a building go up there as long as we have the property and have a say over it," Mohegan Tribal Chairman Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum said.
The tribe has not announced what it will do with the property once the temple is gone, but Bozsum said there are a few ideas.
One would leave it as open space with a plaque describing the significance of the area. Another would create a park with a timeline of the tribe and the property's history.
Bozsum said the tribe's Council of Elders is working on the plans and will bring them to the Tribal Council. Bozsum said the tribe does not want to create anything there that would be a target for vandals.
"It's a tough decision right now," Bozsum said. "You don't want to do too much to give people the opportunity to desecrate things."
Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, executive director of the tribe's Department of Cultural and Community Programming, said there are several items that will have to be reburied, including the remains of six people and artifacts that have been removed from the site.
Zobel said the tribe will not give much information on what will be buried or where, for fear it could be disturbed again.
"These things were dug up once," Zobel said. "We don't want that happening again."
Neighbors of the temple are anxious to see what the tribe does with the property. Some said they are worried students from Norwich Free Academy, who congregate on Chelsea Parade across the street, will start hanging out on the temple property once it is demolished.
"I'd like to see them put a nice wall between our properties," said Kirsten Olsen, who lives next door to the temple on Washington Street. "I don't want anyone walking on my property. We didn't buy a house next to a public park."
Linda Middleton, 62, lives five houses down on Washington Street. She said she would have rather seen the tribe keep the temple and use it as a museum.
"It's such a beautiful building," Middleton said. "I can see how they feel, but once the damage is done, it's done."
Norwich Planning Director Peter Davis said he doesn't expect there to be any hitches with the demolition. He said anyone could file a petition with the state Historical Commission to try to stop it, but the commission has supported the tribe's wishes for several years.
Reach Brian Wallheimer at 425-4241 or [email protected] norwichbulletin.com