California couple looking for Midwest farm and land instead winds up with lodge hall project

Theresa and Atom Cannizzaro are the new owners of Huntington’s former Masonic Temple, a 20,000-square-foot building that has become their home and may, eventually, house a business.
Theresa and Atom Cannizzaro are the new owners of Huntington’s former Masonic Temple, a 20,000-square-foot building that has become their home and may, eventually, house a business. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published May 22, 2017.

Theresa and Atom Cannizzaro were looking for a Midwest farmhouse surrounded by a couple hundred acres of land.

They bought a massive former lodge hall near downtown Huntington, complete with two parking lots.

“We just really fell in love with this,” says Theresa, who, like her husband, Atom, was born and raised in San Diego, CA.

The Cannizzaros — with their three kids, two cats and seven-month-old puppy — have been living in their new home for about a month, making do as they make plans to bring a more home-like atmosphere to the building that, for nearly a century, served as a Masonic Temple for Amity Lodge 483.

“It’s not set up like a house,” Theresa says, in what may be the understatement of the year.

Despite a multitude of bathrooms, there are no bathtubs or showers in the building. Atom has rigged up a temporary shower in the basement, making use of a camp shower tent and garden hoses.

“We like to camp anyway,” Theresa says.

The family’s journey to Indiana began some five years ago when they decided they wanted to leave California.

“We were just done with the expense of living in San Diego,” Theresa says. “I just wanted something different.”

She had family members living in both Texas and Indiana, so both states were possibilities. Their fate was sealed last summer when they flew to Indiana for her grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary celebration.

They drove around looking at houses, which were selling for prices far lower than the prices they were used to in San Diego. They liked the architectural detail of the old houses, and they liked the community of Huntington.

And, as their toddler daughter was verging on meltdown, they rounded a corner to see the old Masonic Temple — with a for sale sign in front.

The lodge, faced with an aging membership that found it difficult to navigate the multi-story building, had put the Franklin Street building on the market after making the move to a one-story structure on U.S.-224 east of Huntington.

The  Cannizzaros called the number on the sign and spent two hours touring the building with an agent.

They were hooked, they thought.

But back at the hotel, they had second thoughts. They called the Realtor and told him they were going to pass.

Once home in San Diego, though, they thought about it some more. They spent a week researching the logistics and the costs and, after becoming convinced there was a reason for them to buy the building, decided to go for it.

“Just every single detail has worked out,” Theresa says.

They sold their house in San Diego without putting it on the market. The buyers, who had moved to California from Marion, IN, were cousins of the Cannizzaros’ neighbors.

The Cannizzaros got the keys to the lodge hall in October.

Early this spring, they packed up their belongings in a rented 26-foot moving truck, which Atom drove to Huntington.

During their earlier visits, the couple had established a relationship with a local church, The Well, whose pastor, Josh Kesler, is also an assistant coach for the Huntington University men’s soccer team. Kesler enlisted the soccer players to help unload the truck in return for pizza and a donation to the team.

“It took us two and a half days to pack that truck,” Theresa says. “It took 15 college guys two hours to unload it.”

Atom flew back to San Diego and, in early April, the couple packed up 9-year-old Douglas, 8-year-old Quaid and 3-year-old Michaela, along with the three pets, for the 36-hour road trip to their new home in Huntington. They arrived at 2 a.m. on the Saturday before Easter.

They’ve since set up the make-do shower in the basement, a couple of temporary bedrooms upstairs and a cozy living room in
the former men’s lounge of the 20,000-square-foot building. The former lounge will eventually include a new kitchen; for now, they’re  preparing meals in the commercial kitchen in the basement.

“It’s going to take us at least a year to get it the way we want it,” Theresa says.

That’s just to make it functional as a home, she says. Completing the building will probably take five to 10 years.

The kids already feel at home — the 3-year-old puts on daily dance recitals on the basement stage, and the boys stage Nerf gun battles every day after school in the ballroom-sized lodge meeting room upstairs.

The new owners don’t really know what that giant upstairs room, equipped with a pipe organ that the 9-year-old wants to learn to play, will eventually become.

“I have no idea what we’re going to do here,” Theresa says. “It’s so spectacular and so cool.”

There’s some space above that room which will eventually become a hideout for the boys and their friends and a small music studio for Atom and Theresa.

“We’ve got the room, so we might as well,” she says.

Atom has the know-how to do the renovations — he’s already running new water lines throughout the building, a project he started after the existing water lines burst almost immediately after they moved in — and is going to take a couple years off work to do it.

Theresa, who just got a job as a respiratory therapist at Parkview Huntington Hospital, will be the family breadwinner.

The building does have a fairly new roof and a recently installed HVAC system, so Atom won’t need to work on those.

The Cannizzaros bought most of the original furniture along with the building, and the lodge members left behind an entire library of old books, paperwork including materials from the building’s 1927 dedication and other bits and pieces of Masonic history.

“We’ll probably be finding stuff for years,” Theresa says.

Masonic emblems remain etched into windows and cast into the metal doorknobs, and Theresa says she wants to preserve that history.

Unique features include a steel safe built into the wall of what will become a bedroom, urinals set into a foot of concrete that will stay where they are, fire hoses and brass fittings original to the building and a couple of massive pool tables that are also apparently original to the building.

They also have the century-old original hand-drawn plans to the building, which they’ve digitized for easy reference. Theresa wants to have the originals framed and hung throughout the building.

“Eventually, we’re going to open a business in the basement,” Theresa says, but not for a year or two, at least.

Atom brews beer, so a strong contender for the basement space is a brewery, she says. Or maybe a mommy-and-me coffee shop, but they don’t want to compete with existing businesses in the area.

“We don’t really know,” she says. “We’ll just figure it out as we go.”

Whatever the business, it will involve tacos made in that commercial kitchen in the basement. Mexican food is a staple in the family’s former San Diego neighborhood, and Theresa says she misses the authentic taste.

The family has developed a social media following, garnering 4,870 followers, including  some from Europe and Australia, on the “Freemason to Mansion” Facebook page and getting almost 16,000 views on a video showing a walk-though of the building. Theresa’s also started a blog, freemasontomansion.wordpress.com, to document the project. They even got a feeler from HGTV, but the family decided they weren’t interested.

Theresa says she started the Facebook page on a whim and is amazed that it’s drawn so much interest.

“I thought, ‘Who’s going to really follow this?’” she says.

Lots of people, it turns out.