Zembo Mosque. Even the name sounds cool! But if you've ever been in the place, you know that's just the beginning. Vinyl Groov played a private event at the mosque this past Saturday night and I was once again reminded of how impressive the building is. If you've never been there, google-up some pics. They didn't mess around trying to cut corners and do things on the cheap. The architecture and decor of the building wreak of pride and purpose, letting visitors know that it was designed to be a real destination, not just a place to see an event.
It had been years since I was inside the mosque so I took a stroll around in between our 2 sets. The place is basically a large square with the main room being a large, open floor with a huge, raised stage on one end and multi-level, arena style seating around the three remaining sides. Around the perimeter is a hallway with doors to various club offices. Up front are the spectacular lobby and ballroom, which remind me of the Morocco pavilion at Epcot (sorry, that's about the extent of my world travel experience). Wikipedia says the style is an example of Moorish Revival architecture.
As I was wandering around, I ran into one of the people in charge of the place. While marveling at the old-school craftsmanship, he told me that they're struggling to keep the building up and running. Taxes are very high. The mechanicals are old and in need of repair. Lack of air-conditioning in the main event room turns away some promoters and would be very expensive to install. Fraternal organization memberships are way down, including in the Shriners (a Masonic group that built, owns and runs the mosque).
The Shriners exist to help raise money for Shriners Children's Hospitals. In an attempt to both raise money for their cause and escape the increasing challenges of the building, the Shriners sold the Mosque to an investor in 2018. Or so they thought. The investor pulled out after realizing that the building would be more expensive to update than originally thought. So it's back to the struggle for the Shriners and their fabulous old mosque.
Construction on the mosque started in 1928 and the doors opened in 1930. The building is typical of the period between World Wars I and II, a time when architecture in the United States reached unparalleled artistic and mechanical heights. We really don't build things like that these days. In today's dollars,the artistic details alone would be enough to blow most modern construction budgets.
The Zembo Mosque is one of those places that make Central Pennsylvania a cool and interesting place to live and I hope it survives for the next generations to enjoy as well.
I remember seeing a show there as a little kid, but I'm interested in hearing from you. What did you see or do at the Zembo Mosque? Add a comment!