The Level Club: A New York City Story of the Twenties: Splendor, Decadence and Resurgence of a Monument to Human Ambition

Ok so who would’ve thought that not only did NY Masons build the Grand Lodge building on 23rd and 6th, but another stupendous building on the upper west side of Manhattan. It was called The Level Club. It’s only misfortune was it happened to be completed in 1928. And now for the rest of the story.

On March 12, 1925, a delegation of Masons requested that President Calvin Coolidge lay the cornerstone for their new Masonic Club and hotel on 73rd Street between Broadway and West End Avenue. Sam A. Horwitz, the Sublime Leveler (or president), said to the President;

“Mr. President: We gentlemen represent and speak for five million Masons throughout the world. The greatest Masonic monument is about to be erected in the City of New York, costing $2,000,000, or more, which will be the first and most complete Masonic hotel and clubhouse in the world, open to every living Mason. It is the earnest desire of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Senator Wadsworth, Senator Copeland, Al Jolson, Samuel S. Koenig, Supreme Court Judges and city officials of all parts of the country who are active members of the Level Club, of which I am President, to have you, Mr. President, preside at the cornerstone, which is to be broadcast throughout the country as one of the greatest Masonic events in the history of Masonry.”

The Level Club began in the early 1920s with twenty-two members and within a span of less than five years had a membership of 5,000 Masons, including Warren G. Harding. The club, for which they wanted President Coolidge to lay the cornerstone, was to be akin to a modern university club.

Only masons would be allowed in the club/hotel. The 16 story building was planned to contain 225 sleeping room with baths, an auditorium, a ballroom, a swimming pool, a modern Turkish bath, a gymnasium, open-air handball courts, bowling alleys, billiard parlors, clubrooms, a library, and a dining room.

President Coolidge did not attend the cornerstone laying ceremonies. However, that did not put a damper on the day’s events. On October 17, 1925, a parade of 8,500 masons marched, through the streets, from the seventy-first regiment armory.

The parade included many bands and costumed masons. Unfortunately, the grand club would not last.

The Crash of 1928 arrived and upended finances from the poor to the rich. 

By 1930, the Level Club went into foreclosure. The signs had been there since the beginning. In 1928, only the first installment on the club’s $2.2 million mortgage had been paid.

Within a year, the building was sold in a foreclosure auction by the Marine Midland Trust Company of New York. In 1936, the building was converted into a conventional hotel called the Hotel Riverside Plaza.

In the years that followed it was a hotel, and it became hostel and in the infamous 70′-80’s, when the UWS was awash with drug addicts, pushers and prostitutes.

At the height of the urban decay of the 1970s it was purchased by the nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization Phoenix House and named the same.

During this period the building was neglected and abused by the residents and for a short period even a notorious nightclub operated in the lower levels and painted everything black, even hand wrought intricate woodwork was not spared as well as demolished walls and destroyed plaster hand carvings.

The Level Club Today

After changing hands a number of times, in 1984, the building was rechristened the Level Club and converted into condos.

Today, most of the original interior has been demolished, save the building’s two-story lobby. The Level Club’s exterior is another story.

The exterior was designed by Clinton & Russell as a replica of Solomon’s Temple. The facade contains the numerous Masonic images including an all seeing eye, hourglass, hexagram and beehive.

The multi-tiered facade’s most interesting iconography can be found just above the building’s entrance. There, one finds figures of Hiram Abiff and King Solomon surmounted by two pillars representing Boaz and Jachin (the pillars that guarded the entrance to Solomon’s Temple).

One hidden remnant of the building’s past is contained within its cornerstone. A copper box was placed inside of it containing: an American flag, the by-laws of the Level Club, a roster of the club, the first ritual of the Level Club, copies of reports of Sublime Levelers from 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924; a Level Club commemoration book of 1925, coins from 1925, newspapers from the day before the groundbreaking, and a trowel symbolical of the order.

According to Bruno Bertuccioli, author of The Level Club: A New York City Story of the Twenties: Splendor, Decadence and Resurgence of a Monument to Human Ambition, the building was built as a Replica of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Bertuccioli describes the building as “the only true-to-size rendering of King Solomon’s Temple that exists in the world today.”