The former home of The Banner-Press is getting some new residents.
The Fidelity Masonic Lodge #51 in David City purchased the building located at 339 E St. in October 2018. The group hopes to have it fixed up and converted into its new meeting hall by 2021.
Lodge members Mike Jones and Rex Rehmer said the group currently meets on the second floor in the building at 460 E St. Because many of its members are senior citizens, Jones said the lodge has been looking for a meeting spot on the ground level for the past five years. At one point, the group even considered buying a plot of land and constructing a brand new facility.
But then in July 2018, The Banner-Press moved into its new home next to the Thorpe Opera House. Vincent Laboy, the regional publisher of The Banner-Press, said Lee Enterprises sold the media company's former building because it wasn't necessary when it came to the newspaper's success moving forward. He noted the sale was a win-win for everybody involved.
"I’m glad that the building sold to a local organization," Laboy said. "Since the consolidation of printing operations years ago, the building was just too big for our needs. We tried different ways to utilize the extra space over the years, but selling it was best for us, for the building (upkeep and maintenance), and for downtown David City.”
Jones said everything fell into place when a lodge member passed away, as that person gifted a substantial amount of money to the lodge in his will. The timing worked well, too, since the building was put up for sale.
“I don’t know whether to call it fate or the stars aligning,” Jones said about the sale. “The building is pretty sound. For us, it’s a blank sheet of paper that we get to start with. It’s pretty exciting.”
Lodge members are currently in the process of clearing out the building. Jones said they have taken large volumes of cardboard and paper to a recycling center and have disposed of several truckloads of other waste.
Rehmer said members have discovered several historical treasures while cleaning. Newspapers dating back to the 1890s, documents and photos left behind by the paper are planned to put on display inside the lodge's new home. Items relating to former Banner-Press owner Jack Tarr and musician Bud Comte will be kept, while anything else of value will be donated to the Butler County Historical Society.
“We want to capture history, that’s why it’s pretty important to us to save things,” Rehmer said. “That's what the masons are about, we’re all about history … We don't want it to be a community center with just pretty pictures on it. We want there to be a story, at least that’s the way I envision it. I expect to see a story up here about who and what we are.”
The building should be all cleared out at some point this month. The next phase will be renovating the building’s interior. Work will also be done on the building's exterior by removing the western door, awning, and completing work on the northern facing exterior. The building’s Banner-Press sign will be donated to the historical society.
Fidelity lodge’s charter dates back to June 25, 1874. The lodge merged with the Freemasons from Rising City in 2010, who had previously merged with lodges in Surprise, Ulysses and Shelby. Its current meeting spot is used by the lodge, Order of The Eastern Star and Job's Daughters International. Once the new center is completed, Jones speculated the lodge would continue to use its old location for other functions.
Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at email@example.com.