The large open halls of the former Masonic Temple in Spokane are mostly empty except for occasional event bookings. But a former caretaker keeps a watchful eye on the historic Riverside Avenue neighborhood, nearly a decade after the Freemasons left the building.
His name is Senmut.
Originally built in 1905 on the banks of the Spokane River and ironically located across from the Freemasons’ historic rival, the Catholic Church’s Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral, the building is a marvel of neoclassical-revivalist architecture , adorned with ancient symbols and inscriptions within its approximately 118,000 square feet. Senmut, an ancient and powerful architect from nearly 3,500 years ago, is one of them.
Four stone busts of Senmut guard each of the two southern entrances to the building, which curves gently around the curve of Riverside Avenue.
Freemasons left the building in 2013 when it became apparent that it was too large for the dwindling number of Masons and associated fraternal organizations to fill. The building was sold the same year for $1.1 million to Australian businessman Greg Newell, chairman of Power Handling. The building houses the company’s offices, as well as the events hospitality company Riverside Place.
While the temple and its secrets are closed to the public outside of private events, Senmut remains one of the most public issues at the former Masonic Temple in Spokane.
Who was Senmut?
Senmut: The man, the myth, the legend
Senmut, often spelled as Senenmut and translated as “mother’s brother”, was one of ancient Egypt’s most famous architects, best known for his work during the height of the Old Kingdom’s power.
Despite humble origins, Senmut’s story is one of meteoric success and rise to the highest echelons of power. Although he was born into what one might consider a middle-class family, Senmut made a name for himself in one of the most revered roles of the ancient Egyptian empire: architect.
He is perhaps best known for his close association with Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled the empire when her nephew and heir to the throne was still a child. Senmut, who probably began her architecture during the reign of her husband, Thutmose II, was considered one of the queen’s closest companions, her most trusted adviser, and was even said to have been her lover and the father of her daughter Neferure, whom he framed, according to some historical accounts.
After the death of her husband Thutmose II, Hatshepsut was appointed regent. But a few years later, she proclaimed herself pharaoh — even posing as a male god-king — in what some early Egyptologists saw as a plot to wrest power from her young nephew, Thutmose III, according to the Smithsonian. . More recent theories suggest his ascension was a political move to protect the young heir, the Smithsonian said.
Hatshepsut was one of the few women to rule Egypt in a time of peace and prosperity. Throughout, Senmut was by her side, advising her and rising through the ranks of power.
The Queen’s architect led the most important building projects during her reign. Among the nearly 100 different titles Senmut achieved in Egyptian high society, he was appointed “temple overseer” and led the construction of the queen’s mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri, one of the most ambitious at the time. Senmut also built two 100-foot obelisks – the tallest of their day – in honor of Hatshepsut.
As for him, Senmut had what the Smithsonian described as a “staggering” 25 personal monuments for a non-royal. Although Senmut built himself a tomb near that of Hatshepsut in the Valley of the Kings, the fate of the famous Egyptian architect is unknown.
After Hatsheput’s death there was an apparent attempt to deface many of her monuments and essentially “rewrite history” during the reign of her nephew Thutmose III.
Senmut’s legacy lives on in Spokane.