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History for Sale: Harrisburg’s Zembo Shrine Put on the Market

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The stunning Zembo Shrine

One of Harrisburg’s most unique historic buildings is up for sale, as the Zembo Shriners have placed their iconic temple on the market.

A few weeks ago, the Lemoyne-based Bill Gladstone Group listed the 62,621-square-foot building for sale for $950,000.

The building, at N. 3rd and Division streets, long has been home to the Shriners, the Harrisburg affiliate of the international fraternity that follows Masonic principles. In addition to serving as meeting space for the society, the building may be best known throughout central PA for hosting the annual Zembo Shrine circus, in addition to many other large-scale events.

“It’s been a kick in the gut,” said Michael T. Govora Jr., a past potentate of the Zembo Shriners. “But we simply can’t afford to do it anymore. It’s a matter of manpower and money.”

Govora said that aging and declining membership, as well as increasing costs for such expenses as property taxes and utilities, are forcing the sale. Moreover, the Shriners want to make certain that they’re able to continue with their principal mission—raising money for 22 children’s hospitals.

“We’re looking at this as a positive,” Govora said. “We’re looking for our fraternity to be fruitful for years to come and not run out of money keeping something we can’t afford.”

The local organization currently has about 2,200 members, he said, down from about 10,000 four decades ago.

Built in 1928-29, Zembo was designed in the Moorish Revival style, with flourishes of Art Deco, by noted local architect Charles Howard Lloyd. The Shriners selected Lloyd’s design following a heated competition involving some of Harrisburg’s best-known architects, according to “Building Harrisburg,” Ken Frew’s history of the city’s architecture. Zembo cost about $1 million to build.

Both Govora and Gladstone said that it may take awhile to sell the cavernous stone-and-masonry building, given its unique design and features, which include rooms full of dazzling, imported tiles, a large auditorium, a 120-foot minaret and 300 parking spaces.

“So much history is attached to it, so many events have been held there,” Gladstone said. “To their credit, they realized that the time had come to sell.”

David Morrison, executive director of Historic Harrisburg Association, described Zembo as “the second-most iconic building in Harrisburg after the Capitol.”

“It’s played a huge role in the community,” he said. “A lot of events have taken place there over so many years–presidential candidates, important performers. So, its history is unique.”

Morrison said he expects another institutional user would be most interested in the property.

“Across the street, you have the William Penn campus,” he said. “That makes it a unique district, and the centerpiece is the Zembo center.”

As for the Shriners, Govora said that sale of the property will help them survive as a group and continue their mission. They may ask the buyer to lease back meeting space to them or they might find another, smaller location in the Harrisburg area.

“There’s no need for people to get too nervous because we’re not going anywhere as a fraternity,” he said.

To learn more about sale of the Zembo Shrine, visit http://billgladstone.com/Listings/Commercial/Sale/2801_North_Third_Street/2801_North_Third_Street.html.

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