Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Historic Zembo Shrine off the sales market, organization opts to keep building, focus on events

Zembo Shrine

Harrisburg’s historic Zembo Shrine is no longer for sale, as the fraternal organization has decided to keep and restore the building.

According to the Zembo Shriners, the group plans to retain its 92-year-old building and focus on reviving it as an event space for the Harrisburg area.

“The Zembo Shrine has always been a big part of the city, and we are interested in keeping it a part of the city and keeping that heritage alive,” said Seth Anthony, a Shriner board member. “We want to bring the building back to its former state as a premier events venue.”

The 62,621-square-foot building, at N. 3rd and Division streets in Harrisburg, was put on the market in 2017. The group determined that keeping the large building would be too difficult, considering declining membership and the increasing costs of taxes, maintenance and utilities.

Over the five years that it was for sale, the building received three offers, according to Mike Smith, potentate of the Zembo Shriners. It was originally listed at $950,000 and most recently lowered to around $700,000. One potential buyer came very close to purchasing the building, but all offers eventually fell through.

“We were left at the altar three times,” Smith said. “We were tired of that. We needed to focus on what we do.”

The Moorish Revival-style building will continue to serve as a meeting place for the Shriners and as an events venue.

Anthony said that some restoration and updates are needed, such as work on the roof of the building, which will take a few years to complete.

But overall, David Morrison, executive director of Historic Harrisburg Association, said that the building is in great shape.

“It’s been very well maintained,” he said. “I’m very optimistic that what they’re planning is very do-able. This building is one of a kind in Pennsylvania, not to mention Harrisburg.”

Morrison was happy to hear that the Zembo Shrine was pulled from the market.

“Retaining ownership is so much better,” he said. “They know their own building.”

According to Anthony, the Shriners have received increased interest in rentals of the event space. He believes that some of that is due to a “post-COVID bounce back” of people looking to host and attend events, he said.

Anthony also announced that the Zembo Shrine Circus will return to the building’s auditorium from March 24 to 27 after a pandemic break. There will be no animal acts in this year’s show, he said.

As the Zembo Shriners set off in a new direction, Smith hopes to find ways to generate revenue for the group in order to maintain the building. Membership dues will not continue to sustain the organization, Smith explained.

They are currently beginning the process of registering the building with the National Register of Historic Places, which would allow them to apply for grants.

“We are so excited and I’m so admiring of what they want to do,” Morrison said. “I know they’ll succeed.”

Zembo Shrine is located at 2801 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit their website.

 

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