Older homes almost always come with a unique and charming history, but one family in Indiana moved into a house that has a particularly strange past.
Two years ago, Theresa and Atom Cannizzaro bought a former Masonic temple in the Midwest that acted as a meeting place for one of the world’s most secretive organizations for almost 100 years. Now the couple and their three children — a 12-year-old boy, a 10-year-old boy, and a 6-year-old girl — are renovating the building and turning it into their home.
From large open spaces to a haunted library, here’s what it’s like inside the Masonic temple that the Cannizzaro family now calls home.
In 2016, Theresa and Atom Cannizzaro were living in San Diego with their three children when they decided they wanted to move to the Midwest.
Theresa and Atom had lived in San Diego their entire lives and planned on raising their children there, but they soon realized that they wanted something different: a big farm in the Midwest.
“We wanted to try a new place to raise our kids — somewhere where my husband wouldn’t have to work 80 hours a week,” Theresa said. ” We wanted to spend more time with our kids.”
After a family reunion in Indiana, Theresa and Atom drove around the state looking at farms for sale when they came across something that surprised them.
While driving around Indiana, they stumbled across a Masonic temple that was for sale.
“We turned the corner, and there was the building, right in front of us, with a for-sale sign out front,” Theresa said.
As someone who loves history and architecture, Theresa was fascinated, so they called the realtor just to see how much something like that would cost. Instead, the realtor offered to give the couple a tour of the 20,000-square-foot building.
“We spent two hours inside the building and absolutely fell in love with it,” she said, adding that “slowly but surely” they realized that “there’s so much we could do with this space.”
They ended up buying the temple for $89,000 and moved in six months later, in 2017.
“We went back to California, but it was still on our minds,” Theresa said. “We started talking through it more and did a lot of research and crunching numbers. Every single thing we talked about and every single ‘what if’ worked out, so we put in an offer on the building.”
They bought it in full for $89,000, so they do not have a mortgage and are debt-free after using the money they got from selling their San Diego home. The equity they earned from that sale funded most of the up-front remodel costs at the temple.
Theresa is a full-time respiratory specialist, while Atom stays at home to watch the children and work on remodeling the building. So far, they have spent an additional $40,000 on renovations. Since they refuse to take out loans, the remodeling process has been “slow going,” Theresa said.
The first step in the renovation was going through the items left behind in the temple when the Freemasons moved locations.
Freemasonry dates back to medieval times and is considered the oldest male fraternity and social organization. Famous members included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, and Gerald Ford.
Through the years, Freemasons earned a reputation as being part of a secret organization, leading to conspiracy theories that the group is behind many of the world’s biggest historical events.
The Masonic lodge in Indiana that Theresa and Atom bought was built in 1926 and remained the local headquarters for several years. When the Freemasons decided to move, they cleaned out most of the building but left behind a few relics.
“I knew nothing really about Freemasonry other than that it was a secret organization,” Theresa said.
Upon entering the building, you walk into a foyer with a large Masonic symbol on the floor.
The front door opens into a foyer with a large crest imprinted on the floor. The crest is a common Masonic symbol, and Theresa said she planned to keep it there.
“It’s really cool,” Theresa said. “You walk in and it’s right there on the floor.”
The symbol can be seen throughout the house.
From the main entrance, you can go downstairs into the basement, where the Freemasons held large events.
“You can easily fit several hundred people down there,” Theresa said. She added that there is a large stage in the back of the basement, where the organization would put on shows or speeches.
Theresa said her children often ride their bikes down in the basement when it’s too cold to go outside.
They plan to turn the basement into a community space that people can rent for events and weddings.
“We would like to eventually have a business out of the building that can benefit us financially, but we are uncertain about when that will happen,” Theresa said.
Behind the stage in the basement is a large commercial kitchen with six ovens, a 10-burner stove, and a deep fryer.
Theresa said they used this kitchen when they first moved into the building before they renovated the second floor. It will become useful again when they turn the basement into a community space for events, she said.
The second floor of the building was renovated to become the Cannizzaro family’s main living space.
This is the space the Cannizzaros have renovated the most, and it’s where they spend most of their time. There are five bedrooms on this floor.
In the second-floor foyer, before you enter the living space, you can see a mural on the ceiling.
Theresa and her husband have tried to preserve the mural on the crossbeams of the ceiling.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the paint on the crossbeams is starting to peel and come off, so we have to figure out how to save it,” she said.
Inside the living space is a large open area that the family uses as a living room.
Theresa described this space as an “open concept” and said they planned to fully remodel this room sometime in the future.
In one corner of the large open space, they built a kitchen.
“We built the kitchen from scratch,” Theresa said. “We custom-built everything.”
The kitchen has pull-out cabinets that move around on rollers, as well as a large island that has a concrete countertop with semiprecious stones inside.
“It’s one of my favorite spaces that we’ve done so far,” she added.
On this floor they installed a full bathroom with a bathtub.
Before the Cannizzaros moved in, the six bathrooms in the building had no place to shower or bathe.
“Our first priority when we moved into the building was to put in the shower,” Theresa said. “It was our very first project.”
Meanwhile, the Freemasons’ offices have been turned into the family’s bedrooms.
“These rooms are big,” Theresa said. “They are very, very, very large.”
On the second floor, there’s also a billiards room.
Inside are two pool tables that were built in the 1800s, Theresa said.
“They’re absolutely gorgeous, and they were left with the building,” she said.
The last room on this floor is the library — Theresa’s favorite room in the entire house.
“The entire wall is beautiful bookcases with glass fronts,” she said. The glass has the Masonic symbol etched into the surface, and the cases are filled with books that date back to the 1800s.
The third floor has a large empty room that the family calls the Egyptian room.
There is another small mural that wraps around the entire space. If you look closely, there are symbols that Theresa said remind her of Egypt, hence the name of the room.
She said this is the room where the Freemasons would store their clothing and garb that they would wear during their meetings.
The Cannizzaros, however, plan to turn this room into an Airbnb.
Also on this floor are five cedar-lined dressing rooms.
Theresa said these small closets were where the Freemasons would change into their clothing for meetings and events.
Double doors at the end of the hall lead to the Great Room, where the Freemasons held most of their meetings.
The room has 24-foot ceilings, a wrap-around mezzanine, stadium seating, an organ, and a stage.
“It is quite the magnificent space,” Theresa said.
For now, the Cannizzaros use this space as a home movie theater.
After painting one wall white, they set up a projector and now have movie nights in the Great Room. Other times, the children use the room to play hide and seek, and sometimes they invite the 15 to 20 other kids in the neighborhood over to have a Nerf-gun fight.
The family isn’t sure what to do with the room in the future. Theresa said they would most likely turn it into another rental space.
Outside the Great Room is a secret staircase that leads to the fourth floor.
On the fourth floor you can find storage and a room that stores the organ’s pipes.
Along with the secret staircase, there are other parts of the house that some may find creepy. Theresa said she thinks the building is haunted.
“There are things that have happened that we just cannot explain,” she said. “We’ve had stuff fly off shelves.”
Theresa said the library seemed to be the place with the most paranormal activity. She said she often walks into the room and notices the cabinets are wide open even though they are very heavy. Sometimes she can hear what sounds like a janitor’s keys jingling in the basement.
“I’m never scared in the building, and my kids are never scared,” Theresa said. “I don’t think it’s anything really bad that’s here.”
Despite the paranormal activity, Theresa said her family is focused on turning the building into a home and preserving its Masonic history.
“Taking on a building this size, it’s not a quick-snap decision, because it very well could be a lifelong project for us,” Theresa said. “I just hope that we continue on our path and with the goals that we set to turn this building into what it was originally built to be.”