The historic Zembo Shrine in Harrisburg is no longer for sale, as the fraternal organization decided to preserve and restore the building.
According to the Zembo Shriners, the group plans to retain its 92-year-old building and focus on revitalizing it as an event space for the Harrisburg area.
“Zembo Shrine has always been an important part of the city, and we want it to remain a part of the city and keep that heritage alive,” said Shriner board member Seth Anthony. “We want to return the building to its former state as a premier event venue.”
The 62,621 square foot building, at No. 3rd and Division Streets in Harrisburg, was put on the market in 2017. The group determined it would be too difficult to maintain the large building, given declining membership and rising tax costs, maintenance and utilities.
In the five years it was up for sale, the building received three offers, according to Zembo Shriners potentate Mike Smith. It was initially listed at $950,000 and more recently lowered to around $700,000. A potential buyer nearly bought the building, but all bids ultimately fell through.
“We were left at the altar three times,” Smith said. “We were fed up. We had to focus on what we were doing.
The Moorish Revival style building will continue to serve as a meeting place for Shriners and a venue for events.
Anthony said some restorations and updates are needed, such as work on the roof of the building, which will take a few years.
But overall, David Morrison, executive director of the Historic Harrisburg Association, said the building was in very good condition.
“It’s been very well looked after,” he said. “I’m very optimistic that what they are planning is quite achievable. This building is one of a kind in Pennsylvania, let alone Harrisburg.
Morrison was happy to hear that the Zembo Shrine had been taken off the market.
“Retaining ownership is so much better,” he said. “They know their own building.”
According to Anthony, the Shriners have seen increased interest in renting the event space. He believes part of this is due to a “post-COVID rebound” of people seeking to organize and attend events, he said.
Anthony also announced that the Zembo Shrine Circus will return to the building’s auditorium from March 24-27 after a pandemic hiatus. There will be no animal acts in this year’s show, he said.
As the Zembo Shriners take on a new direction, Smith hopes to find ways to generate revenue for the group to maintain the building. Membership dues will not continue to support the organization, Smith explained.
They are now beginning the process of registering the building with the National Register of Historic Places, which would allow them to apply for grants.
“We’re so excited and I admire what they want to do so much,” Morrison said. “I know they will succeed.”
Zembo Shrine is located at 2801 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit their website.
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