Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center-part 95

Part 95: The Waiting Game

Even though correspondence continued between John C. Becker & Bro. and the Valley of Moline, it was apparent that the lines of communication were down. The Valley of Moline continued to request John C. Becker’s advice and opinion on projects outside of the stage equipment and scenery installation while Becker kept requesting a signed contract.

Becker had produced a series of scenery estimates for the Blue Lodge and Scottish Rite between 1925 and 1930.   The earliest versions included backdrops and set pieces for the 3rd, 7th, 15th, 23rd, 25th, and 32nd degrees. Stage settings depicted King Cyrus’ palace, the cathedral, the woods, the tabernacle, the treasure chamber, ancient ruins, and the ascension of Jesus. It was not until October 5, 1929, however, that Becker Bros. began finalizing their scenery installation for the new Scottish Rite cathedral in Moline – all without a contract. It had been more than five years in planning and the complex was to open the coming year. There left a record of constant negotiations.

February 1930 estimation sheet for final proposal. From the collection of Wendy Waszut-Barrett.
Last formal estimate produced by John C. Becker & Bro. for the Moline Scottish Rite. From the collection of Wendy Waszut-Barrett.

By April 22, 1929, a full year before the complex was to open, Becker even started to include pressures from other jobs in his correspondence. He explained that his scenic studio had been awarded a large contract in Indianapolis for the Scottish Rite . His underlying implication was that the Scottish Rite Valley better secure their services soon as other contracted projects will begin to take priority. Becker suggested using Indianapolis as a guide for Moline as their scenery installation would “make a very nice working layout.” In 1912, M. C. Lilley representative, Bestor G. Brown, made similar statements when negotiating the scenery contract with the Valley of Austin. During negotiations, he suggested to replicate the recent Valley of Santa Fe’s lighting plot.

Like Brown for M. C. Lilley, Becker was a Scottish Rite Mason and made a point of visiting Valleys during their Reunions. It was a good way to talk up business and propose new ideas. On May 7, 1929, Howard C. Passmore (Commander-in-Chief for AASR Moline) invited Becker to their upcoming Spring Reunion on May 22, 23, and 24 as they would be laying the new cornerstone for the building on the last day. Passmore expressed his desire to discuss the anticipated stage lighting plans with Becker during the visit. In later correspondence, Passmore thanked Becker for not only attending the Reunion, but also going over the construction plans – once again – for their new building.

During July, 1929, Becker shared with Passmore that the Indianapolis Scottish Rite project was nearing completion, but two other large Scottish Rite contracts were on the horizon. He expressed concern that if both of the projects went through, they would be unable to complete the Moline scenery in time for the opening of the facility in 1930. He wrote that he wa not “boasting” but that they were only able to do so much work “with the right kind of artists,” and that a contractual date needed to be established soon to secure these artists. Becker explained that they also needed to set aside an entire day to present all of the designs in his miniature stage, fully going through everything with the Scottish Rite committee. He added that Moline didn’t need to worry about money for the next several months as nothing was ever collected initially, not until after the contracts were signed.

By early January 1930, Becker Bros. reached out to the Valley to seal the deal, requesting some form of monetary deposit or guarantee that they would order new scenery. The Valley was still wavering with the final scenery order and Becker was starting to worry. A significant amount of effort had been invested on Becker Bros.’ behalf without securing any guaranteed income. It would not be until February 1930, that the Valley of Moline would accept the contract – only two and a half months before the dedication ceremony. The actual contract would not be signed until a month later.

To be continued…

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