Chelsea Music Festival
The General Theological Seminary. Photo by Ryan Muir/Chelsea Music Festival.

Chelsea is one of New York City’s most hip and artistic areas, thanks to its prominent arts district, The High Line, Chelsea Market, and a number of long-time institutions that helped build Chelsea into the attractive neighborhood it is today. The bustling area in the southwest of Manhattan has had quite a storied past, from deadly riots to the “West Side Cowboys” to a two-century-old Masonic Lodge.

Chelsea has been a desirable neighborhood since the 1750s when Thomas Clarke, a British Captain, purchased waterfront property and named his estate “Chelsea” after a soldiers’ home near London. Originally, the “neighborhood” was a ten-square-block plan consisting of what is today the area between Eighth and Tenth Avenues, and 19th and 24th Streets and has expanded since. Chelsea enthusiasts often cannot agree on just where Chelsea is, with some saying from 14th to 30th between Sixth Avenue and the Hudson River — and others very much disagreeing. Beyond geography, we offer you sixteen secrets of Chelsea.

1. There’s a Grand Masonic Lodge in Chelsea

Grand Lodge of New York

The Grand Lodge of New York is the largest and oldest independent organization of Freemasons in New York. Founded December 15, 1782, the Grand Lodge has jurisdiction over around 60,000 Freemasons — fraternal organizations whose origins trace back to local stonemason guilds. The historic structure at 23rd Street and 6th Avenue has hosted various blood drives and charitable events, as well as the New York Masonic Safety Identification Program.

It is believed that Freemasons first settled in the American colonies around the 1730s. St. John’s Lodge’s in New York City, which was chartered in 1757, is the oldest operating Lodge under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge, and it holds the Bible upon which George Washington took his oath of office. The Masonic Hall was built in 1911 by architect Harry P. Knowles, a Master Mason himself, but the current lodge meeting rooms were restored by the interior restaurateur Felix Chavez from 1986 to 1996.

The rooms are all deceptively painted plaster meant to resemble higher quality materials. The modern hall had replaced an earlier Second French Empire Style building, which was considered outdated by the time it was torn down. Historical figures such as Robert R. Livingston, DeWitt Clinton and Stephen Van Rensselaer all served as Grand Masters of the lodge.