Oakland Scottish Rite Center
IN THE YEAR 1883, Oakland was only thirty years old, but as a result of phenomenal development during the decade 1870 to 1880, Oakland rose to the position of second city of importance in California, and had a population of about 40,000. This remarkable growth had been made possible by improved transportation facilities, especially those connecting the East Bay with San Francisco. Industrial development had been fostered by estuary and harbor improvements. The transcontinental trains were arriving at Seventh and Broadway. Mansions, houses, and cottages were thickly sprinkled through the beautiful oak groves that had given the city its name. Oakland streets and many of the buildings and homes were lighted by gas lamps and the horse cars were giving what was then considered fine service out Broadway, Telegraph Avenue, San Pablo Avenue, Piedmont Avenue and east across the Twelfth Street Dam to East Oakland. There were 91 telephones in the city. The Masonic Temple at Twelfth and Washington Streets had just been completed and a number of lodges were occupying the building. The new Temple created much interest in lodge activities. A vibrant atmosphere hung over this bustling little city among the oaks.
In the summer of 1883, Albert Pike,33°, Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, was visiting, the City of Oakland. He was accompanied by Thomas H. Caswell, 33°, James S. Lawson, 33°, and Charles R. Brown, 33°, all active members of the Supreme Council. Their mission was to plant the seed of Scottish Rite Masonry in the East Bay. Upon the recommendation of Edwin A. Sherman, 32°, Past Grand Registrar of the Grand Consistory of California, twelve men were selected to receive the degrees of the Scottish Rite, from the fourth to the thirty-second. Arrangements were made and the initiation was held in the new Masonic Temple at Twelfth and Washington Streets. It was Brother Pike’s fervent hope and wish that these brethren would petition the Grand Consistory of California for Charters for a Lodge of Perfection, Chapter and Council and establish the Scottish Rite in Oakland.
Edwin A. Sherman, 32°, who assisted Pike in the selection of the candidates, was well versed in the ritual, rules and regulations of the Rite. He had received the degrees in 1868-69 in the Sacramento Bodies. When the Grand Consistory of California was established in San Francisco in 1870, he became the first Grand Registrar and held that position for three years. He was also a Deputy Inspector General for the Grand Consistory and did much to establish many of the Bodies in California. His broad knowledge of Masonry and Scottish Rite in particular was of valuable assistance in organizing the Scottish Rite in Oakland and procuring charters for the three bodies of the Rite.
The newly created Masters of the Royal Secret were men from all walks of life and from all parts of the East Bay. They were very enthusiastic in their advancement in the Rite. They had become well acquainted with Brother Sherman and his activities in Scottish Rite Masonry when in 1871, as a special deputy of the Grand Consistory, he was commissioned to confer by communication the fourth to the fourteenth decrees upon twelve Master Masons in Eureka. At the same time he was commissioned to communicate the fifteenth to the thirty-second decrees on three of the members who might be chosen to fill the principal offices in the Lodge of Perfection. He then constituted the Lodge and presented them with a Dispensation. He also visited and assisted other Lodges of Perfection, such as Marysville, Grass Valley, Vallejo, Petaluma, Placerville and Nevada City. This Mason was now to become the leader in organizing the Rite in Oakland. This may simply have been fortuitous or in fulfillment of a chapter in the Divine Plan.
It was several days after the initiation that these new members found that there were 19 other Scottish Rite Masons residing in the East Bay. Some were members of the San Francisco Bodies and some were from out-of-state. There was much fraternizing and much discussion about establishing the Scottish Rite in Oakland. Some were of the opinion that only a Lodge of Perfection should be established and others thought that the Chapter and Council should also be included. A meeting was called on September 2nd, 1883, at the Masonic Temple, Twelfth and Washington Streets, and all Scottish Rite Masons were asked to be present.
The following brethren were present: Edwin A. Sherman, 32°; Amasa W. Bishop, 18°; Charles E. Gillett, 32°; Josiah W. Dodge, 32°; Daniel W. Gelwicks, 32°; Anthony Chabot, 32°; James L. Gerrish, 32°; Robert A. Hughes, 33°; William F. Southard, 14°, and Charles F. Burnham, 32°. The meeting was called to order at eight o’clock by Edwin A. Sherman, 32°, temporary chairman. The brethren unanimously elected Amasa W. Bishop, 18°, permanent chairman, and Charles E. Gillett, 32°, Secretary.
It was at this meeting that Brother Sherman enlightened the brethren on the advisability of applying for Charters for the three Bodies in place of a Lodge of Perfection. He cited the fate of the lodges in some mining towns such as Placerville and Nevada City which depended solely on the mining industry. Other towns such as Vallejo, Petaluma, Marysville and even Stockton were also lacking in enthusiasm. The towns that had only a Lodge of Perfection finally had to surrender their Charters because the lodges had become dormant. It was proved necessary to have the Rose Croix Chapter and Council of Kadosh for encouragement and advancement.
Brother Sherman also called attention to Pythagoras Lodge of Perfection No. 11 in San Francisco, which was set up by Albert Pike to work in the German language, and gave it little hope for survival; also, to Myrtle Lodge No. 10 in Eureka with only 27 members and Pacific Lodge in Marysville with 18 members, which were just struggling along. He pointed out that the population of Oakland was about 40,000 and people were moving in every day; that there were eight Blue Lodges in the East Bay with a membership of about 636 and in the State of California there were about 13,000 Masons – a great potential for the Scottish Rite. Sherman’s remarks were well received and everyone was convinced that the right action was to apply for the three Bodies. The brethren accepted Brother Sherman’s offer to draft a petition for the three Charters. A notice was mailed to all Scottish Rite Masons in the East Bay announcing the next meeting to be held on Thursday, October 4th, at eight o’clock in the evening. The mail carriers used a horse and cart and the mail service was slow. The routes were long and homes were few and far apart, but the mail went through. The news of the meetings was now spreading, and it was only a matter of days before the brethren would hear the clarion call to join Amasa Bishop and his inspired brethren in their determination to establish the Scottish Rite in Oakland.
There was much discussion and excitement among the brethren. Many Blue Lodge Masons had heard of the endeavor and were anxious to become members of the Rite. The Board of Directors of the new Masonic Temple were endeavoring to make arrangements for a meeting night for the Rite. Enthusiasm was running high, but questions were in the air. Was it just a few brethren who were so sincerely enthused over the organization plan to cause the building up of tension? Would there be some who would point to the failure of other bodies and dampen the spirit of those newly created Scottish Rite Masons? There had been differences of opinion as to whether the petition should be for just the Lodge of Perfection or all three Bodies.
At the second meeting Thursday, October 4, 1883, Amasa W. Bishop was presiding and Charles E. Gillett was Secretary. It was at this meeting that James B. Merritt moved that the petition to the Grand Consistory be for the three Bodies and that all Scottish Rite members in the vicinity be asked to sign it. The motion was carried.
The following members signed the petition: Thomas J. O’Keefe, 14°; James L. Gerrish, 14°; A. W. Collins, 14°; Amasa W. Bishop, 18°; Edwin A. Sherman, 32°; Nathan W. Spaulding, 32°; James B. Merritt, 32°; Josiah W. Dodge, 32°; Maylon W. Upton, 32°; Jeremiah E. Whitcher, 32°; Leroy M7. Allum, 32°; Anthony Chabot, 32°; William T. Hamilton, 32°; Grant 1. Taggart, 32°; Edward H. Morgan, 32°; Alpheus F. Williams, 32°; Charles F. Burnham, 32°; James R. Glover, 32°; Charles E. Gillett, 32°; John M. Buffington, 32°; Carroll Cook, 32°; David McClure, 32°; S. T. Gage, 32°; Alpheus Kendall, 32°; E. H. Woolsey, 32°; Jason J. Braman, 32°; Malachi T. McNeely, 32°; C. Waterhouse, 32°; L. F. Relchling, 32°; William Frank Pierce, 32°; and John A. Benson, 32°.
On Thursday, October 11, 1883, the third meeting of the group was held at the Masonic Temple, and the signed petition for the three Bodies was given to Brother Sherman to present to the Grand Consistory at its meeting to be held on Friday, October 12, 1883.
The Consistory held its meeting in the Masonic Temple, corner of Post and Montgomery Streets, San Francisco. David McClure 32°, of Oakland was the Grand Master of the Consistory. He received the petition from Brother Sherman and referred it to the Committee on Chartered Bodies. On the recommendation of the Committee the Charters were granted and orders issued that the Bodies be duly constituted. It was also ordered that all the lodge paraphernalia and regalia of Naval Lodge of Perfection, Vallejo, which had surrendered its Charter, be donated to the newly created Oakland Lodge of Perfection.
This electrifying news quickly reached the brethren in Oakland. The next meeting was held Friday, October 19, 1883. Preparations were made to receive the Grand Master, David McClure, the following week, when he would constitute the Bodies and install the officers. A call for funds was made to purchase necessary equipment and the sum of $585.00 was subscribed. The Bodies in Virginia City, Nevada, which had surrendered their Charters, offered to sell their paraphernalia to the Oakland Bodies for $100.00 and the offer was accepted. All financial responsibilities of the three Oakland Scottish Rite Bodies were assumed by the Oakland Lodge of Perfection.
The members were now eagerly awaiting Grand Master David McClure. On Wednesday, October 24, 1883, all was in readiness. A delegation assembled at the Central Pacific Railroad Station at Seventh and Broadway to await the arrival of the members of the Grand Consistory and the Grand Master. After arrival, they were escorted up Broadway in horse-drawn carriages to the Masonic Temple. Here they were received by a most enthusiastic group who gave the visitors a grand welcome. Brother Sherman made the welcoming address and gave assurance to the Grand Officers “that we mean to prove ourselves worthy of this privilege and honor; that we appreciate the duties and responsibilities which will be imposed upon us, and that we are not unaware that lofty titles in Masonry, when assumed and worn, are most solemn pledges.” Grand Master McClure was then escorted to the East, the Grand Consistory officers assumed their stations and the Bodies were duly constituted and the officers installed. At the conclusion of the ceremonies the brethren adjourned to the banquet room for refreshments. Remarks were made by Edwin A. Sherman, 32°, and Amasa W. Bishop, 18°. A number of vocal selections were rendered by Thomas J. O’Keefe, 14°.
Now that the Bodies were established and the officers installed, all that was lacking was a Code of By-Laws. A committee, consisting of Edwin A. Sherman, Thomas J. O’Keefe and Nathan W. Spaulding, was appointed for the purpose of drafting the By-Laws. In the meantime the Bodies operated under the Rules of Order of the Supreme Council. At the Stated Meeting on November 11, 1883, eleven petitions for the degrees were received. On December 6, 1883, the fourth degree was conferred on the following brethren: George D. Metcalf, Charles D. Pierce, Robert W. Miller., George Patterson, James Miller, Lewis H. Brown and George Goodman. The fourteenth degree was conferred on these brethren on March 15th, 1884. By the end of the year the membership reached 54 in the Lodge, 47 in the Chapter and 46 in the Council. During the next five years the membership remained about the same. Although many of the original members passed on, the new members kept the roster at about the same level.
In 1890 the Bodies took on a new lease of life and more than twenty new members were initiated. Each year showed an increase and by 1896 the membership reached 139. Thirty new members were added to the rolls during 1896. This was a slow growth but it was the beginning of tremendous interest in the work of the Rite. The Lodge accommodations at the new Masonic Temple were found to be inadequate for the work of the Rite. New robes, drapes, hangings, and scenery had been purchased which required more storage space than available in the Temple. It was at this point that was decided to look for more spacious accommodations and preferably a place for their exclusive use.
On June 22, 1896, a Building Committee recommended the purchase of an old Synagogue at 305 Fourteenth Street, near the south-west corner of Harrison Street, and also to purchase the furniture store next to it on the corner. This would give them 100 feet on Fourteenth Street and 100 feet on Harrison Street. A Masonic Cathedral Association was organized and plans were drawn for a new building. Members of the Rite subscribed for one-half the stock and the other was secured by mortgage. In the meantime the building was renovated and furnished to meet the requirements necessary to confer the degrees and take care of the social activities.
On September 21, 1896, a special dedication meeting was called by the Masters of the several Bodies of the Rite, namely, August L. Otti 33°, Venerable Master, Lodge of Perfection; Frank H. E. O’Donnell, 30°, Wise Master of the Chapter, and Robert Edgar, 32°, Eminent Commander of the Council. The ceremony was an important and solemn occasion in the history of the Rite. The ceremonies were under the direction of Thomas H. Caswell, 33°, Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council, and W. Frank Pierce, 33°, Sovereign Grand Inspector General for California. Brother Caswell congratulated the brethren of Oakland on being the owners of the first Scottish Rite Cathedral west of the Rocky Mountains. He also reiterated a statement made by one of his predecessors, “that the members of our Rite everywhere should manifest the same spirit that animates their Brethren of Oakland.” Following the ceremony refreshments were served in the spacious banquet hall.
On January 13, 1897, at a meeting of the Grand Consistory of California, a resolution was passed that the Grand Consistory of California would surrender to the Supreme Council its charter on condition that a new Council of the Rite be formed for the State of California with all the rights and powers permitted by law to such a Council and that a charter be issued to this Consistory permitting it to continue its existence as a Particular Consistory, to be known as San Francisco Consistory No. 1 of San Francisco. W. Frank Pierce, 33°, called a meeting of all the Past Grand Masters of the Consistory and representatives from all the other Bodies and it was agreed to form Particular Consistories in lieu of the Grand Consistory.
Thomas H. Caswell, 33°, the Sovereign Grand Commander, issued a Proclamation that the Grand Consistory of California be dissolved on June 30, 1897, and that Particular Consistories be formed in cities in the State where the other bodies had been established.
At the session of the Grand Consistory of California on January 147 1897, the Oakland Bodies requested permission to establish a Particular Consistory at Oakland. Permission was granted. On September 2, 1897, at the last session of the Grand Consistory the following brethren asked for demits in order to form the Oakland Consistory: Charles E. Gillett, Charles Dexter Pierce, David W. Standeford, Charles F. Burnham, Frederick L. Krause, James B. Merritt ‘ Charles Lewis Pierce, Leroy D. Fletcher, George Patterson, August L. Ott, Johan Nord, Albert H. Merritt, Webb N. Pearce, William T. Hamilton, Robert Edgar, Edward H. Morgan, John C. B. Schlarbaum, George C. Pardee, Nathan W. Spaulding, Martin M. Samson, John Williams, Alfred W. Burrell, Brayton E. Handy, Alpheus Kendall, Clayton K. Smith, John Martin, Damien E. Fortin, Charles H. Twombly, Thomas A. Pettus, Charles W. Randall and George D. Metcalf. The Grand Consistorv refunded all dues paid in that year to these members and also refunded life membership fees.
On September 13, 1897, Oakland Consistory was constituted by W. Frank Pierce, 33°, Grand Inspector General of the Supreme Council. On December 20, 1897, the first thirty-first degree was conferred in full form on the following candidates: John C. Crook, Frank K. Mott, Robert P. Wyllie, Eugene Woodin, Henry B. Schindler, Francis F. Jackson, Henry P. Dalton, and Jay H. Riest. On December 27, 1897, these brethren received the thirty-second degree, the first candidates to receive the degrees in Oakland Consistory.
In the fall of 1897 a group of Oakland Scottish Rite Masons and their wives were asked to participate in a Masonic Charity Festival to be held in the Mechanics Pavilion, San Francisco, during the week beginning May 9, 1898. The Festival, approved by the Grand Master, Thomas Flint, Jr., was for the benefit of the new Masonic Home at Decoto. The Festival was not only a huge financial success, but it created much interest and enthusiasm among the Scottish Rite members and their wives.
With the establishment of Oakland Consistory, the new officers approved the idea of forming a Scottish Rite Ladies’ Club. On April 4, 1898, the Club was organized and Mrs. Albert L. Smith was elected President. The Club held their meetings in the homes of members. Their first venture was to purchase a piano for the Rite, and each succeeding year necessary items in the form of dishes, mirrors, flag and pole, tables and chairs were purchased and donated to the Bodies. In 1910 they contributed $250 to help pay the taxes; paid for laundering the curtains; and reconditioned the degree robes and costumes. The Club also contributed to the Almoner’s Fund until 1946, as well as other worthwhile activities of the Rite.
Since the year 1909 the Club has held their meetings in the Scottish Rite Temple. In April 1958 the Club celebrated their 60th Anniversary. The Club has truly lived up to their motto: “The best investment is Happiness, an imperishable monument to ourselves.”
Progress was slow for the next few years, but the Rite was taking a firm root. Members were carefully selected and plans were being laid for a sturdy foundation. The turn of the century brought with it a new vision and a new perspective to the community. The Masonic Home at Decoto was now a reality in operation. The war with Spain was over, soldiers were returning and many new dwellings and buildings were under construction. ty was taking a step forward and looking hopefully to the future. The nineteenth century was now history.
The year 1900 certainly showed an increase in Masonic activities. The Grand Lodge reported 1,573 Master Masons raised during the year. Oakland’s population was now about 70,000. By 1903 a new Post Office Building had been completed at 17th and Broadway and one of our Charter Members of the Consistory, George C. Pardee, had been inaugurated as Governor of California.
Membership in the Rite had reached 30°. Attendance was excellent and there was marked enthusiasm in general among the members. Even with the new quarters it was now apparent the building was not meeting the requirements of the Lodge.
The Masonic Cathedral Association, which was incorporated in 1896, had capital stock in the amount of $100,000, all of which was the property of the Oakland Lodge of Perfection. The Board of Directors were James B. Merritt, Chairman; Frank M. Greenwood, Edward C. Robinson, James T. Treadwell and Edward H. Morgan.
Tentative plans were made for the construction of a new building and the purchase of available adjoining property.
On August 7, 1905, the Lodge voted a bonded indebtedness in the amount of $100,000 with definite plans for a new Cathedral to be erected at Fourteenth and Harrison Streets. Plans were approved on April 9, 1906. The building was to be built of brick and stone with adequate Lodge and banquet rooms and not to cost over $120,000.
The big earthquake of April 18, 1906, changed all the plans and program. Real estate values increased tremendously and building costs doubled. The property adjoining the Rite was taken off the market. It was decided to look for a new location.
The Lodge instructed the Board of Directors on September 3, 1906, to purchase the property on the southwest corner of Fifteenth and Madison Streets for the sum of $17,223.75, and also to procure plans for a new building on that site. By 1908 plans were finally approved and construction started. At a meeting on February 3, 1908, it was decided not to lay a cornerstone in the Cathedral. But on March 15, 1909, Dedication Ceremonies were held and the 587 members of the Oakland Scottish Rite and their ladies were invited to witness the ceremonies. The Lodge room was filled to capacity.
It was now the first decade of the twentieth century and Oakland had made further progress. According to the Federal Census, Oakland now had a population of 150,174 — an increase of 124 per cent over the year 1900. This increase was definite assurance that the Oakland Scottish Rite was destined to become one of the largest Bodles in the West. In 1915 Grand Lodge of California records showed that there were 367 constituent lodges with a total membership of 53 179. In the East Bay there were eighteen Blue Lodges with a total membership of 5,219. The membership of the Oakland Lodge of Perfection was about 850. There was increasing interest in the activities of the Rite The new Scottish Rite Cathedral, devoted exclusively to the work of the Rite, offered much to the membership in the form of social activities, comfort as well as new facilities, lighting, scenery and costumes to exemplify the degrees.
Then came the Great World War I in 1917 – The Call to Arms — excitement, turmoil and tension. Many men of the Rite enlisted in the Service and saw action; many made the supreme sacrifice. Factories and shipyards were working around the clock. Yet with all this confusion there were men who carried on the work at home and also found time to attend Lodge and “keep the home fires burning”. These were trying times-yet we had Masons who gave of their time, energy and enthusiasm and carried the load.
Men were now looking up to Masonry. The Blue Lodges and the Scottish Rite were receiving many applications for membership. A wave of prosperity had hit the nation and it continued long after the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. By the year 1920, the membership of the Oakland Bodies had reached a total of 2,281. This was an all-time high in membership. The lodge room could not hold the crowds that attended the stated meetings. The banquet room was too small, the kitchen out-moded, ventilating and heating became a problem. In less than sixteen years the Scottish Rite Cathedral on Madison Street was found inadequate to serve the needs of the Rite.
By the year 1925 the membership of the Rite had reached 4,313, an increase of one hundred per cent or more over the year 1920. The Board of Directors of the Masonic Cathedral Association, consisting of Charles H. Adams, 33°; Bruno A. Forsterer, 32° KCCH; Albert L. Smith, 33°; Albert F. Shulte, 33″, and Frank D. Moyer, 33°, were now looking for a new building site. There were many plans and sites considered but finally the property on Oak Street was chosen and Ground Breaking Ceremonies for the new Temple were held Saturday afternoon, December 12, 1925, at 2:30 o’clock. A parade was held starting- at the Scottish Rite Cathedral at Fifteenth and Madison Streets, south on Madison Street to Fourteenth, then east on Fourteenth to Oak and north on Oak to the site of the new Temple. Over 2,000 members participated in the parade which was headed by Aahmes Temple Shrine Band, led by Arthur R. Andersen, 33° ‘ Drum Major, and directed by Herman Trutner, Jr., 33°, Bandmaster. The Aahmes Shrine Patrol, Color Guard and Chanters also participated in the ceremonies.
Simple but impressive ceremonies marked the ground breaking. Charles H. Victor, 33°, Venerable Master of the Lodge of Perfection, presided, introducing Charles H. Adanis, 33°, President of the Scottish Rite Temple Association, who presented to William Parker Filmer, 33°, Sovereign Grand Inspector General the spade with which the ground was broken.
It was not until August 30, 1926, that actual construction was started on the Temple. By March, 1927, all the steel frame work was completed and most of the concrete forms were in place. By May 14, 1927, most of the concrete had been poured and the facing of the building was now being applied and set in position.
On Saturday, June 11, 1927, the cornerstone was laid by Most Worshipful Grand Master George L. Jones, assisted by the regular officers of the Grand Lodge of California. Grand Orator Fletcher Cutler delivered the address of the day. William T. G. Jordan, 33°, Venerable Master of the Lodge of Perfection; Benjamin R. Aiken, 32°, Wise Master of the Chapter; George W. Nellis, 32° KCCH, Commander of the Council; William A. Rasmusen, 33°, Venerable Master of the Consistory, and their officers officiated. Maurice S. Stewart, 33°, was the Secretary of the Bodies. The Cornerstone Laving Reunion Class consisting of more than 200 members was held in the Scottish Rite Temple, Fifteenth and Madison Streets, in June 1927.
The first stated meeting in the new Temple was held on Monday, December 5, 1927, with an all time high record attendance.