True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Masonic Temple

I recently had the opportunity to visit with Bill McElligott and Giovanni Lombardo just outside London. I was on my way home from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a 24 hour flight, and I decided to kill two birds with one stone. Give myself a break in the long flight and visit with two brothers whom I cherish dearly.

While I was there, Bill took Giovanni and I to Saxon Hall. This building is a former industrial building that was purchased, gutted, and renovated as a masonic edifice. I write edifice deliberately, because it is not a single lodge, or even lodgeroom. This edifice houses over 50 masonic lodges in two big lodgerooms and two smaller lodgerooms.

It is a beautiful renovation, with two full bars, two lounges, a two full dinning rooms, an awesome kitchen facility, and all the accouterments you would expect to find in a class operation. You will find pictures below.

So, why do I mention this? Well, in American Masonry, there is a tendency for every single lodge to try to have its own building. In the masonic district where I live, there are four lodges. Two of them are within 3 kilometers (just over two miles) apart, and both of these two are struggling with membership issues and to keep their officer lines complete.

These two lodges would, in my opinion, be better served by, if not consolidating into a single lodge, at least sharing the facilities in one of the buildings. I have my own opinion about which building, but that is not relative here, so I will keep it to myself.

This is not a rare case. Most US lodges seem to want to have their own buildings, and that is a good thing. In California, most gold towns had a Masonic lodge, which often served as the city center/city hall/town hall/meeting hall... and often tavern. You can still travel the length and breadth of California and see these grand buildings with the square and compass on them and a cornerstone set proudly.

The cost of living, the spread of cities, urban sprawl and the population flight from downtown to suburbia has wrought many changes, and as a result of those changes and the temporary decline in masonic membership (which is even now turning around) have resulted in many of these buildings being sold.

Another result of these changes is it is very expensive to maintain a lodge in the downtown areas. One lodge in my district was in downtown Riverside until the early 1970's, until the county of Riverside, in its infinite wisdom, decided to condemn the masonic lodge so they could build a new courthouse complex. And so the lodge moved out of the downtown and out into the fringes of the city and into a new building.

The Face of Freemasonry is changing. The members are younger, more mobile, and less tied to the city centers. Yet we still have many masonic buildings with but a single lodge in them. Worse, these lodges NEED to be large lodges, that is, with memberships in excess of 200 men to support the building and taxes and utilities and...

The challenge is, lodges of over 20 men bring their own problems. No man can know 200 men well, and when there are so many men in a lodge, there is less reason for each man to participate in lodge. There always seems to be another brother willing to take up the glove and sit a station, and the others... just drift away. This is, of course, an extreme simplification of the issue, but the larger the lodge, the less each brother seems to feel he is needed.

It seems to me, after seeing Saxon Hall and its 50 lodges, each with around 50-75 members, working so well in a single building, sharing brotherly love and labor in the quarries so well, that perhaps we might consider breaking these monster lodges, with over 200 members, into two, three or four other lodges. In fact, with the aging population, a wise master might want to consider attempting a charter for a Daylight Lodge, for the older brothers who can no longer drive.

Another option, which a grand master described to me, involved a consortium of doctors who needed facilities for medical offices. They approached the lodge in their town, that was renting facilities though they owned a large plot of land. Together, they cobbled together a unique solution to both their issues. The doctors built a three story hospital building and offices with underground parking on the land owned by the lodge.

The first floor was medical offices and hospital facilities. The second floor was a cafeteria and lodgeroom facilities, and the third floor business offices. The lodge had the use of the lodgeroom and cafeteria facilities at no cost for 99 years, and the doctor's consortium took care of all costs of the building except the lodge's telephone, and at the end of the 99 years, the building would become vested in the lodge.

Perhaps its time, as demographics change, that masonic lodges and grand lodges begin looking at more... creative solutions. Not necessarily the solution noted above, but there are many situations like this where a commercial and a lodge can co-exist to the benefit of both.

There is a solution to every problem, if we are willing to think outside the box.
May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.

Saxon Hall:


Gregg Hall said...


This is happening in the GL of CA at least in my area.

The San Jose Temple has about 15 lodges, 3 york rite bodies, several OES chapters, Demolay, Rainbow, Jobs all meeting in a facility that has 3 lodge rooms meeting rooms a massive dinning room and kitchen.

There is also a lodge that had a builder build an appt complex that houses the lodge with a similar agreement to the 99 years lease.

Anonymous said...

Bars in the lodge building!!! Gee golly, i wish it was like that here!!! I am a manager at an Irish Pub in GA, about 15 years ago I couldn't have been a mason in GA because I worked in an establishment which served alcohol!!! And at one point that even disabled people who worked in grocery stores that sold beer from becoming Masons or people that owned taverns, grocery stores, package store. Does that give Masons out there how extremely conservative people are out here! LOL


ChuckEye said...

My lodge, until recently, was one of many that met at the Scottish Rite Temple, as part of the Houston Masonic Center. The Shrine has sold the land (which the Scottish Rite least half of, and in turn, leased space to us), and tomorrow night we do our first degree-work in our new home, that which has been the home of Holland Lodge #1 for many years. It works out well for all... We had to move, and Holland has a high property tax. Having more tenants made sense for them. (I think another displaced lodge is also going to use the space on another night, though the Scottish Rite in Houston still hasn't found a new home for itself, last I heard.)

Ben said...

You'll find that the vast, vast majority of masonic 'centrea' in England work on this basis.

And, not only will craft (blue) lodges meet there, but also MArk Lodges, Chapters, RAM, all sorts - the centres are equipped to change the lodge rooms around in a very, very short amount of time to allow almost any of the side-orders to meet there.

For instance, take both the Berkshire Masonic centre, near Reading, and the Middlesex Masonic centre in Twickenham, West London - both have 4 or 5 temples, along with 4 or 5 dining rooms - along with a bar in each, full catering facilities, and lounges. Both also have full office suites for administering the provinces of Middlesex and Berkshire.

On top of this, Berkshire Masonic centre has an old people's home tagged on the side to provide for older masons and their dependents who can no longer look after themselves, and a conference suite which generates further funds for the running of the centre.

In Berkshire round about 100 lodges, chapters, marks, etc meet over the year - roughly 2 or 3 a night. In Middlesex that number is nearer 200 meeting at that one centre.

Both provinces also have 4 or 5 other, smaller, centres affiliated with them - with one or two temples, at which 10 or so lodges, etc, will meet.

It's all good fun.

Anonymous said...

I serve on my lodge's relocation committee. The Scottish Rite is planning to build in the same part of the valley we've selected and have approached us. No one in my lodge trusts them to be honest landlords and if we go in with them as part owners they will have the controlling interest. Same problem. We've discussed sharing a building with two other lodges in need of a facility and I've been assured it would never work. Wonderful as a single temple for many lodges is, except in rare cases, I don't see it happening in America.

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