Grand Master Wilkins: A Grand Lodge for All
Grand Master Jeffery M. Wilkins reflects on the importance of our Grand Lodge temple—and its wonderful potential.
By Ian A Stewart
Seven years ago, when Nikolay Seraphim was hired by Santa Barbara Lodge № 192 to retouch the entryway to the stately Santa Barbara Masonic Temple, he looked over the old building from across East Carrillo Street. Each time he looked at it, his eyes kept drifting upward.
Seraphim, a stonemason by trade, had worked for years for a restoration company, bringing old city halls, theaters, and churches back to life. So he had an inkling that the four-story, circa-1925 temple was hiding a few secrets. Above him, on the second-floor balcony, something was out of place. The arched ceiling was painted a flat, dull white, unlike the ornate character of the rest of the building. So he pored over old photographs and even asked some of the longest- tenured members of Santa Barbara № 192, including 86-year-old Past Master Nevin Chamberlain, if they knew anything about the ceiling. No one did.
So Seraphim started peeling away the paint, layer by layer. And before long, the balcony’s brightly colored, gold-lined plasterwork began to emerge—an exquisite brocade of Masonic symbols and figures. Today, as one walks past the old Carl Werner–designed temple (the same architect behind notable Masonic temples in Sacramento, Oakland, and Bakersfield), it’s practically impossible not to look up and marvel at the many mermaids, candelabras, and working tools carved into the archway.
Ornate decorative plasterwork covers the ceiling of the second-floor balcony of the Santa Barbara Masonic Temple, where Santa Barbara № 192 meets.
The building’s exterior restoration offers a nice parallel to the revitalization happening within. And it underscores just how important the physical characteristics of many Masonic lodges are to the sense of community and place—not to mention intrigue—they inspire. Whereas many other lodges of Santa Barbara’s vintage decamped from their stately downtown halls in favor of large suburban centers with ample parking, those that remained in place retain a powerful connection to their town’s history. Says lodge secretary Jeff Matson, who also serves as the head of the Rose Croix chapter of the Santa Barbara Scottish Rite, it was the building’s architecture that first drew him in. After first laying eyes on its mysterious ornamentation, “I didn’t know what any of it meant, but I knew I had to join,” he says.
Today, the temple still seems to beckon to people. Standing out among the sea of Spanish-style structures in downtown Santa Barbara, the building was one of the few in town to survive the massive earthquake of 1925, which struck just weeks after the temple’s completion. In addition to Seraphim’s recent work, plans call for adding a memorial plaque to the ground-floor façade later this year, near where the lunchtime crowd hangs out. The lodge also hosts frequent movie and game nights and degree rehearsals for each of the several bodies that call it home, including chapters of the York and Scottish Rite. That’s created a sense of momentum for the lodge, which recently celebrated its sesquicentennial. “It feels like we’re being rediscovered by a new generation,” Matson says. “We’re seeing more younger guys coming in, in their twenties and thirties.”
More work is underway inside, too: A second-floor reading library is being renovated, where researchers will be able to tap into the lodge’s extensive history. (The charter for Santa Barbara № 192 is from 1868; two other since-consolidated lodges that met there, La Cumbre № 642 and Magnolia № 242, date from 1875 and 1926, respectively.) In addition to the Scottish Rite’s RiteCenter language program offices on the fourth floor, other parts of the byzantine temple include a large costume and changing room, lodge halls for the blue lodge and Scottish Rite chapters, additional offices, meeting spaces, a dining hall, and commercial kitchen. Plans are also forming to commemorate the building’s centennial in 2025.
For Matson and others, the hope is that the TLC shown for the historic temple will continue to serve as the lodge’s most visible advertisement for Freemasonry generally. At a minimum, it helped bring one new member into the fold. In fact, just a few months after beginning work on the building’s façade, Seraphim submitted his petition to join. Today, he’s a Master Mason with the lodge.
Lodge master Mark Spurlock-Brown poses on the renovated balcony.
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