California Freemason: Brick by Brick

Meet the Builders of California's Newest Masonic Lodges


By Ian A. Stewart

Above: Members of Palos Verdes No 883 celebrate the lodge′s charter ceremony on February 4 in Gardena.

Meet the Builders

The Craftsmen:
Logos № 861

Bon Vivants:
La France № 885

Something Old, Something New:
Oakland № 61

Culture Club:
GAT Jose Rizal № 882

As he sat down with the prospective charter members of what would soon become Pilares del Rey Salomon № 886, Danny Foxx started with the hard stuff. He laid out his vision for a Spanish-speaking lodge that wouldn’t just meet and confer the degrees of Freemasonry. It would also be a hub of Masonic education and involve itself in the community. Members would be expected to attend a range of private and public lodge events. They would hold themselves to high standards of personal decorum, with gossip and cliques strictly prohibited. 

Most of all, he stressed, it would require work— lots of it. “That way each brother had the chance to decide if this felt right for them,” Foxx recalls. The result was an incredibly tight-knit group—and now the 331st active Masonic lodge in the state

Since 2015, the Grand Lodge of California has made a priority of developing new lodges in order to establish a wider presence and offer a greater range of choices to members. This followed a particularly fallow period for the fraternity: Between 1997 and 2004, no new lodges were chartered in California. Only five lodges that launched from 1970 to 2000 are still in existence. However, in the time since then, a whopping 36 new lodges have opened up (including two research lodges), along with four more under dispensation. Of those, 25 were established since 2017. 

Rather than simply expanding the fraternity’s footprint, these new lodges have in many ways redefined Freemasonry in California—not only in terms of how it works but also what it looks like.

Building a New Presence

Chartered just last fall, Pilares del Rey Salomon № 886 is emblematic of this new approach, one that emphasizes intimate groups guided by clearly defined goals. Whereas many lodges—particularly those established during the Gold Rush—are undergirded by tradition (and membership rolls in the hundreds), these new lodges are built on ideas. As a rule they’re nimble and agile, often moving between meeting spaces. Many cater to a constituency not historically represented within California Masonry. And they’re decidedly forward-looking. 

Mark McNee, who helped found Seven Hills № 881 in San Francisco in 2021, says he’s seen members reinvigorated by the challenge of forging a new culture from scratch. “We sought an environment where change and adaptation are embraced as the norm,” he says. “Our aim was to avoid being constrained by the notion that we had to adhere to traditional practices simply because that’s how things have always been done.” 

Without their own hall or an endowment to fall back on, these lodges face significant challenges, both psychically and financially. Charlie Cailao, the current master of Palos Verdes № 883, points out that his lodge received its charter over Zoom. As a lodge without a home, his group relied on an unusual commitment from its members to stay together. 

That was certainly the case for the eclectic band behind Ye Olde Cup and Ball № 880. Formed as the first “affinity” lodge in the state, Cup and Ball is made up of Mason-magicians, who, like traveling performers, initially moved from lodge to lodge around Southern California as a sort of road show, finally setting up shop at Los Angeles’s venerable Magic Castle, which secretary Rob Pepple now describes as “not just a background but a character in the story of our lodge culture.” Meeting there, he says, “gives the lodge a sort of double layer of mystery to it—one that we’re thrilled to share.” 

Ethnically diverse, culturally attuned, sometimes proudly eccentric, these groups show that while building a lodge is no easy feat, it’s also worth the reward.

Photograph by:
Mathew Scott

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