California Freemason: Brick by Brick

Something Old, Something New


By Tony Gilbert

Oakland № 61 is a lodge that reflects its neighborhood. Nestled at the foot of the Oakland Hills, Rockridge is a place where trendy coffee shops and hip gastropubs sit among Victorian-style homes and Art Deco storefronts built in the 1920s. It’s a fitting locale for the new lodge, which held its first stated meeting in December 2023. In fact, old-meets-new is something of a calling card for the group: Even though the ink is still drying on its new charter, the lodge’s history stretches back to Oakland’s earliest days. 

That much is visible from the lodge’s façade on College Avenue, a little slice of old-town charm that recalls a time when Masonic lodges were one of the most visible anchors of any community. And yet, despite the lodge’s deep roots here, there’s a palpable sense of newness to the endeavor. “I really enjoy the process of dreaming out loud and building teams who independently set and achieve goals for the organization,” says Cal Gilbert, the lodge’s first master. 

Members of Oakland Lodge No. 61

At Oakland No. 61, "Great Fellowship and Hard Work"

Oakland № 61 started as a proposal to combine two existing lodges, each with its own storied identity and unique culture: Live Oak № 61 and Oakland-Durant-Rockridge № 188 (itself the result of several mergers in the 1980s). In most cases, consolidation is a last resort for lodges—particularly for those with as much tradition as the two Oakland groups. (The lodges trace their charters back to 1855 and 1868, respectively. In fact, Live Oak № 61 was the first Masonic lodge in Alameda County and counts some of the most influential early Oaklanders, including Francis K. Shattuck, among its past members.) But more than a simple consolidation, the idea in Rockridge was to form something new—a third identity, unique and apart from its two progenitors. “I’m not sure what the culture of the lodge will end up being,” says Ben Newsom, the first senior warden of Oakland № 61. “But if I know these brothers like I do, it will be one of great fellowship and hard work.” 

Members of Oakland Lodge No. 61
Cal Gilbert (center) is the inaugural master of Oakland No 61. Tigran Agadzhanyan (left) was past master of Oakland-Durant-Rockridge No 188; Tyrone Davis-Eugene (right), was the last master of Live Oak No 61.

The group already had a leg up on that front. Many members of the nascent group were already dual members of the two heritage lodges, including Gilbert and Newsom, so many of the lodge brothers already knew one another well, dining together and supporting one another’s practice nights and degree conferrals. 

So, following the sale of the Oakland Masonic Center on Broadway in 2022, Live Oak № 61 began holding its meetings in Rockridge. The conversation soon pivoted to joining forces with its sister group. They were welcomed with open arms. “There are traditions from each lodge that will still be there to be celebrated, but we’ve left room to create new ones,” Newsom says. “Our mindset now is that we are Oakland № 61.”

That’s not just talk: Beginning this year with the junior warden, the lodge has an officer line made up of all first-timers—further emphasizing the sense of a fresh start. With new leadership, members say, comes the hope of fresh ideas and a willingness to create a new history. “The future of this new lodge belongs to them,” Gilbert says of the current crop of officers. “I wanted to convey a sense of opportunity and to inspire brothers to join in on the creation of a new culture. Since we’re new, everything is a first and we celebrate that.”

Above: Members of the two consolidated lodges—Live Oak No. 61 and Oakland Durant Rockridge No. 188—go through the groups’ collection of paraphernalia.

Staying Rooted in Oakland

So far, members say the reformed lodge is committed to making its mark through philanthropy. With a roster of more than 300 thanks to the consolidation, it certainly has the manpower. Already, the group has held a pancake breakfast to benefit nearby Claremont Middle School, and members have coordinated clean-up days with Friends of the Rockridge-Temescal Greenbelt Park. The lodge also plans to continue its predecessors’ support of Masonic youth groups, Raising a Reader, and Oakland Little League.

Rockridge Masonic Hall Sign in Oakland, CA
The new Oakland No 61 meets at the circa-1926 Rockridge Masonic Temple.

Within Masonry, the group has also set out to make its new name known. The lodge hosts a monthly book club (open to all Masons), plus frequent lectures, dinners, and social events including the annual Feast of St. John the Evangelist.

This may be the only new lodge with such a fabled past. The connection between yesterday and today is a profound one for Gilbert and Newsom; both men feel that their lodge affiliation amounts to a deeper, more intimate bond, connecting each to previous generations. Newsom says his father, two of his uncles, and both of his grandfathers were members of Live Oak № 61. Gilbert recalls that when he was raised as a Master Mason in Oakland-Durant-Rockridge № 188, his mother gave him his father’s Masonic ring.

Family connections like those—and the deep roots running through the lodge like the symbol of Oakland itself, the Live Oak tree—mean that Oakland № 61 is unlike just about any other new lodge in the state. And this one is just sprouting. Gilbert, for one, says he can’t wait to see what it grows into.

“In the end, I just hope to be a small part of the formation of something extraordinary in Masonry,” he says.

Above: Nicholas Hayworth leads the combined membership in for its first stated meeting as Oakland No 61.

Photograph by:
Winni Wintermeyer

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