The History of Masonry in Fresno
The first reference to Free Masonry in Fresno County appeared in the Fresno Weekly Expositor on March 15, 1871 calling for Masons in Fresno County to appear at a meeting on April 7th, at the Courthouse in Millerton, California. Five men; C.G. Sayle, Samuel Brown, J.N. Griggs, James Dunlap, and Jeff Donahoo presumably paid for the notice.
In the week following the meeting, it was reported that 10 men had attended this April 7th meeting, and that they had resolved to proceed with the formation of a new Lodge of Masons.
However, it is unclear at this time if any immediate action came about as a result of that meeting. No additional articles have been uncovered regarding the progress of the group.
The town of Millerton was subject to flooding by the San Joaquin River. With the arrival of the Central Pacific Railroad in April 1872 at a place called Fresno Station, people started moving from Millerton down to the new town on the valley floor. With the change of the county seat from Millerton to Fresno in 1874, it may have been too difficult to establish a lodge in Millerton at that time.
There are no public records regarding any informal Masonic meetings that took place from 1871 to 1875. However, some additional early organization activity must have occurred.
According to California Grand Lodge publication "One Hundred Years of Freemasonry in California" (1950), the owner of the Fresno Weekly Expositor newspaper, James W. Ferguson was a Mason, and "a man of wide vision and public spirit". This seems to infer that Ferguson had some influence with regard to the origins of Masonry in Fresno.
At some point during the 1876 "Centennial Year", a small group of Masons had become known to one another and began discussing the formation of a Lodge in Fresno. The closest Lodge was Visalia No. 128 (formed in 1859) some 50 miles to the south of Fresno, and the La Grange Lodge No. 99 (formed in 1873, now named Yosemite) approximately 60 miles to the north.
In the Jan 27, 1877 edition of the Fresno Republican, a small article appeared on page three, indicating that proceedings had taken place for the formation of a new F. & .A.M. Lodge in Fresno. The article requested that all Master Masons in good standing desiring to be charter members of the new lodge to please submit their names to Acting Secretary A.M. Clark.
It was thought that there were enough Masonic sojourners in the area who had settled in the Fresno area as a result of the gold fields in the northern counties of California, the silver lode in Nevada and men coming from back east to generally seek their fortunes in the west.
According to the Memorial and Biographical History of the Counties of Fresno, Tulare and Kern, California - Chicago, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1892, “Fresno Lodge” had on April 12, 1877 been granted a Dispensation to assemble as a Lodge.
On April 25, 1877, a meeting of all charter members of Fresno Lodge took place in the Odd Fellows Hall, at Mariposa and 'J' (now named Fulton) Streets. An announcement was made by-way of a classified ad in the Fresno Republican on April 24, 1877. Interestingly, the Masonic Square and Compass was printed upside-down. The announcement was signed O.S. Putnam, Master.
At the first meeting, the newly formed Lodge elected the following officers: Orville Seth Putnam (Employee of Siverman & Einstein Dry Goods), W. M.; Samuel Goldstein, S. W.; Angus Marion Clark (Fresno County Clerk), J. W.; George Bernhard (Merchant), Treasurer; C. G. Sayle (Dry Goods Proprietor), Sec.; William H.A. Creed (District Attorney), S. D.; A. Kutner, J. D., and R. H. Fleming, Tyler.
Fresno Lodge UD met every Saturday evening at the IOOF Hall (reported in the May 5, 1877 edition of the Fresno Republican) until 1881.
During the annual communication of the California Grand Lodge in October 1877, it was determined that the relatively new Fresno Lodge had not satisfactorily developed. A year later, on Oct 10, 1878, the new Fresno Lodge F. & A.M. No. 247 was granted a full charter by the California Grand Lodge, John Mills Brown, Grand Master and Alexander G. Abell, Grand Secretary.
At that time, the Grand Master appointed William H. A. Creed, W. M.; Samuel Goldstein, S. W.; and Angus. M. Clark, J. W. The Lodge has been ably presided over by the following Worshipful Masters: O. S. Putnam, W. H. A. Creed, A. M. Clark, E. D. Edwards, A. C. Williams, H. Levy, E. F. Selleck and S. B. Tombs. Total membership to date, degrees and affiliation, was 197.
The following month, Nov 9, 1878, Fresno Lodge No. 247 held an Initiation Ceremony, with William H. Creed serving as Worshipful Master. (Reported in the Fresno Republican on Nov 16, 1878, page six.)
While Fresno Lodge met at the IOOF Hall on Saturdays, some ads placed in the newspaper indicated that stated meetings would be held on the Saturday preceding the full moon. Many lodges in California followed this practice, especially Lodges in the mountainous regions. They became known as "Lunar Lodges". Since there were no lights, a Stated Meeting that was held closest to the full moon gave the brethren some light by which they could find their way back home. Because the lunar month and the calendar month are different, this would give rise to the possibility that stated meetings were not held on the same day each month (for example, the third Friday of the month).
Fresno Lodge held its meetings on Saturdays from 1878 to 1884. In 1885, they moved their stated meetings to Friday nights.
The installations of new officers in the various Fresno Fraternal Lodges (IOOF, Knights of Pythias) were extraordinary lavish occasions, and Fresno Lodge was no exception. The Grand Ball of December 23, 1881, held at the Metropolitan Hall, was heralded as "the finest affair of this kind ever witnessed in this city".
In 1881, Fresno Lodge moved its monthly stated meeting location to the Winchell Building on Mariposa Street.
In October 1885, talk had started about building a Masonic Temple in Fresno. The lodge room in the Winchell Building had become inadequate, and the population in Fresno was increasing dramatically (from 1,000 in 1880 to 11,000 in 1890).
During the week of Nov 14, 1885, excavation work began for the construction of the new temple at Tulare and 'J' (now named Fulton) Streets. The cornerstone for the building was laid on Dec 4, 1885, by Most Worshipful Wiley James Tinnen, California Grand Master, with time-capsule placed inside the stone.
June 24, 1886 was the projected date for dedication of the finished work. The Honorable P.D. Wigginton was to deliver the address at the Dedication Ball. The San Francisco Electric Light Company demonstrated a relatively new invention; the electric light bulb.
This new three-story building was 100' by 55', with business offices on the first, meeting rooms for non-Masonic organizations on the second floor, and a lodge room and banquet room exclusively for Masons on the third floor. The work was contracted to Carl, Crowly & Abernathy of Stockton, California at an estimated $19,199 to build. Later, it was reported that the cost of the new building was approximately $30,000.
At the time, the California Masonic Code required that any lodge building constructed would be at least two-stories, with the lodge room on the upper floors to better protect the secrets of the lodge. This Masonic Temple Building also housed a number of businesses; attorneys, real estate agents (Hughes & Sons Real Estate), insurance agents, a drug store (Smith Brothers) and a furniture store.
The economic boom period of 1880's, which gave rise to the construction of the Masonic Temple Building, turned "bust" in the 1890's. The Lodge, unable to fully shoulder the financial burdens of owning the structure, sold the building to Jeff G. James of San Francisco, but continued to rent and occupy the third floor.
In June 1887, repairs to the roof of the building nearly resulted in a fire. The hazard was quickly attended to and a fire avoided. But the Temple would not be so fortunate six years later.
On August 6, 1893, a disastrous fire destroyed the Masonic Temple Building. The fire was first thought to have begun on the roof of the Goldberg & Bowen building on 'I' (now named Broadway) Street between Kern and Tulare streets, opposite the Hughes Hotel. But later it was determined that the fire started in the rear of the Williams Furniture store.
By the time the chemical truck of the fire department had arrived, the roof of the Goldberg building was engulfed, and the tower of the Masonic Temple immediately adjacent was smoking. Within twenty minutes after the alarm was sounded, the entire block was a blaze. The fire was so intense; it blistered the paint on the Hughes Hotel building across the street. The guests of the Hughes Hotel were awakened and guests and hotel employees busily soaked blankets and placed them on the awnings and eves of the hotel building to prevent embers and intense heat from igniting the structure. As the fire raged, the west wall of the Goldberg building fell into the street, followed ten minutes later by the Einstein building. The Masonic Temple building was in ruins; the second and third floor had collapsed. Only the ground floor masonry walls were standing.
The Fresno Republican reported that Jeff G. James of San Francisco, owner of the Masonic Temple Building, suffered an estimated loss of $30,000, and was only insured for $10,000. Smith Brothers Drugs, a building tenant, had an estimated loss of $3,000. As the Masonic Temple Building was home to a number of other fraternal organizations, the following losses ensued; Fresno Masonic Lodge No. 247, $1,500, insured for $750; Pythian Sisters, $300, no insurance; Hermann Sons, $400, insurance $200; Knights Templar, all uniforms and paraphernalia, $9,000, insurance $1,500; Royal Arch Chapter, $1,000, insurance $600; Arion Singing Society, $350, insurance $150; Order of the Eastern Star, $700.
County Recorder Angus M. Clark ran into the burning Masonic building and was able to save the Knights Templar Commandery records, but all other Lodge records were lost in the fire.
A woman living in the Einstein building reported men running from the Goldberg shortly before the flames broke out. The Fresno police indicated that they were in possession of evidence that pointed to an incendiary theory. Over the following weeks, there would be much controversy regarding how an entire block of buildings could have burned, and how the buildings could have been saved. The ability and tactics of the Fresno Fire Department was questioned, as well as the capability of the La France trucks and equipment, and the pipelines (hydrant) and pressure.
On August 10, 1893, in the sweltering summer heat, the work of removing the rubbish of the fire began. A number of Masonic jewels, swords, and other relics of the fire were unearthed. That same evening, Fresno Lodge No. 247 held a meeting in the Odd Fellows Hall to discuss plans for rebuilding a new Temple. It was proposed that another three-story building be constructed, with the third floor strictly reserved for Masons. Jeff G. James was present at the meeting to discuss the financial arrangement. A plan was to be unveiled at the August 25th lodge meeting.
At the August 25th meeting in the Edgerly block, there was discussion about reorganizing Fresno Lodge No.247, as all records had been lost in the fire. A committee was formed to study the building of a new temple.
On September 29, 1893, workmen began clearing the old foundations of the burned buildings to make way for new construction. In the Oct 19, 1893 of the Fresno Morning Republican, it was reported that the new Masonic Temple building was being rapidly built, with the roof framing in progress.
By January 1894, local business men were announcing in the newspaper that they were moving their businesses to the new Masonic Temple Building. On March 5, 1894, the Fresno Parlor, Native Sons of the Golden West indicated that they would be locating into an "elegantly furnished" hall of the Masonic Temple.
On April 12, 1894, the new Masonic Temple was re-dedicated. Over 500 people attended the ceremony presided over by Grand Master Dr. H.S. Orme, resident of Los Angeles.
The Masonic Lodges and affiliated organizations of Fresno would continue to use this building for seventeen years until 1911.
Several Masons in Fresno began talking about forming a new Masonic Lodge in Fresno.
On December 7th of 1904, a group of Masons assembled in the first floor parlor of the home of James Cyrus Pottle, 1526 K Street (now named Van Ness) in Fresno. Pottle had been the Master of Sanger Lodge No. 316 in 1899 and 1900, and an Inspector for the 38th Masonic district. He had recently moved to Fresno as a merchant.
At this meeting J. C. Pottle was elected Worshipful Master, Elliott William Lindsay (county schools superintendent), was elected Senior Warden and Albert Bazzle Clark (local banker) was elected Junior Warden.
They voted to have William Angus Sutherland (attorney) prepare the petition for a Dispensation.
While they voted to fix dues at $6.00 per year, they deferred the subject of a name for this new lodge.
The second meeting was held on December 16, 1904. At this meeting it was reported that 14 Masons had paid their first year dues for a total of $84.00 and Charles Sheldon Pierce, (lumberman) was elected Treasurer.
There was some discussion about what name to use for the new lodge. "Center Lodge" was suggested, as was "Raisin City Lodge". But it was Herbert Z. Austin (Superior Court Judge) who suggested that the name "Las Palmas Lodge" would be more appropriate. He argued that "Center" inferred too much territory of Central California and was not distinctive enough.
He also envisioned Fresno becoming a large financial and agricultural-industrial hub, and that the Las Palmas Vineyard was known worldwide. Las Palmas Vineyard was a 160 acre property owned by Benjamin R. Woodworth, in the Nevada Agricultural Colony, close to what is now McKinley and Cedar Avenues in Fresno. Thus the name "Las Palmas Lodge" was adopted.
It was at this meeting that 15 Masons signed the petition asking the Grand Master for a Dispensation to meet as a new Masonic Lodge in Fresno under the name of Las Palmas Lodge. On January 5, 1905 Grand Master George W. Hunter signed the Dispensation and Las Palmas Lodge was formally created.
The 15 Masons who were the Charter Members were:
James Cyrus Pottle, a local merchant who was a Past Master of Sanger Lodge and Inspector. He would be the Master in 1905 while under dispensation.
Elliott William Lindsay, the County Superintendent of Schools and member of Fresno Lodge.
Joseph Philip Bernhard, a local attorney and member of Fresno Lodge. He would be Master in 1907.
William Angus Sutherland, a local attorney and banker and member of Fresno Lodge. He would be Master in 1909.
Herbert Z. Austin, a local Judge and member of Fresno Lodge. He would be Master in 1908.
John Simeon Jones, a farmer and capitalist and member of Reedley Lodge.
Alexander Marion Drew, a local attorney, state assemblyman, and member of Fresno Lodge.
Albert Bazzle Clark, a local banker and member of Reedley Lodge. He would be Master in 1906.
John Quincy Anderson, a local realtor and member of Fresno Lodge.
Charles Sheldon Pierce, a lumberman and member of Fresno Lodge.
Briceno Amendez Fassett, a local “agent” and a past master of Hanford Lodge.
Duncan Donald Allison, an ice merchant and member of Fresno Lodge and their Master in 1895. Bro. Allison would be the “Funeral Master” for many years.
Albert Graves Wishon, the founder and owner of San Joaquin Light and Power Co. who was a member of Visalia Lodge.
William Oscar Miles, The Fresno County Clerk and a member of Fresno Lodge.
Charles Lewis Walter, a local Real Estate agent and member of Selma Lodge.
When these 15 Masons signed the bylaws of Las Palmas Lodge as charter members and the Grand Master signed the dispensation to form a new Lodge, their membership in their previous lodge was automatically terminated.
In the January 6, 1905 edition of the Fresno Republican, it was reported that fifteen Master Masons from the Fresno area had met to organize a new Lodge in Fresno. There had been a resurgence of community prosperity, with new population and capital pouring into Fresno. The growth of Free Masonry in Fresno had been so "phenomenal" (according to the Fresno Morning Republican), that a second Lodge was needed.
In reality, the second Lodge was formed out of philosophical differences within the existing and prospective sojourning membership. It was said at the time that Fresno No. 247 had become un-enterprising; adhering to "old-ways". In a 1930 re-enactment of the first conceptual meeting, the conversation between the charter members referred to the Fresno Lodge as being "stagnant", and that perhaps a little competition might be good.
At the Annual Communication held at the Grand Lodge of California in San Francisco on October 12, 1905, a Charter was granted to a new Lodge in Fresno, California; Las Palmas Lodge No. 366.
On October 26, 1905, the Right Worshipful Edward H. Hart, Deputy Grand Master and other grand officers performed the Ceremony of Constituting Las Palmas Lodge in Fresno. At the time, J.C. Pottle served as Master, E.W. Lindsey as Senior Warden, and A.B. Clark as Junior Warden; J.Q. Anderson, Treasurer; W.A. Sutherland, Secretary; J.P. Bernhard, Senior Deacon; H.Z. Austin, Junior Deacon; D.D. Allison, Marshal; C.L. Shierreff and W.R. Price, Stewards; C.E. Stewart, Tyler.
From the original meeting in January, 1905, while Under Dispensation, until Chartered in October of 1905, Las Palmas Lodge admitted 36 Master Masons by affiliation in addition to the 15 Charter Members. They Raised 9 men, and had 4 Fellowcrafts waiting to be Raised and 1 Entered Apprentice waiting to be passed to the degree of Fellowcraft. Within 10 months of its start, Las Palmas Lodge went from 15 Charter Members to a total of 60 members. Dr. Angus B. Cowan, a noted physician in Central California, was the first petitioner for degrees.
In the early part of the 20th Century, the City of Clovis was about 15 miles north-east of the City of Fresno. Today they share a common border.
Early in 1910, a group of Master Mason's met to promote a new lodge for Clovis. The first meeting, held under dispensation, was on June 16, 1910 in the John E. Good Building located at 5th and Front streets. Leroy Taylor was Worshipful Master; Fred Smith was Senior Warden, Lewis Gibson was Junior Warden. These Masons came from other Lodges around the valley and from back east.
The Grand Lodge of California issued
a charter on October 3, 1910 and Clovis Masonic Lodge No. 417 was born. The
following 13 were the charter members: Frank Arthur Anderson, Lewis Willis
Gibson, Lewis William Harvey, Henry Edward Hawkins, Nathan Henry Hayes, Herbert
Guary Johnson, Elbert Sylvester Kirkpatrick, Guy Fawkes Matheny, Harry E.
Armstrong, Frederick Walter Smith, Francis Palmer South, Leroy Taylor ( the
first Master of Clovis Lodge), and Luther Edward Weldon. Las Palmas Lodge No.
366 was the sponsoring lodge for Clovis Masonic Lodge, and James C. Pottle, the
first Worshipful Master of Las Palmas Lodge, was the Inspector and the guiding
hand for the formation of Clovis Lodge.
Clovis Lodge was up and running quickly and was doing very well. Some of the more prominent people of the town of Clovis were becoming members. James G. Fergusson, head book keeper for the Clovis Lumber Company, received his degrees in the first year. On June 16, 1912, exactly 2 years from its inception, Clovis Lodge received a small setback in the form of a fire which destroyed its furnishings, records and charter. Within a week, all of the necessary steps to re-furnish the lodge, replace its charter and gather itself was in effect.
After the fire, the members of Clovis Lodge, moved across the street to the Freitas Hall at the corner of 5th and Front Streets, which is now Clovis Avenue, and rented the upstairs for $10.00 per month. Downstairs was a pool hall and there were plenty of evenings that the ritual work in the lodge room was to be interrupted by the cheers of the patrons down below. They stayed at this hall until 1930 when they purchased their own building, the former First Presbyterian Church, located at the corner of 5th and DeWitt Avenues, which was used until consolidation with Las Palmas-Ponderosa Lodge in January of 2015.
Two families have provide many members to Clovis Masonic Lodge. They are the Reyburn, and Matthews families. Together these two families alone have been responsible for a total of 14 members and 5 Masters. Some of the other more notable last names of the members of past are, Good, Parker, Blakeley, Clifford, Sargent, McCormick, Clay, Polson, Howison, and many more that are too numerous to mention. It is also worth mentioning that many of the roads and schools in and around Clovis bear the names of many of these men.
It was evident that there was need for a larger Lodge building and eventually, Las Palmas Lodge, Fresno Lodge, and other Masonic bodies formed the Fresno Masonic Temple Association for the purpose of raising funds and making plans to construct a new building.
During the month of August, 1910, plans for the new Masonic Temple at 'K' (now named Van Ness) and Merced Streets were distributed to several contractors around the state for bid. The plans called for a three-story building, with the "revenue" on the first floor (offices for rent), lodge rooms on the second floor, and a banquet facility and stage on the third floor.
In September, 1910, Architect Starbuck & Wilde of Oakland, California, was to assist with the selection of a contractor to build the new temple. Starbuck has drawn up the plans, and was critical to understanding the specifications and bidding process. A building permit was pulled later in the month to start construction. Estimated cost: $33,200.
On Oct 19, 1910, the red-sandstone cornerstone was laid for a new Masonic Temple at the corner of Merced & 'K' Streets (now Van Ness Avenue) in Fresno. A small advertisement was placed on page seven in the Fresno Morning Republican on Oct 18 inviting all Masons and associated bodies to attend. The notice was signed by J.W. Smith, Master, and Ray W. Baker, Secretary. (The Master and Secretary of Las Palmas Lodge.)
Approximately 500 masons, including California Grand Master Dana R. Weller, attended the ceremony. As soon as the Lodge was opened at the old Temple, Lodge was called to refreshment so that all members could participate in a parade, complete with the Fresno Sciots Marching Band, from the site of the old Masonic Temple Building at Tulare & 'I' Streets, to the new site.
With permission of the owners of the old Masonic Temple
Building, the cornerstone was excavated, and the enclosed time capsule was
transferred to the cornerstone of the new building.
New items were also added to the time-capsule: a list of officers and members of all Masonic bodies in Fresno, the City Directory of 1910; copies of the daily Republican Herald, Tribune, and Sunday Mirror newspapers; coins of 1910; a list of directors of the Fresno Masonic Temple Company; a list of Fresno City and County officials; a scroll containing the names of the architects, builders and contractors involved in the project; and a Fresno Republican booklet.
Masonic organizations that participated in the cornerstone event were Fresno Lodge No. 247, Las Palmas Lodge No. 366, Fresno Chapter R.A.M No. 69; Fresno Commandery Knights Templar No. 8; Lodge of Perfection No. 8; Fresno Chapter of Rose Croix No. 8; Knights of Kadosh No. 8; Scottish Rite; and Raisina Chapter O.E.S.
In 1911, the building was dedicated and open for business. Local Masonic organizations would use this building for the next 50 years.
By 1927 there were a total of 4 Masonic Lodges in Fresno plus Eastern Star, Scottish Rite and York Rite. The 1911 Temple was crowded. At the December, 1927 Las Palmas Stated Meeting the following appears: “Jas. R. Erskine presented many problems confronting the Masonic Fraternity of Fresno in regard to the building of the new Masonic Temple and after considerable discussion by the various members a motion was regularly made, seconded and carried that a committee be appointed to canvas the members of Las Palmas Lodge as to the amount each member would pledge for the purpose of erecting a suitable Masonic edifice in the City of Fresno, with the understanding that in case of a member’s death the full amount the member had paid would be immediately refunded to the family of the deceased member.” Nothing happened for 25 years, probably due to the Great Depression and WW II.
With the establishment of two Lodges in Fresno and a growing population, some leading Masons thought that there was a need for a third Lodge. The thinking was that since there were enough sojourners in the area, there would be no need to convince members from the two existing Lodges in Fresno to join.
Ardie Lee Smith, a Past Master of No. 247, headed the canvassing group, and on October 29, 1916, Center Lodge No. 465 was inaugurated. The charter members of the lodge were Walter Edward Bonnet, A.A. Brown, John Foster Davies, Nelson Dennis, Robert Carl Ellithrope, James Erasmith, James E. Darwin Harrison, Martin Berry Havner, Edwin LeRoy Hughes, Henry August Momson, Ben T. Norris, Goff Norvel Manwell, Emory Ratcliff, Wilhelm Emil Richard Schottstaedt, Herbert Alan Sessions, David Amanuel Shope, Casper Nelson Torp, and William Richard Wells.
Center Lodge met on Saturdays in the Temple Building at Van Ness and Merced Avenues, until the construction of the Scottish Rite Temple in 1937. Center then met at the Scottish Rite Temple on Wednesdays.
On Dec 21, 1935, under the auspices of Center Lodge No. 465, the cornerstone for the Fresno Memorial Auditorium was laid at 'N' and Fresno Streets. The ceremony was conducted by the then Grand Master of California, Earl W. Warren, who would later become the Governor of the State of California in 1950 and Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the years immediately following World War I, there was a great influx of people coming into Fresno from all parts of the nation. This included a considerable number of Masonic sojourners. These sojourners gradually associated themselves, and in 1922, obtained a Dispensation to form Sun Garden Lodge.
The charter members of Sun Garden were Ralph Hunt Andrews, Joseph Herbert Allen, Walter J. Avery, Charles Clinton Beals, Earl L. Bennett, W.R. Couse, Ralph M. Gish, Arnold Good, Earle Gordon Granger, Herbert Rutledge Hargrave, Burtram Harry Hunter, Albert V. Klein, Thomas F. McKey, W.A. Preston, Kenneth J. Staniford, Orville R. Taylor, R.S. Thomas, George Ulsteen, G. Gaylord Watson, Ray D. Wharton, William P. Winning, and Alfred W. Wright. Several of these men eventually became Masters of the Lodge.
Sun Garden Lodge wanted to meet in the existing Masonic Temple Building at Van Ness and Merced Streets; however there was simply no room. Already there were three "Blue Lodges" meeting at the location in addition to the York Rite, the Scottish Rite, and a number of associated women's groups. Furthermore, none of the current members of Sun Garden had made any fiscal contribution to the building of the structure.
Sun Garden, for a time, met at 908 'M' Street, but later moved to the Woodman's Hall at the southeast corner of Van Ness and Tuolumne Streets. In 1933, the Woodman's Hall was gutted by fire, so Sun Garden then established itself in the Odd Fellows Hall on the northeastern corner of Broadway and 'M' Streets.
In 1916, there was talk of constructing a new Scottish Rite Temple, which could be used by all Masonic bodies in Fresno. At the time, there were 465 members in the Lodge of Perfection.
Although a new Masonic facility had been built only six years before, there was already a need for an additional facility to handle Scottish Rite activity, which had a tradition of conveying degrees by way of stage performance since the 1850's. But other issues took precedence, and the idea was shelved.
As reported in The Fresno Bee (News of the Lodges) on December 21, 1924, the Las Palmas membership was spearheading a drive to build a new Masonic facility to house all lodges in Fresno. At the time there were 4 (Fresno, Las Palmas, Center, and Sun Garden) Lodges in the city. The temple at Van Ness and Merced streets in downtown Fresno was becoming inadequate to house and meet the needs of the growing Masonic organizations. A 125' by 150' parcel was owned by the Scottish Rite Masons at 'L' and Stanislaus Street. There had been an attempt to develop a building committee in 1921, but other issues prevailed. Many Masons in the various Masonic bodies of Fresno favored building a new five-story temple at the site. Estimated costs at the time were $350,000; an enormous amount of money in 1924.
In December of 1927, it was again reported in the Fresno Bee that the building committee was still working to solidify plans for building a new temple.
On October 27, 1935, it was announced that a new Scottish Rite Temple would be built on the southwest corner of Stanislaus and 'L' Streets at an estimated cost of $250,000, one-hundred thousand less than the last announced estimate eleven years before. With the United States coming out of a depression, plans had been scaled back.
By the time building construction was started on April 7, 1937, all funds for construction of the facility had been raised with money in the bank; a rather unique situation for the times. On May 8, 1937, the cornerstone for the new Scottish Rite Temple was put in place. Construction was completed and the interior furnished one year later in May 1938.
During the week of August 22, 1938, members of the public were invited to tour the facilities, followed by a formal dedication on Oct 1st.
At the official dedication, William P. Filmer 33-degree, Sovereign Grand Inspector General presided over the event. Louis Flint, organist and musical director of the Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, and organist for Scottish Rite Temple No. 1, gave an organ recital for the occasion. More than 600 members of various Masonic bodies attended the dedication.
At the time, it was reported that the Scottish Rite Temple had 912 members.
The end of WW II brought a surge in Masonry to Fresno in a fashion similar to what had occurred at the end of WW I. There was a need for an additional Lodge to help confer all of the degrees on all of the applicants. An agreement was reached that each of the five Lodges in Fresno and Clovis would contribute at least three members who would then be the Charter Members of this newly formed Lodge. On August 5, 1948, Most Worshipful Chester H. Warlow, the California Grand Master (and Fresno native) and other grand officers performed the Ceremony to Constitute (Under Dispensation) Ponderosa Lodge in Fresno. In due time Ponderosa Lodge would be granted a Charter and assigned number 700.
Unlike the other Lodges in Fresno which met either at the Masonic Temple on Merced Street, or the Scottish Rite facility on 'L' Street, Ponderosa met at its own temple building at 11 San Pablo Avenue in Fresno, at the corner of San Pablo and Divisadero streets. The historic building had been home to The Congregational Church, built during the early 1900's and used as such until 1951. In that year, the building was purchased by Ponderosa Lodge and used as a temple facility until April 18, 1971. It was then sold to the Pentecostal Church of God Assembly for a very low price.
In August 1973, the Pentecostal Church sold the building to King Solomon Lodge No. 6 F. & A.M. for $65,000. (King Solomon Lodge No. 6 had been meeting at the King Solomon Lodge building at 'F' and Tuolumne Streets since 1938, and had been negotiating on property at 'F' and Merced Streets to build a new 6,500 square foot temple, but economic conditions made the development project unfeasible; a high rate of interest between 10.00% and 11.00% was common as the U.S. economy was being rocked by the oil embargo).
Thereafter, Ponderosa Lodge alternated meeting place between the Fresno Masonic Center #247 on East Shields Avenue, Clovis Masonic Temple, and the Las Palmas Masonic Center on East Clinton Avenue. On April 1, 1991, Ponderosa Lodge No. 700 officially merged with Las Palmas No. 366, combining assets and resources. The combined Lodge became known as Las Palmas-Ponderosa Lodge No. 366.
By 1952, there was much talk about the need for a new temple building. The structure on Merced Street was basically falling apart. There were large cracks in the brick work, and the fire escapes were woefully inadequate. Whenever there was a social event in the third floor dining hall, the ceiling in the lodge room below would creak and shake. A new Temple Association was proposed for the purpose of building a larger structure to house at least six Masonic organization; Fresno No. 247, Las Palmas No. 366, Center No. 465, Sun Garden No. 530, Royal Arch No. 69, and Knights Templar No. 29. On July 15, 1952 Las Palmas Lodge unanimously approved a resolution to form the Fresno Masonic Building Association and purchase 5 acres of land on Clinton Ave.. A $2,500 appropriation was made, but 3 other Masonic Lodges in Fresno had to make a like appropriation.
By 1956 it had been determined that the structure would not withstand a major earthquake. Furthermore, the building was a possible fire trap, having inadequate fire escape facilities from the second and third floors. Fresno fire marshal Floyd Watson, being himself a Mason, advised the Lodges that he planned to condemn the building. In 1957 fire sprinklers and other improvements were made at a cost of $15,000. Many older Masons were having trouble negotiating the staircase in the building as there was no elevator. The grand staircase on the Merced entrance was wide enough to accommodate four to five people abreast ascending or descending. But the fire escapes could only accommodate one person at a time. It was not unusual to have 150 to 200 persons in the banquet room on the third floor.
The yet to be confirmed chain of events is that Las Palmas Past Master T. D. Moyers offered 5 acres of land along Clinton Avenue between Fresno and First Streets to the newly formed Fresno Masonic Building Association for the construction of a half million dollar Temple to house all of these Masonic Bodies. According to this unconfirmed chain of events, PM Moyer attached a condition to his proposed gift. Ground had to be broken within 1 year. The Grand Lodge of California gave permission, but differences started to surface about the project. Many on the newly formed Building Association felt that they could not secure sufficient loans to build a temple with multiple lodge rooms and all of the other features that were desired. By 1957 nothing had been accomplished and the one year deadline passed.
The minutes of Las Palmas Lodge on January 8, 1959 show that at the close of the installation of the 1959 Officers, PM T. D. Moyers presented the new Master (Robert Walker Reynolds) with a deed to 2 ½ acres of land on Clinton Ave for the construction of a new Temple for Las Palmas Lodge. There was a condition that the Temple be completed by January 1, 1962 (within 3 years).
On June 4, 1959, a kick-off dinner to launch a new fund-raising drive was planned by Lawrence H. Wilson for the purpose of raising $150,000 to build a new Masonic Building specifically for Las Palmas Lodge. The dinner was held at the Masonic Temple at 2030 Merced Street in downtown Fresno. The plan was to erect a 12,000 to 14,000 square foot building on a two and a half acre parcel at the southwest corner of Clinton and Orchard Avenues. The temple was to have a large lodge room, social hall, sizable kitchen, reception room, secretary’s office and club room.
This particular move represented a drive northward out of the downtown area, which had been the center of Masonic activity for more than 75 years.
At the time, Las Palmas Lodge had over 1,100 members, and was the seventh largest "Blue Lodge" in the State of California. It was hoped that bids would be taken in August of 1959, and the building completed by December of that same year. This would require an extraordinarily optimistic fund-raising drive, and very aggressive building schedule.
The fund raising effort was enormous, and creative. Masons from all over the Central Valley were being asked to contribute. Las Palmas would even host "blood-drives"; members would donate a pint of blood, which was collected by the local Blood Bank and cash given to lodge in exchange. It was referred to as "blood-money".
Las Palmas Lodge broke ground on the new building on June 4, 1960, exactly one year after the kick-off dinner. Fresno mayor Arthur L. Selland, and Norman S. Foley, chairman of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, both spoke at the ground-breaking ceremonies.
The final plans called for a 14,000 square foot facility, costing between $150,000 and $160,000, with an additional $30,000 to furnish the building.
For the first time in the history of the California Grand Lodge, permission was granted Las Palmas Lodge to construct a new Masonic Temple with the lodge room on the ground floor. Previously, all newly constructed Masonic Temples had to have their Lodge Room on a second (or higher) floor so that people could not look in the windows and witness the ritual. Since there would not be any windows in the Lodge Room, there were not any privacy concerns. Completion of the building was now expected in January of 1961.
Past Grand Master, and vice-chairman of the California Highway Commission, Chester H. Warlow presided over the ground breaking ceremony. Over 300 people attended the event. Worshipful Master Charles D. Dart, Warlow, and T.D. Moyers are shown breaking ground.
On Sept 17, 1960, the cornerstone of the building was laid during a ceremony conducted by Most Worshipful Joe L. Shell, Grand Master, before more than 400 Las Palmas members. A sealed brass urn was placed behind the cornerstone prior to placement. In the urn was placed the 1960 Membership Roster of Las Palmas Lodge, newspaper clippings of the Lodge, the temple brochure outlining the building campaign, Lodge resolutions authorizing the building of the temple, the program guides from both the 1959 and 1960 Officer Installations, and the program guide from the Golden (50th) Anniversary of Las Palmas Lodge held in 1955.
The new Las Palmas Temple was open for business in time for Hambleton Frederick Leas to be installed as Master on January 5th of 1961.
The last meetings at the 2030 Merced Street Temple by the other Lodges were in 1961. At this time these other Masonic Bodies took residence in the Scottish Rite Temple. The City of Fresno acquired the property later that year, and in 1963, the unsafe building was torn down to make way for a multi-story parking structure; part of the Fulton Pedestrian Mall.
On Sept 23, 1967, the cornerstone of a new Masonic Temple on East Shields Avenue was laid. The new building would be 19,000 square feet, with a projected cost of $500,000, and replaced the old Masonic Temple at Merced and Van Ness Avenues. The new temple became home to Fresno Lodge No. 247, Center Lodge No. 465, Sun Garden Lodge No. 530, and the York Rite Bodies, which had a combined membership of about 2,000.
The building contract was awarded to Hollis & Sons by George E. Hiatt, president of the Fresno Masonic Temple Association, and Wayne H. Towne, secretary, on March 2, 1967.
On February 10, 1968, the new Fresno Masonic Temple was dedicated by Most Worshipful Eugene S. Hopp, California Grand Master. The York Rite was the first to use the new building on Tuesday, January 2, 1968, followed by an installation ceremony on January 5 of Fresno lodge No. 247 officers.
In due time all three bodies of the Fresno York Rite would merge with out of town bodies and Fresno would no longer have any York Rite presence.
On October 1, 1992, both Center Lodge No. 465, and Sun Garden Lodge No. 530 consolidated into Fresno Lodge No. 247 to continue as Fresno Lodge.
On January 9, 2015 Clovis Lodge No. 417 consolidated into Las Palmas-Ponderosa Lodge No. 366 to continue as Las Palmas-Ponderosa Lodge No. 366.
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