My congratulations to the Freemasons of San Francisco, where a new Lodge has life. You can read about it here.
It’s been over 20 years since I’ve visited San Francisco. It’s such a beautiful city. And they love Canadians down there, as it seems men were always buying me drinks. On my trips down there I managed to visit a number of different Lodges and was appreciative of the friendliness of the brethren down there. A couple of Lodges back then met at the Scottish Rite Temple on Van Ness and Sutter. The Lodge room was absolutely huge with high ceilings and décor which I was told back then would have been impossible to replace. You got to the Lodge room in a rickety old elevator with a gate in the front.
I went through two extremes of visiting. On one hand, I ended up at a Lodge in Marin County with my dues card resting comfortably back at my hotel on the other side of the Bay. My examination consisted of a handshake. Not a Masonic one, just a handshake. “That’s it?” I asked. Yes, that was it. Not even a single question. They were conferring a Second Degree that evening and at the end the District Inspector stood up and jokingly noted that some Work from another state had crept in—and he recognised it because that’s where he was from. The Master then pointed out many of the officers were guards at San Quentin and asked them to stand up. “You shouldn’t have any problems when you’re down here,” he added.
On the other hand, another Lodge assigned two old Past Masters to examine me and started to go through the Third Degree catechism that I don’t even think Masons in California learn any more. I had to explain that my Lodge’s ritual was entirely different, we didn’t have those questions, our signs were different and even our obligation wasn’t the same as theirs. They left me in the ante-room for 20 minutes while the Lodge figured out what to do with me. They finally let me in, but I missed the opening ceremony. Still, they were pleasant old gents who took the Masonic name of ‘caution’ seriously and I gave a bit of a talk on how Masonry was different in my part of the world. There were interested and quite surprised, as everyone assumes Freemasonry is the same the world over.
Another Lodge was fairly young, but small, with a number of Chinese and Filipinos as officers. They offered to give me a tour around town the next day and I could stay with them if I wanted and they really didn’t want to take ‘no’ for an answer. It’s quite remarkable they would be so outgoing with a perfect stranger, so I suppose the point is I really wasn’t a perfect stranger. I was a brother.
Then there was a Lodge which had been ordered out of its long-time meeting place on Market Street by the Grand Master because—gasp!—a restaurant renting space on the ground floor served drinks. On my next trip, the Lodge had ended up amalgamating and I don’t believe it survived much longer.
And another Lodge stunned me by holding off its meeting because the Lodge’s charter had been removed from the building and was with someone who was too sick to attend that night. The Lodge had something like 444 members but there were maybe a dozen scattered about the room that night, and the S.W. stood up to announce he was moving to Washington State.
A couple of Lodges gave me copies of their histories. I have a beautiful golden bound book presented to me by Oriental Lodge No. 144. You can read about the early days of that Lodge on-line here.
My days of travelling to San Francisco are likely over, but I’m sure the members of the new Lodge an ashlar’s throw away from the cable-car line will treat their visitors with the Masonic hospitality that is a hallmark of our American brothers.