Masonic temple has 100 years of the rite stuff

Discussion in 'General Freemasonry Discussion' started by Blake Bowden, Nov 17, 2009.

  1. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

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    ON THE eve of the Pomona Masonic Temple's 100th anniversary, I took a tour of the building and am disappointed to issue the following report:
    No evidence was seen of severed hands or skulls used as wine goblets - see Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol" - or of plots to take over the world, perhaps in concert with extraterrestrials.

    The more farfetched conspiracy theories attached to Freemasonry don't seem to have clung to the Pomona hall, a quiet - too quiet? - building at 385 S. Thomas St., around the corner from the Fox Theater and in sight of a Starbucks.

    Dedicated on Jan. 25, 1910, the temple once boasted 1,000 members, among them many of the elite of Pomona. The temple, built of brick with terra cotta detailing on the cornice and roof, has four pillars in front.
    "The substantial and formidable structure declares loud and clear that the Masons are `pillars of the community,"' wrote Diann Marsh in 1984's "Pomona's Historical Legacy."

    The lodge itself was founded 10 years before Pomona became a city.
    "We're older than the city of Pomona is," member Ed Mattern told me.
    A rededication ceremony for the temple is planned on Sunday at 4 p.m. at the cornerstone. California Grand Master Kenneth Nagel will preside.
    On Wednesday, Mattern and rededication chairman David Benitez greeted me with handshakes - standard handshakes, nothing secret about them - in the lobby of the temple, which is still the headquarters of Advertisement

    Lodge No. 246 as it was a century ago.
    The Masonic emblem of a compass, square and a G (for God and Geometry) is set into the maple flooring. As our tour showed, the temple isn't at all sinister, but it's a neat old building. Not to mention Pomona's coolest secret clubhouse. A portrait of George Washington, a Mason, stands over the fireplace in the first-floor meeting room. The winding staircase to the second floor has a motorized chairlift to carry infirm members, as the building has no elevator. (I was tempted to ask for a lift just for the novelty but repressed the impulse.)

    Upstairs, the Main Lodge Room is breathtaking.
    Under a 20-foot-high ceiling of stained glass, the walls are white, each one interrupted by cornices braced by columns. Seating is only along the walls, in chairs said to have originated at the Fox. Imposing mahogany chairs sit on raised platforms under the cornices. An altar rises in the middle of the room.
    It felt like we were in the Senate chambers.

    "Most of the Founding Fathers were Masons," Mattern noted.
    Symbology is everywhere. Three of the panels in the cornices are light, while one is dark, representing north. Two pillars stand with globes on top, one light, one dark. One is beauty, one is strength. Of the room, Mattern said casually, "It's about the same size as Solomon's Temple, as measured in cubits."

    Nearby, a former billiards room is now used for meetings. Portraits of 14 U.S. presidents who were Masons, from Washington to Ford, line the walls. The floor is a checkerboard. "Why black and white? Because when you move through life, you have a choice," Mattern added. Watch your step, Masons.
    I was also shown a room with wooden lockers for members' use and a rack of costumes used in allegorical plays. On the third floor, a bare room known as the Red Cross Chapel has ceiling bulbs in the form of a cross.

    By this point Mattern, Benitez and I had been joined by Ryan Base, the lodge's leader, who has the enviable title of (oooh) worshipful master. He'll relinquish that to Benitez next year.

    Back downstairs, I was shown a giant framed poster depicting a pyramid with figures in both ancient and modern dress on its 33 steps, illustrating the degrees and orders of Masonry.

    Among the terms that appear are the Master Elect of 9, Knight of the Royal Axe and the Order of the Knights of Malta, the latter of which was invoked in "The Maltese Falcon."

    Boys could spend hours absorbing, and savoring, the arcane names and garb and pseudo-mystical trappings.

    Speaking of which, what's the deal with the floating eyeball in some Masonic logos?

    It's the All-Seeing Eye, a universal symbol of the supreme being, Mattern explained. You'll find the eye hovering above a pyramid on the back of a $1 bill. (Do we have the world's creepiest currency or what?)
    Mattern happens to like Dan Brown's books and the symbol-laden "National Treasure" movies, saying the mystique has increased interest in Masonry.
    In an earlier age, the Pomona lodge had no trouble attracting members. Not quite an ancient order, Lodge No. 246 was founded in 1877. It located in Pomona rather than more-established Spadra because of a lack of meeting space there.

    The $30,000 temple was completed in 1910 and its dedication was an event.
    "There are many larger or more ornate and costly, but surely there is no more beautiful, more attractive, artistic and impressive Masonic lodge hall in California than this," proclaimed the Pomona Daily Review.
    Architect Ferdinand Davis also designed other prominent buildings in Pomona, including the City Stables, the Ebell Club, Pilgrim Congregational Church, Trinity Methodist Church and several Lincoln Park homes.

    The temple underwent a $25,000 expansion in 1926. According to the Progress Bulletin, lodge membership had grown from 150, in 1910, to 1,000, so great that a second lodge, No. 590, was chartered in 1924.
    The lodge today embraces its headquarters, but that wasn't always the case. There were plans to leave downtown for a new temple on San Bernardino Avenue, but as the lodge's fortunes ebbed in the 1960s, construction money couldn't be raised.

    By the mid-1980s, the lodge was protesting a scheme by city fathers to buy up the temple, the Fox and other structures for a 14-story "world trade mart" that never materialized.

    The two Pomona lodges merged in 1999 due to dwindling membership. Today Lodge No. 246 has 140 members, about half the number as in 1999 but slightly more than a couple of years ago, officials said. The average age is 62.

    Still, the rolls boast some prominent members, notably Mayor Elliott Rothman. A Mason runs Pomona? More fodder for the conspiracy theorists.
    In any event, my top-to-bottom investigation of the Masonic temple was a real treat.

    "You've seen more than most people," Mattern quipped toward the end of my tour.

    Uh-oh.

    Does this mean they'll have to kill me?
     

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