History of La Mesa Lodge 407

By Robert Speegle


     Over the course of 100 years, La Mesa Lodge has contributed much to our community. In celebration of the Lodge's centennial, a detailed history of the Lodge was published to document La Mesa Lodge's century of service to the Fraternity and to the La Mesa community. The following is an abbreviated summary of that history. A full history of La Mesa Lodge is available for purchase. Please contact the Lodge Secretary if you are interested in obtaining a copy.


      Since 1909, more than 1,800 men have been associated with La Mesa Lodge No. 407. The Tiler's records reflect that La Mesa Lodge has welcomed Brothers from 1292 lodges, representing 48 of the 50 states, and hailing from all points of the globe.

      Throughout the history of La Mesa, the Brothers of La Mesa Lodge have been directly involved in the development of the community. Sherman Grable and Charles C. Park, who are considered to be the founding fathers of La Mesa, were also charter members of La Mesa Lodge. Arnold J. "Jolly" Benbrook, who was Master of La Mesa Lodge in 1929 also served the community as Assistant Postmaster for many years. Ray Lyles, who served as Master in 1930 was the first Fire Chief of La Mesa.

      Many of the founding members of La Mesa Lodge were already members of other Lodges that met in the San Diego area. For East County Freemasons, getting to San Diego for Lodge meetings involved either a train ride or a bumpy ride over the poor roads that existed at the time. As a result, these men gathered to look into forming a Masonic Lodge in La Mesa.

      In November, 1908, Charles C. Park and Sherman Grable, owners of the Park-Grable Investment Company met with ten other men met in their office to look into setting up a lodge of Masons in what was then known as La Mesa Springs. John MacRae was a well-known businessman in San Diego. Hiram Rider, John Hammond, and Julius Thoustrop were fruit farmers. Austin Clements was a retired hotel keeper; Ed Light an insurance salesman. William Lyon was in the retail business, and Sol Cannon was a millwright. Charles Leckenby was a cabinetmaker, and Richard Gusweiler was a Clerk at City Hall. On average, these men were in their early fifties. Like so many, they were immigrants to the State, and in some cases, to the nation as well.

      The first meeting of the La Mesa Lodge, U, D. (Under Dispensation) was held on December 20, 1909. From the start, the Lodge was a success, attracting applications for membership from interested men and providing a convenient Lodge for other Master Masons in the East County. On November 19th, 1910, the Grand Lodge of California convened in La Mesa to read the Charter for La Mesa Lodge #407. Harry C. Park, son of Charles C. Park, was the first man initiated into Masonry in La Mesa Lodge. The younger Park would serve as Master of La Mesa Lodge in 1914.

      La Mesa Lodge initially met in the Hoedemaker drug store until 1911. This drug store was located on the southeast corner of La Mesa Blvd and Spring Street. After 1911, the Lodge moved a few doors up the street to the La Mesa Hardware store, which was owned by William Lyon, a member of La Mesa Lodge. The Lodge continued to meet there until moving to its current location in 1930.

      The United States' entry into the First World War caused many current and future members of La Mesa Lodge to register for the draft. Among those who registered was Reuben M. Levy, who served in the Army. For his bravery in battle he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, an award second only to the Medal of Honor. Following the war, Levy returned home to East County and made a major impact on the area through his hardware business and through his work in the water management of the County. The R. M. Levy Waterworks in East County is named for him. He was also an avid baseball player and a volunteer fireman. He served as Master of La Mesa Lodge in 1928.

      In the late 1920s the Brothers of La Mesa Lodge began to look into building a dedicated Lodge building, then called a "Temple". In January of 1930, the La Mesa Lodge Temple Association put out a request for bids from local Masonic contractors. Following a large parade from the Lyon Hardward building to the construction site, a groundbreaking for the new building occurred on Monday, March 3rd, 1930. The Cornerstone of the Lodge was laid on Saturday, March 29th, 1930 at 2:30 PM. This cornerstone can be seen today. A copper box is behind the cornerstone, and while it probably doesn't hold any secrets, the contents will be of great interest to the Lodge in 2030, when it is scheduled to be opened.

      During the Great Depression the Lodge and its Brothers brought the community together. Earl Logan, owner of the La Mesa Bakery, served as Mayor of La Mesa. During this time Julius Acevious also served as Mayor of La Mesa. Emerson James, a realtor, was chairman of the public schools and was active for many years in the school board. Quin Adams served as Chief of the La Mesa Police Department.

      As the 1930s wore on, the population of La Mesa began to grow. Pressure rose to accommodate the families of the local citizens in all things, especially in terms of space for children to attend school. In January 1939, the La Mesa Spring Valley School district rented the banquet hall for 7th and 8th grade classes. This lasted all through the years of World War II and into the early 1950s. The School District also rented room in the Lodge for Music classes and for a Teacher's lounge.

      Following World War II, the Brothers of La Mesa Lodge began making improvements in the Temple. In 1948 a fire escape was added, and two rows of theater seats were installed to replace the benches that ran along the walls. Two of the original benches are today in the Lodge Anteroom. The Brothers of today are grateful for their foresight because sitting on those benches for an hour or more would be, to say the least, uncomfortable.

      The year 1961 was a busy year for La Mesa Lodge, when 60 men were initiated as Entered Apprentice Masons.

      On June 26, 1961 La Mesa Lodge was the site of a major event for San Diego Masonry. Masons from Baja California crossed the border and traveled to La Mesa for a banquet and celebration of Masonic Brotherhood. Over 400 Masons (350 members from La Mesa Lodge, and about 60 Brothers from Mexico) assembled for a banquet and ceremony. Culminating the afternoon of brotherhood, and with the approval of both the California and Baja California Grand lodges, Acacia Lodge No. 8, Tecate, Baja California, Mexico, opened their Lodge in La Mesa and conferred the Master Mason degree on three of their candidates. Thus began a decades long tradition of reciprocal visits between La Mesa Lodge and Acacia Lodge. Over the years Brothers of La Mesa Lodge have made several visits to the San Juan Bosco orphanage in the Tecate area to bring supplies and make general repairs to the orphanage. Sadly, La Mesa Lodge has been unable to communicate with Acacia Lodge since 2005; however the Brothers of La Mesa Lodge are hopeful this will soon change.

      During the 1960s, the Building Association watched with interest the revitalization plans for downtown La Mesa, and participated in the many public meetings that were held on the project. Through the 1970s and 1980s, downtown La Mesa began to show the effects of the renovations as older buildings along La Mesa Boulevard were torn down and replaced. The Lodge kept up with the developments, selling the right of way for the street next to the Lodge. La Mesa Lodge also made some changes to the building's exterior.

      On September 13th, 1989, the Lodge held a Constitution Observance celebration, and was honored to host Vice Admiral John Fetterman, then-Commander of Naval Air Forces, U. S. Pacific Fleet.

      As the 1990s began to close, the Brothers considered long term plans for the lodge. In a major change to the first floor of the Lodge hall, the two rooms on the left of the Lodge entrance were refurbished. The Secretary's office was moved from the current location of the Ward Room to the front room. The exterior of the Lodge was pressure washed, which resulted in the re-discovery of mosaic tiles on the exterior of the building underneath the window of what is now the Secretary's office. The wiring of the Lodge (little changed from its original construction in 1930) was also updated and modernized. In December 1999, a natural "Hieroglyphical Emblem" of Masonry was removed from the Lodge: a fifty pound bee hive was discovered inside the wall of the northwest corner of the Lodge room.

      The Brothers of La Mesa Lodge have a strong tradition of service, both as individuals, and collectively as Freemasons. The Masonic Lodges in El Cajon and Lemon Grove both sprang from the membership of our Lodge. Freemasons have been very active in promoting public education throughout the local area. Annual Constitution Observance ceremonies serve to remind us and the community of the central importance of that cornerstone of our democracy. The Brothers of La Mesa Lodge have continued their tradition of community involvement by participating in the La Mesa Flag Day parade, a tradition started in 1998.

      Over the course of ten decades, the Brothers of La Mesa Lodge have been intimately connected with La Mesa. The founding Brothers of the La Mesa Lodge could little imagine what the community of La Mesa would look like today. They would undoubtedly be pleased to see their Masonic legacy continuing to be a vibrant part of our community.

      As La Mesa Lodge begins its second century, there is much room for optimism about the future. Always known as the Friendly Lodge - welcoming prospective candidates, new Brothers and old friends alike with a broad smile, a firm handshake, and the offer of fellowship and camaraderie - La Mesa Lodge is again experiencing the welcome sounds of men asking about what it means to be a Freemason.


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