Freemasons have been in Oakland for at least as long as Oakland has been an incorporated city of the United States (163 years); the first large wave of Freemasons came, like most other new Americans, for the gold in 1849. One August day in 1854, the Freemasons of newly incorporated Oakland held their first meeting as Live Oak Lodge #61 in the loft of a carriage shop. There’s a plaque where they first gathered that day, a bit further down Broadway Avenue near Jack London Square. Since then, the “lodge” (or “chapter,” as it’s called in most other fraternal organizations) has moved several times. The current Free Masonic Temple at 3903 Broadway was built in 1967 and has housed the extant lodge #61 ever since.
In the early days of Oakland’s story as a city, more than twenty of its mayors were Freemasons. Freemasons are everywhere in Oakland’s history, in fact. A 1958 editorial in the Oakland Tribune called Oakland’s second mayor, Freemason Frank Mott, “The man who built Oakland.” (For a detailed history of the Freemasons in early Oakland history, visit the “liveoak61” link below.) While the last Oakland Freemason to govern the city was Mayor William McCracken in 1933, serving the community continues to be at the heart of the organization’s practice. According to the lodge’s website, “Many members join Masonry for the opportunity to give back to their communities.” Today, the lodge boasts over 400 active Freemason members who contribute to the community in a variety of ways, including developing the Child ID program in Oakland public schools, donating over $10,000 to the Oakland Childhood Language Clinic (in partnership with the Oakland Scottish Rite), offering college scholarships to local youth, donating school supplies, and actively volunteering in local schools.
“We all have a lot of pride in Oakland,” touts the website, “and everybody sees a need for civic involvement. The lodge benefits in the same way as anyone who volunteers his time: There’s an inner sense of satisfaction from doing good.”
From what I can tell, “doing good” has defined the Freemasons from their beginnings as a fraternal organization in early 18th century London. “Based on the belief that each man has a responsibility to help make the world a better place,” the Freemasons claim to “make a profound difference for our brothers, our families, our communities, and our future” through philanthropy and a commitment to personal growth. Each Mason takes an oath “never to cheat, wrong or defraud a fellow Mason out of the value of anything, and to “preserve unsullied the reputation of the fraternity.”
Membership in the fraternity is open to “men age 18 or older who meet the qualifications and standards of character and intention, and who believe in a Supreme Being. Men of all ethnic and religious backgrounds are welcome.”