On Moving, Growth, and the Future of the Lodge
Greetings, Brethren! We find ourselves in the month of February, notable for, among other events, the Lunar New Year (happy Year of the Tiger!), Black History Month, 2/2/22, Valentine’s Day, and, of course, one of my personal favorite holidays, Feb. 15th – “Half-Priced Chocolate Day” (not yet federally recognized).
Fitting that this month should bring another New Year’s celebration, given that, even though January 1st is now in our rear-view, the whole world – with Masonry in it, and with North Hollywood in Masonry – continues through a time of change and transition. First and foremost, you may notice that these articles are now coming out during the second week of the month, rather than the first.
This was a decision reached by the Lodge executive committee, as it allows us to better tailor our articles to the upcoming events of the month, as well as expound on any developments that might occur during the Stated Meeting – which I hope will be especially useful to those brethren who were unable to attend.
I, for one, welcome this change, not merely because it will give me an extra week to put my thoughts to paper, but also because I feel it will help make these publications much more of an asset to the Lodge than your average “Here’s what Charity Means” and “Did you Know” type articles so prevalent in these publications (not that there’s anything wrong with those – did you know that golf legend Arnold Palmer was a 33rd degree Mason? Consider that next time you mix an iced tea and lemonade).
Of course, speaking of change, it is incumbent on me as Master to discuss the big changes I know are on everyone’s mind right now – our move both to Thursdays, and to Van Nuys.
First, however, let me once again thank the Brethren who were able to attend the vote, and to contribute to the discussion around it. Such decisions cannot be handed down from on high, they absolutely must proceed with the consent of the Brethren. And for the Brethren to give that consent, they must proceed with as much information as possible. I fully believe that the sort of spirited discussion we witnessed at the February stated, from both sides of the issue, very much accomplished this goal. Regardless of their vote, I know that every Brother in that room voted for what he believed to be the best interest of the Lodge as a whole, and I fully believe it is a testament to the beneficent example that Masonry can show to the world, that, even in our current contentious atmosphere, every Brother in that Lodge room cast their vote, agreed to disagree where necessary, and walked out knowing that he, and everyone else, had each other’s best interests at heart.
Moving on to the two main changes, I will address the former point first, as it is, as some may recall, less a move to Thursdays, and rather a move back to Thursdays. Those who were present at the time may also recall that it was not the easiest transition to make, as it was not a case of the building manager saying “hey, we need you to change your meeting day,” and us acquiescing – it involved several months of us being “asked” not to meet on our scheduled meeting day, often at very short notice, and having to scramble for a dispensation to meet elsewhere (typically, of course, at Van Nuys).
Which brings me to the larger change, that of the move itself. I won’t lie and say that this was an easy decision to come to. Take it from someone who moved across the country – a move like this is never without its difficulties. Moreover, no situation we have right now is going to be perfectly ideal. If you’re asking me, the ideal for a lodge like North Hollywood would be to buy a skyscraper and meet in the penthouse (though this particular line of thinking may or may not be what got my first budget proposal rejected). As far as proposals grounded in reality, however, I believe the Brethren have made the right choice, for a myriad of reasons.
First and foremost, our situation at Bella Blanca was always meant to be a temporary one. Upon reaching our agreement with the new building owners, it was generally understood that we would remain there for a tenancy of 5-7 years. If you draw the date from our first installation in the “new” building, c.2016 (wherein I myself was installed as Tyler,) you will realize that we are running up on the tail end of that time frame.
Moreover, we will have an official tenancy agreement at our new home in Van Nuys, something we never had with Bella Blanca – did this fact save us having to pay rent during the time we were meeting remotely? Yes, I would say that that particular situation worked out exceptionally well in our favor, and I applaud my forebears for their good judgement. But we cannot always count on Fate, Fortune, or Providence to deal us such a winning hand – we need to be proactive about that, and when it comes to leasing a space, having everything in writing is almost always the best way to go.
To further illustrate how tenuous our former position was, we could have been kicked out of that building at any time, with only 90 days notice. Yes, that sounds like a decent amount of time, but remember that even putting forward the motion to vote on this particular move started during our December Stated Meeting. So from where I’m sitting, we had exactly two options – to leave now, on our own, exceedingly favorable terms, or to leave later on far too short a notice.
Speaking on the matter of tenancy agreements, I feel it also prudent to discuss the matter of cost. Our monthly “rent” (again, without renter’s protection) at Bella Blanca consisted of a $1,500 “cleaning fee,” which we paid in exchange for meeting in a building that was, more often than not, visibly dirty. Compare this to Van Nuys, where our rent (actual rent) will be significantly lower. This will net us a large savings that we can put towards charity work, fraternal relief, or even social events. I don’t know about you, but I can think of a few Lodges who would be downright ecstatic to have the amount we will be saving as their annual budget, let alone to have that on top of what they’re already bringing in.
And speaking of social events, this does not even touch on how much we stand to save by not being obligated to utilize Bella Blanca’s extravagant catering services – not that I can’t appreciate extravagance from time to time, I wouldn’t be at North Hollywood if I couldn’t; I just prefer to receive extravagance commiserate to the price tag.
Not to belabor the point of money, but I do feel it necessary to ask ourselves which deal we would rather have. On the one hand, we could have continued paying $1,500 a month for a space where many of our brethren were required to both show up early and stay late to move all of the heavy furniture, not only of our lodge, but also the many chairs and tables belonging to the building, before we could even open. Where we would often encounter strangers working in the kitchen on our practice and degree nights. Where everything from old food to open alcohol bottles would be left in our space for us to personally remove before opening, and where, even after hours of labor on behalf of our brethren, the place would still be crowded with unused furniture. Not to mention having to base our Masonic schedule around the schedule of the proprietors (as mentioned earlier).
Compare that to a small monthly rent, in a dedicated, Masonic space, where we can be closer to our Brethren in the Valley, where setup and breakdown will take minutes, and which we know will always be tidy and set up in a way conducive to our work. Is it a more “humble” space than we previously enjoyed? Certainly, and there is no derision intended in my saying so – the old building had a scale and history that would be difficult for anywhere to match. But perhaps this too may yet prove beneficial. Time will certainly tell.
Again, I believe the brethren have made the right choice here.
But at the end of the day, there are two points that I sincerely believe are more important than any of the above:
One – that we are not defined by the space where we meet. We alone define ourselves.
And two – that this change is but one single moment in the long history of our Lodge.
Time was, our Brethren were known as Lankershim Lodge, before there ever even was a “North Hollywood”. They acquired and met in a beautiful Masonic Temple, but when the time came, we made the difficult but entirely necessary decision – as many, many, many other Lodges around the world have had to do – to unshackle ourselves from a physical edifice that had become more burden than benefit. The brethren responsible for that transition negotiated the absolute best deal they could from the satiation – I encourage anyone so interested to read up on the history of the matter, it is nothing less than astounding the Brethren involved were able to negotiate such favorable terms, and that we were able to maintain such a favorable arrangement for as long as we did.
And now, it falls to us to make another change. I believe that this change is completely the right one, and I know most of the Brethren are with me on that. But if, somehow, it turns out that it’s not? Then we will come back together, with that same spirit of determining the best way forward for everyone, and make a new change. And we will make as many as we need to, the same way we always have.
Because a Lodge is a living, breathing edifice. It is not a beautifully chiseled piece of stone, one we can put up on a shelf to admire. Would that it were so – it would make all our jobs that much easier.
But no, it is our duty – our responsibility – to shape, to nurture, to occasionally change this organization, and, most importantly, to see that it continues to grow. Because the only constant among living things is growth and change. Any living thing that ceases to change, dies.
But I know that we are a long way off from that, because, standing where we are, we can all see so many ways forward for our Lodge – many of which we discussed during the night of the vote. Perhaps we will find a space of our own to own again. Perhaps we will seek a closer relationship with our new Masonic neighbors. Perhaps an opportunity none of us have even yet conceived of will present itself.
All I know is that, when the time comes, we will, just as our ancestors before us did and or our descendants after us will, meet together again, and once more chart the best path forward.
Every change brings tremors, as the world at large continues to observe. But every good Californian knows that a tremor means nothing if you have a strong foundation. And I know, in my heart of hearts, that our Lodge has that strong foundation. With that in mind, I know we will make the most of this new space – this new opportunity – as we have with every opportunity for almost a century now, and which I hope we shall continue to, for centuries to come.
With excitement and gratitude,
Dillon T. Ingram,
North Hollywood Lodge 542, Free and Accepted Masons of California.