By Michael Wamback
In 1903, a group of prominent civic and business leaders headed by Abbot Kinney, a Freemason, decided that a Masonic Lodge was needed to serve what was then the community of Ocean Park. They petitioned the Grand Lodge of California for permission to organize and form such a Lodge. By 1905, they had achieved the requirements and were granted a charter to operate as Ocean Park Lodge #245.
The first Master of Ocean Park Lodge was Alexander R. Fraser who, along with Abbot Kinney and two other men, had formed the Ocean Park Improvement Company to develop the land South of Santa Monica. Among his many achievements which included the construction of the original Ocean Park Lodge building, Fraser built the Ocean Park Bathhouse and the Million Dollar Pier in Ocean Park. One of the attractions on the pier was called “The Third Degree,” which displayed a collection of paraphernalia used in secret society initiations.
Ocean Park Lodge was originally located in a building on the corner of Marine and Main Streets. The city of Ocean Park was eventually divided into Santa Monica and the new city of Venice. By chance, the new boundary line between the two cities ran straight through the middle of the lodge, so that one end of the building was in Santa Monica and the other in Venice. A common joke amongst the brethren was that if the cops from Santa Monica were to raid the lodge, they could escape by running to the opposite end of the building, outside of their jurisdiction.
The lodge flourished and saw rapid growth over the next twenty years, serving as a social hub of Venice, but a storm was quietly brewing within the lodge.
In the early 1920’s, a dispute erupted between two different factions within Ocean Park Lodge. The reasons for the dispute have been long forgotten, but it was significant enough that a group within the lodge determined to leave and form their own lodge. This they did, and founded Triangle Lodge, which met in a building on Electric Ave. in Venice.
Hostilities between the two lodges seemed to quickly dissipate, and they often joined together to promote activities to further Masonry in Venice. Triangle Lodge would later merge with Ocean Park, West Adams and Palms Lodge to form what is now Sunset Lodge #369.
Over the history of Ocean Park Lodge, there were a number of traditions that developed, sometimes out of necessity. During the 1930’s era of the great depression, the lodge fell on hard times financially. To provide refreshments at the events, one of the members who owned a peach orchard would supply free peaches to the lodge. Peach pie, peach cobbler, peaches and ice cream – so many times that the members eventually became so tired of eating peaches that they were banned from the lodge. A can of peaches was kept on hand as a reminder, but remained unopened for decades, until one of the new members, unaware of the custom, served peaches at a lodge function – much to the chagrin of the older members of the lodge. Today, peaches are a part of the tradition of Sunset Lodge.
Following the merger of the lodges, the various lodge buildings were sold and a new lodge building constructed at 1720 Ocean Park Blvd. Although Sunset Lodge is no longer physically located in Venice, it continues to serve the Masonic interests of those who live in Venice and the Marina.
During the last two decades of the twentieth century, Masonry saw a rapid decline. By the millennium, Sunset Lodge was in danger of closing its doors. Fortunately, a group of dedicated young men decided to undertake the job of resurrecting the lodge. Their efforts over the past few years have resulted in a new Sunset Lodge that is a reflection of the Venice community. They have made an effort to reconnect the lodge with its Venice roots, and have attracted a strong interest from the local arts and entertainment community. Today, the lodge boasts a philosophical and general interest study group, a cinema society and is creating events that appeal to the intellectual and creative side of Venice.
Sunset Lodge continues to offer opportunities for Venice people to develop leadership skills. In fact, Sunset Lodge is one of only two lodges in California to have three different members serve as Grand Master of the state, and the only lodge to have this happen in a period of less than thirty years.
Much work has been done, yet much work remains to return Sunset Lodge to its former glory. The members of the lodge continue to develop community events and to search for ways to reconnect with the Venice community. Although many changes have happened to the lodge over more than a century of service, the members believe that, somewhere, Abbot Kinney and the founders of Ocean Park Lodge are looking down and smiling, knowing that their efforts to bring Freemasonry to Venice, and the proud traditions they established, continue to be honored and built upon by the members of Sunset Lodge.
For more information on Sunset Lodge: www.sunsetmasoniclodge.com