When traveling down Mission Boulevard shortly after turning right from Decoto Road, one sees a large red brick building upon the hill on the left hand side. The building stands there with honor and dignity looking down onto Union City and onto the bay of San Francisco. The building looks as if it has been there for many decades, so locals should know who the building belongs to, however many people don’t know, except the building is called Masonic Home For Adults as read from the sign at the main entrance gate.
A long narrow driveway leads though the main entrance gate curving along the side of the hillside, winding all the way up to the top of the hill. Three quarters of the way up the hill, a large red brick building stands five stories high with diginity and pride. The building seems to be split into three rectangular portions. The center portion stands parellel with Mission Bouldvard with a small center piece on the roof. The other two portions of the building are slightly angled towards the center portion. This is the main and oldest building at Masonic Home. Many other building have been built behind the main brick building, but are hidden from view from Mission Boulevard.
Masonic Home for adults was built by the Masons 100 years ago. However, who are the Masons, what do they do and believe in? And how and why did they come to build Masonic Home?
The freemasons, or as they are often called masons, are members of what is thought to be the oldest secret fraternal society in the world. (Freemasons 351AA) The origins are thought to be from the 1100’s AD, taking after the warrior monks, who protected innocent pilgrims as they traveled across the world to the Holy land. (What’s a Mason? 2)
The modern Freemasonry society is thought to come from Great Britain during the early 1700’s. The modern society came together when the stonemasons created a Grand lodge in London in 1717. The grand lodge is the main administrative body which governs all lower level lodges belonging to the Freemasons. (3)
Freemasonry fraternity, which is officially called Free and Accepted Masons or Ancient Free and Accepted Masons grew rapidly spreading across the world. By 1730, the first lodge was built in Philadelphia, and others were quickly built. Many of the masons were great leaders during the American revolution, such as, John Hancock and Paul Revenues who were members of the St Andrews lodge in Boston. Years later in 1752, George Washington became a member. Over time, the United States have had 13 presidents who have been members of the freemasons. (Freemasonry 13936)
A freemason is a member of the Freemasonry fraternity. They are a group of men who have the same interests and have joined together based upon them.
The Interests of a Freemason:
- There are things they want to do in the world
- There are things they want to do inside their own minds
- They enjoy being together with men they like and respect.
(What’s a Mason? 2)
Basically the freemasonry fraternity is a group of men who want to help people in the world. Every mason has a responsibility to make things better. They understand that they can’t find cures to deadly diseases or produce world peace, but they can help individuals. Everyday the freemasons in America spend $1.4 million US dollars to help people in need. The money is either donated to charities, or simply used to help the elderly pay utility bills. As well as helping people, masons also teach people about honesty, compassion, love, trust and how to be more knowledgeable. (5) When Mr. Virgil Land, a resident at Masonic Home was asked, “what does it means to be a mason?” he answers, “Masons takes good men, and teaches them how to be better men.” (Michel, 21)
Becoming a mason is really easy it you meet three formal requirements.
- You must be a man (not forgetting this is a fraternity)
- You must have “sound in body and mind” (What’s a Mason? 13)
- You believe in supreme being such as God.
The informal requirements needed to be a mason:
- Want to help others
- Believe there is more to life than just money and pleasures
- You want to grow and develop as a human being.
- This is a permanent life time commitment.
Once you have meet all the formal and informal requirements you must apply to be a mason. This is done by asking a mason for an application once it is filled out the masons returns to the lodge and the master of the lodge sends out a committee to interview the applicant’s and family. The committee later reports back to the lodge and the application of acceptance is finalized. Once the applicant has been through the mason rituals he is now a full member of the ancient free and accepted masons. (13-14)
The freemasonry fraternity spread across America as the settlements moved across the land. Masonry spread to California during 1849 through the famous San Francisco Gold Rush. Soon after a Grand Lodge was built and the modern Freemasonry Fraternity were settled down in California and started to help the people of California. (MacPhee, 1) During the 1870’s the Grand Lodge in California were concerned regarding relief for the widows and orphans of the Masons. (14) Many ideas were passed through the Grand lodge during the late 1870’s but in 1880 the Deputy Grand Master of the California lodge, Samuel C. Denson introduced his idea to the lodge stating there is a need to “establish some comprehensive and efficient institution for the relief and support of widows and for the education of children of deceased master masons”. (18)
After his report a special committee was formed to further investigate the need for an institution. A year later in 1881 the special committee adjourned and gave its report. In their detailed report, its was stated: the administration body shall consist of a board of 15 directors all of whom shall be appointed, and a grand master as president. The revenue to fund the institution would come from donations made by Masons, a lifetime membership fee of $100, and an annual contribution and par capita tax. (19)
However, no further action was taken upon the report. Instead a letter was sent out to all the lodges in the United States asking how many widows and lodges were at each lodge. Out of the 215 letters sent the Californian lodge only received 67 replies. It was thought the those lodges which didn’t reply did not want a widow’s and orphan’s home. Over the next decade reports were written on ideas to fund such a home and whether a home is really needed. (19)
In 1891 the Grand Lodge heard a report by Master Nathan W. Spaulding. In his summary he stated: “Thirteen years ago this Grand Lodge received and took under its fraternal wing, Walter Carey Wilcox, a boy of five years of age, the only son an only child of Bro. Henry Freeman Wilcox, a Master Mason, who died in New Orleans of yellow fever. The subsequent death of his wife left their boy an unprotected orphan in the scourge stricken city of New Orleans.” (19)
The report further continues to say the Masonic fraternity in New Orleans looked after the child for a while, and then sent the boy on his way to California to live with his grandmother. The New Orleans Masons placed him on a train in charge of the railroad company with his belongs besides him, a name tag reading Master Walter Wilcox on the boys jacket, and a letter for the Masonry lodge in Chicago. Once he arrived in Chicago he was placed in care of a masonry family and later sent on his way again to Oakland California to meet his Grandmother. He was sent the same way he had arrived in Chicago, with the name badge and letter, under the care of the railroad company. The Walter Wilcox arrived in California and stayed with his Grandmother until September of 1888 when she died. At that point Bro. Nathan Spaulding applied and received guardianship to the young Walter. After surviving ill-health Walter was sent to a private school to make up his work and later graduated with honors. (20-21)
With this story the Grand Master Morris March Estee continued to rally remind the Masonic lodge the importance of a home for widows and orphans. In December of 1891 at the Masonic Temple in San Francisco, Grand master William Johnston gave the official approval to the plain for an organization and maintenance of the mason widow’s and orphan’s home. (23)
Johnston’s plan stated a grand master will appoint nine members to act as trustees of the home. Out of these nine members, they will form three groups; the first group will serve for three years, the second group will serve for two years, and the third group will serve for one year. When the terms expire for the trustees, the new grand master at that time will appoint new trustees. The trustees of the home will have the authority to receive, hold an administer as joining tenants, all the property, real and personal and all the rights regarding the charity. The laws created by the trustees must have approval of the grand master before coming into affect. Financially, annual accounts for the home will be reported to the Grand lodge. Donations and all property rights must also pass through the office of the grand secretary of the grand lodge. Finally, the trustees will administer the lodge, with the rights given, but they can’t give any financial liability to the Grand lodge or any other lodge. (23)
The first annual financial report came on October 11, 1892 and was presented by Bro. Edward Myers Preston to the board of trustees. Preston announced they had collected $45, 000 from contributions for the home for widows and orphans. (27)
The go ahead had been given to build a home and the money for the home was being raised. It was now time to decide upon a suitable site and then purchase the land. A site 27 miles from San Francisco, 18 miles south of Oakland, and one and half miles from Niles was found. This site is located in Decoto in Alameda County, situated upon the Hill overlooking a panoramic view of the land and bay. At the time, it was only one-half miles north of the track of the broad gauge railroad leading from Oakland to San Jose making it easy to commute. The property can be split into 3 portions based upon the level of the land. The front portion of the property is level and covers approximately 60 acres of land. It contains rich soil perfect for gardening, fruit raising and general farming. Above the level land are low hills perfect for growing vegetables, “for the markets of San Francisco”. The rear portion of the land extends up the ridge and is suitable for forest growth. (29) The land was owned by husband and wife, George R. Bayler and Gertrude K. Bayler of Oakland California. The land was purchased on March 13, 1893 for $15,000.00 cash and $17,500.00 on a mortgage, totaling $32,500.00 for 267.46 acres. (28)
An architect designed a home, and gave the detailed plans to the lodge. The furnished home would cost approx. $60,000.00, however with the additional upgrades the home was estimated to cost around $85,000. (28) <br><br>In 1896 the contract to build the home was given to Bro. R. P. Hurlbut of the Mission lodge which shortly soon after started work for the home of Masonic widows and orphans. (34)
The home was officially open two years later on October 12, 1898. In a large ceremony the home was formally dedicated to the Grand Lodge. The cost for the home itself was $103, 857.85. (34) The total cost of the home plus the land was $136, 357.85.
The first part of the home had been built but it was no where complete. Over the past 100 years the home has undergone renovations, new additions including; the Siminoff Temple (named after Bro. Morris Siminoff for his $30,000 contribution for a church), (41) a nurses station, residential housing and much more, and Masonic Home still continues to grow as more Masons are moving in, and as more facilities are needed.
Funding all these new facilities comes from donations and contributions from the masons of Masonic Home. Most Masons donate their belongings to the home, which they either keep or sell. Money also comes from the Endowment Fund which was created during the 1930’s. At the time, one million US dollars was thought to be sufficient to fund the home, but now through inflation more money is collected in the fund.
Masonic Home for Adults belongs to the Freemason fraternity, a fraternity formed centuries ago for men who wanted to help the people in the world. The Masonic Home was built during 1896-1898 for the intention to be a home for the Mason widows and orphans. Over the last century Masonic Home has grown tremendously, and will continue to grow as more elderly masons need a place to live and decide upon the elegant Masonic Home for Adults in Union City.
- MacPhee, Chester, The Greatest of these is Charity: Masonic Home of California. Published by Masonic Homes of California, 1992.
- Michel, Robin. “A Century of Caring.” Tri-City Tidings Fall 1998: p. 20-21.
- “Freemasonry.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Edition 5, 1993: p.13936.
- InfoTrac SearchBank: General Reference Center. 15 November 1998 <IP: 18.104.22.168 Alameda County Library>.
- “Freemasons.” Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Edition 3, 1987: p351AA.
- InfoTrac SearchBank: General Reference Center. 15 November 1998 <IP: 22.214.171.124 Alameda County Library>.
- “What’s A Mason?.” Masonic Information Center, Silver Spring, MD.