By Sandee Wilhoit
Colorful history of the I.O.O.F. building
What’s an odd fellow? I guess we have all known a few, but the Odd Fellows of the 1800s were a national fraternal order of gentlemen dedicated to “Friendship, Love, and Truth.” Their identifying symbol was a series of interlinking circles alluding to their motto, making them also known as the Triple Link Fraternity. They were both religiously and politically independent. Although the organization was active in England as far back as the 1700s, the American branch was not organized until 1819 by Thomas Wildey in Baltimore, Maryland. During the period between 1862-1920, they were the largest of all fraternal organizations. By 1889, they had lodges in everyAmerican state. San Diego’s Lodge 153 boasted such prominent leaders as AlonzoHorton, John Young, John Gray, E.W. Tebbutt, Edward W. Bushyhead, W.A. Begoleand George Hazzard. The Masons were also active in early San Diego , as the SanDiego chapter was founded in 1851. They were the first Masonic lodge founded inCalifornia, preceding Los Angeles by one year. To this end, the two organizations banded together to finance construction for a large building that could be used by both organizations. The Masonic Building Association was founded in 1872 with James Pierce as president. Mr. Pierce, a civic and political leader, was the first vice president of the Bank of San Diego (A.E.Horton, president), president of the Chamber of Commerce, and later are presentative to the state Assembly.
It was estimated that the stylish classical revival edifice would cost $25,000. Withers and Meyer were contracted for the job of excavating for the foundation and cellar at 73 cents per square yard. The architectural firm of Payne and Lacey were selected to design the building. They had also designed the Horton House Hotel and the Horton Bank structure. However, due to shortage in capital and materials, the actual building was not begun until nine years later. Finally, on March 7, 1882, the cornerstone was laid. A casket-shaped box, as was the custom of the Odd Fellows, was paced in the northeast corner. It contained Masonic and I.O.O.F. (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) documents, newspapers, coins, historical data, a piece of wood from Lebanon, and a piece of stone from Solomon’s Temple. To celebrate the occasion, a joint parade was held by both organizations, which started up D Street (now Broadway), down D Street to Sixth Street and down Sixth to H Street (now Market Street. The City Guard Brass Band played, and the parade was followed by numerous speeches, and finally culminated with the laying of the casket. The master of ceremonies was W.W. Bowers, another prominent San Diego architect. At the conclusion of the festivities, Mr. Bowers announced that $16,000 more was needed to complete the structure, so George Hazzard, prominent business leader and the incorporator of the San Diego Water Company and the City Gas Company paid the difference, thus making him the largest stockholder in the building.
The first floor has a cast iron base and pilasters to support the structural columns. The second floor was finished in plaster over a 16-inch brick wall. The impressive exterior cornices are plaster over sheet metal and the balconies feature antique wrought iron railings. The unique and heavy arched windows required pipe columns to support the lintels along the roofline.
Throughout the years, the first floor has housed saloons, wholesale and retail liquor stores, gun shops, book stores, a seed store, dry goods stores, billiard parlors, barbers, tobacco stores, a laundry, shoe repair shops, restaurants, a chili con carne factory and the Wells Fargo Express Company. The Gas Company was one of the original inhabitants of the ground floor, and in 1885, John. C. Daley’s Masonic Building Book Store offered the ladies fancy linen paper and envelopes, gold pens, artist’s materials and seals and wax for letters. Mr. Daley also took orders for “magnificent plates of game fishes of the U.S.” for $50 per set. These plates were designed to provide “adornment for parlor or library.” Additionally, at one time, the Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) also had its offices there. In 1974, the San Diego Ballet used the second floor, with its elegant wood floors as their headquarters.
The Masons moved to their new hall at Fifth and Ash in 1910, but the Odd Fellows continued to use the building for many years. They now meet in a much smaller hall in North Park.
Throughout its colorful history the I.O.O.F. building has hosted many dignitaries, but perhaps one of the most notable was King Kalakaua of Hawaii. He arrived in 1890, as he was touring the mainland and there was talk of Hawaii becoming a state. He sat by one of the magnificent arched windows and, unfortunately and literally, caught his death of a cold. By the time King Kalakaua reached San Francisco, the cold had developed into pneumonia and he passed away. It must be noted, however, that the king was known as the “Merry Monarch,” because of his predilection for rich food and drink. He had developed nephritis (kidney disease), which was the underlying cause of his demise.
A very popular Asian-fusion restaurant now occupies the ground floor.
—Sandee Wilhoit is the historian for the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation. She can be reached at email@example.com.