Fraternal Odds and Ends with the 64th Annual Communication of the International Order of Odd Fellows, Los Angeles, 17-21 September 1888

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

For roughly a half-century from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to about the mid-1910s, fraternal orders of a wide variety were widely popular among American men, with some having women’s auxiliaries of substantial numbers, including several types of Freemasonry, Elks, Moose, Shriners, Knights Templars, Knights of Pythias and many others. Some estimates are that as many as 40% of American males belonged to at least one fraternal order during this “golden age” of fraternalism.

Members of the Workman and Temple family have been involved in such organizations to the present, with William Workman following his brother David into freemasonry and F.P.F. Temple being particularly enthusiastic in his participation in fraternal orders, including positions of leadership with the Free and Associated Masons, Knights Templar and others. Jason Temple and Jason Klascius-Fernandez are two of the descendants of William Workman and F.P.F. Temple who have carried on the family tradition of involvement in freemasonry.

One of David Workman’s sons, Elijah (1835-1906), was an early member of Los Angeles lodge #35 of a very popular fraternal society, the International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), which now has about 600,000 members worldwide, but, at its peak, a century ago, counted over 2.2 million. The order began in England in the mid-18th century, though, as with other fraternal orders seeking ties to a far distant past, there were claims to ancient lineages to the commercial guilds of Medieval Europe.

Los Angels Herald, 16 September 1888.

The first American lodge was founded in New York City in 1806 and there were several others in that metropolis in the next dozen or so years, but the development of the International Order came with the establishment of a lodge in Baltimore in 1819 and a national grand lodge followed about a half-dozen years later. In 1851, the IOOF was the first society to establish a women’s auxiliary, the Rebekahs.

By that time, the onset of the California Gold Rush meant the establishment of the first Odd Fellows lodge in San Francisco in 1849 and other lodges were founded in the new American state over subsequent years. In Los Angeles, new arrival Ezra Drown, who was profiled in a recent post here with his son Walter, was the leading light in the formation of Lodge 35, which received its state charter on the last day of 1854 and commenced operations the following March in an adobe building on the west side of Main Street just south of the Plaza (Lodge 42 of the Free and Associated Masons, of which William Workman and F.P.F. Temple were charter members began in 1854 in a surviving brick building next to the Merced Theater and Pico House on the east side of that street.)

An early project of the local Odd Fellows was the establishment of a cemetery in what is now the Chinatown area just south of Elysian Park and Dodger Stadium. As development continued outward from downtown during the great Boom of the 1880s, the cemetery was closed and the land sold with the Odd Fellows opening a new burying ground in Boyle Heights, where it remains today between Whittier Boulevard and Interstate 5 just west of city limits.

Herald, 16 September 1888.

Many prominent Angelenos were Odd Fellows (the Golden Rule Lodge #160 was founded in 1869 and merged with Lodge 35 in 1988) including Phineas Banning; Eugene Germain; Jackson Graves; Aurelius W. Hutton; Louis Lewin; the city’s first rabbi Abram W. Edelman; Isaias W. Hellman; Andrew J. King; Solomon Lazard; William Mulholland; Harris Newmark; Louis Phillips; Benjamin C. Truman; Moses L. Wicks; Valentine Wolfenstein; and Elijah Workman and F.P.F. Temple.

The same year the original Odd Fellows Cemetery was sold and, as the boom was starting to go bust, the Angel City, which later became a highly desirable location for national conventions of all kinds, hosted what may have been the first of these large-scale gatherings: the 64th annual communication of the Sovereign Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, held from 17-21 September.

Los Angeles Express, 19 September 1888.

Most of the out-of-the-area attendees seemed to have arrived later in the day of the 15th and were greeted by a welcoming committee and escorted to their several hotels, including the Pico House, St. Charles (the former Bella Union, one of the oldest hostelries in the city), the St. Elmo (built on the site of the adobe structure where the first IOOF lodge was established), the Natick House, and others. With the next day being Sunday, there were no organized activities, though the IOOF Grand Chaplain, the Rev. John W. Venable gave a sermon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, deemed by a local paper to be “one of the most finished, eloquent and scholarly efforts ever heard in this city.”

On Monday the 17th, the business session of the conference was held at the Turn Verein Hall on Spring Street, between 2nd and 3rd streets with the dry minutiae of Odd Fellows operations published in the conference proceedings, which is one of the two featured objects from the Homestead’s holdings from the gathering for this post. Reports and correspondence to and from the order’s Grand Lodge; those from grand lodges in American states as well as some from other nations; from lodges of the Rebekahs; statistics on membership, revenues, expenses and beneficial associations for mutual aid, orphans’ asylums, and life insurance—these latter being very common of fraternal societies generally; elections for Grand Lodge officers and much else are included in the proceedings.

Express, 19 September 1888.

It was about 6 p.m. when the day’s work was done and the IOOF leadership was officially escorted by “the Patriarchs Militants,” who were those from the highest degrees of membership, from the Westminster Hotel, situated at Main and 4th streets, to a reception held at the Academy of Music, a few blocks away at Olive and 5th across from Central or 6th Street Park (renamed Pershing Square in 1919 for World War I General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing) and better known as Hazard’s Pavilion. Later, this became the Temple Baptist Church and its auditorium, long known as the Philharmonic Auditorium.

After a band opened the program, the Odd Fellow ode was sung by the assemblage, followed by a prayer by Rev. Venable and an introduction by chair of the reception committee, James R. Dupuy, the Los Angeles County District Attorney. A welcome was then given by Stephen M. White, a successor of Dupuy and, at just 34 years old, the present pro tempore president of the state senate and lieutenant governor.

A United States Senator from 1893 to 1899, White was instrumental in the Free Harbor Fight, in which the federal government threw its support behind the Port of Los Angeles at San Pedro and Wilmington, instead of an expanded port at Santa Monica. White, who died in 1901 at just 48 years of age, was recognized with a statue in front of the Los Angeles County Courthouse, but within the last few years, his support of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 has led to calls for the statue’s removal and for the renaming of school named for him in Carson. It also bears noting that the Odd Fellows restricted membership to whites, as fraternal orders all did unless lodges were formed by specific ethnic groups.

Los Angeles Times, 19 September 1888.

In his address to the Odd Fellows, White began by noting that “when distinguished strangers visit us, we do not hesitate to receive them with becoming cordiality and appreciative demonstration,” but continued that

when a powerful social organization, containing a membership drawn from the best elements of the land, selects our domicile as its place of convocation, and carries the discrimination in our favor so far as to send this large, able and representative body here, regardless of distance and indifferent to a toilsome journey, we can but emphasize our accustomed expressions of hospitality, and assure you that California welcomes you to her shores.

This greeting was “honest, it is sincere, and comes from a people anxious to please, and satisfied when their efforts are appreciated.” He promoted the importance of direct contact between people from different parts of the country so that social benefits were accompanied by “instruction.”

Continuing to express the appreciation that the residents of the Golden State felt towards the Odd Fellows for holding their confab in the Angel City, White added, “her brown hills, presenting little of the loveliness of her flowery springtime, may not now attract; but her orchards, laden with luscious fruits, her fragrant orange groves, her fields but lately subjected to the harvest, her vines teeming with their juicy product, her beautiful lakes sequestered in the Sierra’s fastness, her mountain streams tenanted by the epicure’s finny favorites—these are all yours to enjoy.” He observed that attendees would readily see why the ’49ers were so attracted to California—he was a native, born in 1853 to parents who came during the Gold Rush.

Times, 19 September 1888.

Noting that “we cannot proffer you sublimer things than those which I have recounted, and which have been showered upon us by a munificent creative hand,” White did tell the crowd that “we tender you the hospitality of our hearthstones.” Finally, he concluded that,

Proud of her history, ambitious to ascend giddy heights in the contest for pre-eminent statehood, California will feel content only when you have partaken to the fullness of your heart’s desires at her festal board, and have willingly lingered, without unrest, amid the attractions which she has placed at your disposal.

White was one of the best-known orators in Los Angeles, so it was not surprising that the next speaker kept his remarks brief and unadorned. Mayor William H. Workman, in the late stages of his two-year term during the famous boom and brother of a prominent Odd Fellow, as noted above, merely told the conventioneers, “the city of Los Angeles feels honored by and proud of the high distinction given it by the holding” of the confab. He stated that, “as Mayor of the city, I wish to extend to you the hand of hospitality and good fellowship” for the honor bestowed on it and added that it was “a most pleasant duty” to offer “a hearty and cordial welcome.” He ended with the hope that the visit would be well-remembered.

California’s grand master, Reuben H. Lloyd, a prominent San Francisco attorney, and John H. White, the national “Grand Sire” of the order, also addressed the assemblage and focused largely on the strength of Odd Fellowship in the Golden State and as an organization broadly. There was a march of the many “cantons” comprising the Patriarch Militants to the center of the hall and who “went through a number of difficult evolutions,” engendering much applause, while several women were honored with the “Decoration of Chivalry” and 31 officers were given the “Grand Decoration of Chivalry.”

The next afternoon, at 2 o’clock, a grand parade was held and the proceedings quoted at length from coverage in the 19 September edition of the including the Times, Tribune, Herald and an unidentified paper. The second featured artifact from the Museum’s collection is a great large-format cabinet card photograph taken of the parade from the upper section of the Temple Block, built in 1871 by F.P.F. Temple and formerly home of the Temple and Workman bank, at the triple intersection (which no longer exists) of Spring, Main and Temple streets.

The view shows Odd Fellows marching in divisions southward from the Plaza, having started from the Westminster, which opened in the spring and the building of which stood until 1960, and proceeded to the historic center of Los Angeles and then turned southward, with the masonic lodge, Merced Theater and Pico House buildings visible because of the sign painting on the Merced for a furniture store, and, apparently, turning southwest in front of the Temple Block to continue down Spring Street.

Crowds line the sidewalks, but there are also spectators on upper floors, balconies and above porticoes of buildings like the Downey Block (foreground left); the Ducommun Block (at the northeast corner of Main and Commercial streets; the adjacent St. Charles Hotel (with a gent sitting on the rooftop parapet); and, continuing up the east side of Main, the Grand Central Hotel and the imposing Baker Block.

Between the Baker Block and the St. Elmo Hotel (formerly, from the 1850s, the Lafayette and, then, the Cosmopolitan), is a four-post structure supporting a large banner spanning Main and welcoming the Odd Fellows. Also of note is one of the several 150-foot tall masts that introduced electric street lighting to the Angel City earlier in the decade—this stood in front of the Pico Building, constructed by ex-governor Pío Pico not long before he completed his Pico House hotel and which housed the bank of Hellman, Temple and Company (the third partner being William Workman) and then Hellman’s Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank.

As for the description in the proceedings provided by the Times, it stated that the parade constituted “the grandest demonstration that Los Angeles has ever seen,” adding that “it is probably a temperate estimate to say that there were 60,000 people in the streets of Los Angeles during the afternoon.” It was also a very warm day, as was observed by the press and clear in the photo from the presence of umbrellas utilized by some on the east side of Main.

With respect to the marchers, the paper said that the column of Odd Fellows was comprised of some 5,000 persons spanning two miles and that the vent “was such a splendid pageant that those who saw it will remember it their lifetime.” The prior day, the Times reported, “the roads leading into Los Angeles were covered with travelers pouring into the city, and every local train that arrived was jammed to the doors. In city homes all was hurry and bustle.” All wore their finery and children had their faces scrubbed clean, while most businesses closed for the day.

An hour before the start of the procession, “the main streets became uncomfortably crowded, and ladies began to take positions on the doorsteps, to wait with more or less patience” for up to two hours before the parade passed by, while those in upper stories of “the gaily decorated buildings” gazed down on their fellows “with great complacency.” It was observed that

Bands all mingled, to and fro, before the dazzled eyes of the great crowd who, on foot and in carriages, blocked the streets adjacent. When at last the Cantons fell into line, and headed by their respective bands, marched gaily down the street, the crowd followed at their heels.

As the procession finished (the location was on Spring between 6th and 7th streets), the paper ended by stating that “the crowd was clean, bright and good-natured, and stood patiently waiting, or slowly ebbed to and fro.”

The Tribune echoed the Times in saying that the event was such that there was never “such a crowd of eager sight-seers present to witness any public demonstration” and claimed that there was no place in the nation, of comparable size, that could have drawn as many spectators. It colorfully offered that nearby communities from San Diego to Santa Barbara and elsewhere “must have presented as deserted an appearance as if the great trumpet had sounded and the good souls gone before the Great Judge, while those left behind must have felt like the five foolish virgins who came too late and were shut out for the wedding feast.”

After noting that “the streets were taxed to their utmost capacity, and every available spot which commanded any view of the line of march at all, was taken,” the paper said that it wasn’t just men who were on upper portions of buildings, but women and children, as well. Streets were blocked or nearly impassable and some “could see only a black mas of human heads interlaced with strips of the walls intervening between the different floors” of structures. Moreover, it accounted that Spring Street was even more crowded than Main and “people stood in the broiling sun for hours, in order to retain their advantageous positions,” with the Tribune providing a broad estimate of 50,000-75,000 spectators.

The unidentified sheet noted the “crowding, hustling, bustling” as “the buildings were alive, the streets were alive, the windows were alive, the roofs were alive with spectators” while “everything palpitated, pulsed with humanity” as “the city throbbed with life” and “the air was tingling as if with electricity.” The Angel City’s “fair women, brave men and sparkling eyed children . . . formed the grandest compliment, the most inspiring tribute the the great Order which honors the city by its presence, ever received.”

Finally, the Herald reported that, given the early arrival of hordes of people that “it was evident that there would be the largest crowd that ever assembled in Los Angeles, to witness the grand parade of the Odd Fellows.” Despite the teeming masses, police chief Thomas J. Cuddy and his men were praised for the keeping of order as “not a single instance of riotous disturbance occurred throughout the entire proceedings.”

Recording its estimate of onlookers as totaling some 40,000, the paper opined that “it was an elaborate affair from first to last, and will always convey pleasing reminiscences to those who witnessed it.” Moreover, “the route selected, was well designed to show the visitors the vast business orbit of the city, and at the same time, it afforded an excellent opportunity for all to witness the parade.” Long after the procession ended, the paper added, “the streets were crowded with sightseers until a late hour in the evening.”

By any standard, this early, if not the earliest, large-scale convention in Los Angeles, was a success and marked, as it did during the waning days of the great boom, the arrival of the Angel City as a major destination for such events. This would only become more commonplace in succeeding decades, whether for fraternal orders like the Elks or Shriners or for other national organizations like trade groups, vocational societies, educational entities and much more .

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