In 1964, the cornerstone was laid for Oak Forest Masonic Lodge #1398 at 4721 Watonga Blvd. Chartered two years before, the Oak Forest masons had been meeting at the Fairbanks Masonic Lodge before they got their own building.
More than 50 years later, they are on the move again.
Kevin Staloch with Staloch Realty Services said the 2-acre lot and 7,000 square foot building are for sale.
Longtime freemason Joe Messa, the senior officer for Lodge #1398, said the organization decided to put the building up for sale after much deliberation. He said the roof and air conditioning unit need attention, and the decline of dues-paying members made paying for such repairs difficult.
“The building is old and in need of repair,” Messa said. “We don’t have as many active members as in years past.”
According to the Masonic Service Association of North America, national membership in the organization has been decreasing as well. The first year for the association’s record-keeping was 1924, and there were 3,077,161 master masons. In 2017, there were 1,076,626.
Between 2016 and 2017, Texas lost 1,075 members for a new total of 70,590 master masons. In Houston, there are about 20 masonic lodges, including the one in Oak Forest.
An online history made available by Houston’s Gray Lodge #329 said membership in the masons was a bond for the male settlers who came to Texas in the early 1800s. The first recorded mason to enter Texas was Major Zebulon M. Pike, a member of Lodge No. 3, Philadelphia, who was here to scout the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red rivers as well as the Spanish settlements of the Rio Grande.
To join the group today, masons say you don’t need to have a relative or friend who is a mason, but membership “must first be initiated by the petitioner’s request.” Requirements are to “simply be of good character and have a desire to improve yourself.”
While the Masonic Service Association of North America has a tradition of restricting membership in Freemasonry to men – going back to the historical all-male membership of stonemason guilds – in the mid-1800s the fraternity created some organizations that included women. Among them were the Order of the Eastern Star in 1855, the Order of the Amaranth in 1873 and the White Shrine of Jerusalem in 1894.
As for the Oak Forest freemasons, Messa said they will remain together as the plan is to rent space at another lodge in the vicinity.
“We’re putting together a committee to ferret that out,” Messa said. “We’re looking at any lodge that’s interested in having us as a tenant.”
Those who grew up in Oak Forest might have spent time at the Watonga lodge as members of the Internal Order of DeMolay, an organization for young men affiliated with Freemasonry. One of these young members was Waltrip High School alumnus Rick Bosworth, who said he and his brother joined because the group was popular at the time with many Waltrip students.
“We used the lodge for meetings and general business,” said Bosworth, who did not go on to become a mason. “It was like a high school fraternity. I have a lot of good memories of hanging out with my friends there.”
Inquiries about the purchase of the property can be made to Kevin Staloch at firstname.lastname@example.org.