The History of Conejo Valley Lodge No.807, F& AM
By Howard I. Smith, Past Master
The history of Conejo Valley Lodge #807 would bit be complete without a short history of the Lodge building itself. It all started in June, 1930, when Mrs. Estella Erbes and Mrs. Pearle Taylor asked the Reverend Leonard Elver of Moorpark to assist them in reorganizing and re-establishing the church services in this area. This was the real beginning of the Thousand Oaks Community Church. It was formally organized on Decemeber 31, 1930 with Reverend Elver, the founding pastor. A building fund was started and the church was incorporated on September 21, 1932. It was strictly a non-denominational church and held it’s meetings at Conejo School until the county district attorney ruled religious services could no longer be held in a school.
The congregation then held it’s meetings in the Hudnall Warehouse, later owned by H.L. Hall. This warehouse was across the street and about a hundred yards west of our current lodge building. After many individual contributions and a few fundraisers, the church building was dedicated on May 22, 1938. A new building fund was then started to build a church annex for a Sunday school and for social functions. Both the church and annex were completed by volunteer labor from the members of the congregation. Total cost for the church building and the annex including the cost of the lots and the furnishings was $6,665.00. Through the years, the community and church grew. The church became the Methodist Church and in 1961, it was decided they would purchase property on Janss Road. Now was the time for the newly formed Masonic Lodge to make a very important decision.
The Masonic Club
Many Master Masons had moved to Thousand Oaks and found it difficult to attend their own lodge meetings in the Los Angeles area or the San Fernando Valley. In early 1960, by word of mouth, the interest to form a Masonic Club rapidly became known to most of the Masons living in the area. Many of these dedicated brothers became almost obsessed with the thought of a new Lodge in the yet unincorporated Thousand Oaks and met with the expressed purpose of forming a Masonic Club. Permission was granted to form the club from Worshipful Lewis A. Pugh, Inspector of the 510th Masonic District, which had jurisdiction over Thousand Oaks. The Conejo Valley Masonic Club was subsequently formed in early 1961.
This was a very busy time as much had to be accomplished before a charter could be requested of Grand Lodge. About this same time, Simi Valley was also forming a Masonic Club and a friendly rivalry developed as to which club would be the first to receive a charter. According to Worshipful T. Bruce Baker, Past Master, Brother Harold Retan was the person most instrumental in getting the necessary information from Grand Lodge on the requirements of requesting a charter. Brother Retan served as Master in 1963. Again, according to Worshipful Baker, two of the most hard working brothers in the club were Stan Pine and Ray Strite. Credit was also given to Worshipful Lewis Pugh, Inspector, for his support and knowledge and to Brother Frank Roberts for his ritual proficiency as the the ritual coach.
Worshipful Baker acknowledged that in order to speed things up the club did many things on it’s own when Grand Lodge should have been involved or given approval. During this time, the lodge furnishings were obtained either by purchasing them or making them. The altar and the master and wardens podiums were hand made by Brother Ray Strite. The original working tools were made by hand by a brother from Oxnard. The pillars were purchased by Brother Cecil Brann. The original jewels were purchased by Worshipful Baker. The marble tops of the podiums were donated by a friend of Worshipful Baker, the person who had sponsored him to become a citizen. Applications for Affiliation as well as Applications for Degrees were received and held and finally the club was ready to petition the Grand Lodge for a Dispensation to form a Masonic Lodge. This Dispensation was granted on April 25. 1961.
Conejo Valley Lodge U.D.
The first meeting of Conejo Valley Lodge U.D. (under dispensation) was held on May 16, 1961 with Deputy Grand Master Guy Mize presiding. Worshipful Mize was escorted to the East by Brother Frank T. Roberts, the Worshipful Master designate. Worshipful Mize then proceed with the Ceremony of Institution. Immediately afterward the following brethren were installed as the first corps of officers.
Officers for 1961
- First Master, Worshipful Master – Frank T. Roberts
- Senior Warden – Cecil A. Brann
- Junior Warden – T. Bruce Baker
- Treasurer – Harry E. Kelley
- Secretary – Harold L. Retan
- Chaplain – Willie M. Weems
- Senior Deacon – Walter A. King
- Junior Deacon – Stanley W. Pine
- Marshal – William C. Ferguson
- Senior Steward – Ray E. Strite
- Junior Steward – Cecil H. Williams
- Organist – Kenneth G. McKenzie
- Tiler – William A. Dodd
During the time the club was authorized to meet. The meetings were held at several of the brothers homes. After receiving their dispensation as Lodge U.D., they met at the Baptist Church on the corner of Acrturus Street and Moorpark Road. Rent was $37.50 a month. From the time of institution to the end of the year, thirteen applicants were elected to receive the degrees. The first Entered Apprentices were Ronald Milton Price, a sales representative and Jack Chris Anderson, a lineman for the Edison company. They received their degree on July 18, 1961. The first Fellowcraft Degree was conferred on Brother Price on August 1, 1961. On August 29, 1961, the first Master Mason Degrees were conferred on Brothers Cecil Donald Hinson, Ronald Milton Price, and Alfred Lawrence Griffiths.
On August 8, 1961, the Lodge voted to apply for a charter. The charter was issued on September 26, 1961; the culmination of many months of hard work and planning by so many dedicated Masons. We should not forget that most of the expenses in forming the lodge were unhesitatingly paid by the charter members. We who follow owe so much to these wonderful brothers.
Conejo Valley Lodge No. 807
At the first stated meeting after receiving their charter, the members voted to pursue the purchase of the Methodist Church property (the current lodge facility), consisting of three lots, the church building and the church annex. The total asking price was $30,000.00.
After approval from Grand Lodge, the newly acquired buildings, especially the annex, needed a great deal of work to make them functional for the needs of the Lodge. The church building had a very heavy clay tile roof and a bell tower that needed to be removed. Stained glass windows were removed and replaced with opaque glass bricks. The annex received much needed repairs and a lot of paint. According to Worshipful Baker, Brother Stan Pine would have whatever equipment that was needed for a Saturday work party available and it was nothing to have forty members show up to work. He stated this was the most exciting time for the new Lodge. While the building was being remodeled, Brother Ray Strite was utilizing Brother Pines workshop to make the altar and the podiums. The first meeting in the newly renovated building was held on February 27, 1962.
On December 12, 1961, the first election of officers was held. Brother T. Bruce Baker was elected Worshipful Master, Brother Harry E. Kelley Senior Warder, Brother Harold Retan, Junior Warden. The Lodge also formed a Temple Association which would hold title to all real property of the Lodge and who would be responsible for the management of said property.
On January 1, 1962, due to the two new lodges in the area, ours and Simi Valley No. 806, we were assigned to the 512th Masonic District with Oxnard Lodge No. 341 and Anacapa Lodge No. 710. Ronald E. Jones, P.M. of Oxnard Lodge No. 341, was assigned as our district inspector. The first installation of officers elected by the Lodge was held on January 6th, 1962.
What an impressive ceremony it was for me, a non-Mason at the time, to witness the pomp and circumstance of the installation ceremony. Thousand Oaks had never seen such an event with all the officers in tuxedos and their ladies in beautiful dresses, jewelry and fur coats. It was soon there afterward, that I submitted my application for membership.
During the time the Lodge was forming, the following Masonic affiliated groups were also being formed: Conejo Valley Chapter No. 632, Order of Eastern Star, Bethel No. 324, International Order of Job’s Daughters, Conejo Valley Assembly No. 218, International Order of Rainbow for Girls, and Conejo Valley Chapter, Order of DeMolay. All are currently active, except the Rainbow for Girls Assembly. The Conejo Valley Shrine Club was formed with many of the early members of the Lodge participating. Later, the Westlake Village Shrine Club was formed and after a few years, the two clubs merged and the Conejo-Westlake Shrine Club was active the the valley for some time. In 1986, the local High 12 Cluve received a charter and is very active in encouraging members of the Craft living in the area to join and participate in Conejo Valley Lodge. In May, 1982, Conejo St. John Council, The Allied Masonic Degrees, received dispensation to form the Council. It’s primary function is to research Masonic subjects and present papers to the members of the Council.
Through the years of the Lodge and it’s affiliated organizations have been involved in many community activities. The Masonic fraternity participates with a float in the annual parade for Conejo Valley Days, the largest community participation event in the city. Members of the Lodge participate on several of the event committees and the Job’s Daughters and Eastern Star usually participate with food booths on the midway, selling chocolate covered strawberries and elephant ears.
On June 29, 1974, Members of Conejo Valley Lodge and the Grand Lodge of California and Hawaii, dedicated the new Cypress Elementary school by putting on the cornerstone laying ceremony. This ceremony is a traditional function performed by Masons at the dedication of a structure. Many buildings in our government have been dedicated in this manner, including the Capitol of the United States of America.
In the Lodge archives, there is a picture with Robert Leiser – Junior Warden, Leonard Middleton – Senior Warden, Jermone Michaelson – Worshipful Master, Conejo Valley Lodge No. 807 in 1974, Raymond Ebbage – Grand Master of Mason in California and Hawaii, Kent Ashworth – Principal, Cypress School, Arthur Doornbos – Superintendent of the Timber School District and Ralph Flewelling – Architect.
Conejo Valley Lodge is involved with the community. In 1986, the members of the Conejo Valley Lodge proudly participated with Masons from all over the United States of America in contributing funds for the refurbishing The Statue of Liberty, in the New York Harbor. Locally, on May 30, 1992, the City of Thousand Oaks created a Veterans Memorial at the Conejo Creek Park. Members of Conejo Valley Lodge contributed $1,000.00 towards the memorial and we are proud to have our name inscribed on the memorial plaque.
In January, 1996, in the City of Moorpark, the grandson of Worshipful Tom Waite, Past Master, drowned in a tragic accident. He was attempting to take a short cut home by crossing a raging Arroyo Simi. The community placed heavy pressure on the city to provide safe crossing at that location. A bridge was finally constructed and dedicated on May 30, 1997. There were over two hundred residents in attendance at the dedication. The Conejo Valley Lodge presented a plaque memorializing the life of the young man inscribed, “For all the children who will pass this way, JOEL BURCHFIELD.” Presented by Conejo Valley Lodge No. 807, F & AM. This plaque was provided entirely by donations from members of the Lodge.
Each year in April, the Lodge is instrumental in having a Public Schools Program designed to make the community aware of how important the public schools are in educating our youth. The Grand Lodge of California was the driving force in starting Public Schools Week in California.
Gardens of the World
In 202, Conejo Valley Lodge joined with the other Masonic groups in Thousand Oaks, the DeMolay, Job’s Daughters, Eastern Star, Conejo Valley/Westlake Shrine Club and the High Twelve, by supporting the new “Gardens of the World,” community park by purchasing a commemorative brick that is placed in front of the visitors center.
Child ID Program
Currently the Lodge is involved in the one of the most enthusiastically received programs by the community, the Child ID Program. Initiated by the Grand Lodge of California, the Lodge digitally takes a a picture of a child, along with their thumbprints, which are then printed on a form. The form is given to the parents who fill in the personal data and are asked to keep it in a safe place. Lodge members voted to provide this service for numerous schools and community events free of charge. New members of the Lodge would find it very rewarding to participate in this community service.
Fire Destroys the Lodge Annex
On Saturday, July 25, 1992, just before midnight, a devastating fire struck the Lodge Annex, causing extensive damage to the building and to the paraphernalia in the storage rooms of all three youth groups and Eastern Star. Luckily, the Lodge office and several rental officers were not affected and it was decided to immediately rebuild the hall and kitchen.