Cornerstone laying and dedication ceremony Saturday

Two years after flames wiped out more than 150 years of records and memories, Crescent City's Freemasons on Saturday will lay a stone at their new lodge from the building that burned down.

A cornerstone laying and rededication ceremony will mark the completion of the new Masonic Community Center at Ninth and B streets. The ceremony will also officially make the lodge available for community activities and fundraisers, said John Pricer, Worshipful Master of Crescent Lodge #45 Free and Accepted Masons.

John L. Cooper III, Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Masons of California, will lead the rededication ceremony, Pricer said.

"In the old days, when the Masons started each building they started in the northeast corner of the building and set the first stone," he said. "Symbolically that's what this cornerstone is celebrating. We saved a stone from the original building and we're going to put it in place, but we haven't done it yet."

Crescent Lodge #45 was chartered in 1853 as California's 45th Masonic Lodge, said Junior Warden Hetzel Akers, who has been a Mason for five years. The original lodge was located along A Street but was damaged in a storm and moved to its current location, he said.

On June 29, 2012, a fire ravaged the building, destroying journals, Bibles and tools dating back to the lodge's birth in 1853. Also lost in the fire were regalia, historical documents and pictures and paintings of past public officials and members.

Luckily, however, the building itself was fully insured against fire, Pricer said. The lodge hired general contractor George Mayer of GR Construction, who helped them find an architect. The Masons held a groundbreaking ceremony in April 2013.

"We've really struggled trying to get it rebuilt," Pricer said, adding that some lodges in other cities haven't been as lucky. "It's just a good thing our insurance coverage was paid up."

Even though the building was insured, the Grand Lodge of California, which is based in San Francisco, could have revoked Crescent City's charter, Akers said. At the time of the fire, most of Crescent City's Masons were older, he said.

"We had to convince them we could keep Masonry alive in Crescent City after so many years," Akers said. "We got through that hurdle and we got the Grand Lodge coming up out of San Francisco to do the cornerstone laying for us. We worked (through) a lot of those hurdles."

The Crescent City Masonic Lodge, which housed 200 Masons at one point, now currently has 75, Akers said. But since the fire, younger men are interested in becoming Masons. At least eight new young men have become Masons, he said.

"Since the fire there continues to be more and more interest in it," Akers said. "We get a lot of firemen and policemen and some of the other people who watched it being rebuilt who have stopped and said, 'Hey, what is all this about?' One of the things about Masonry that a lot of people don't understand is we're not allowed to ask anybody to be a Mason."

The Lodge's new building houses a state-of-the-art kitchen and a dining room that can seat 250, Pricer said. It already served as a venue for a high school reunion and is currently available to rent, he said.

The cornerstone laying and re-dedication ceremony will also include the burying of a time capsule, Pricer said. The time capsule will include commemorative coins and newspaper articles about the Lodge as well as its bylaws and the minutes from a recent meeting. Pricer said a video of the lodge burning down may also be included.

The rededication ceremony will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Crescent City Masonic Community Center at 250 Ninth Street.

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