Semper Virens Lodge #552

Sixteen Master Masons "Desiring to form a new Lodge in Eureka", held a meeting in the Masonic Temple on Thursday evening, January 12, 1923. At this meeting, the name "Semper Virens" was adopted as represeting the magnificent redwoods of our area. The three principle officers selected were:

  • Harry William Call - Master
  • Henry Armstrong Stern - Senior Warden
  • Leon Merle Conant - Junior Warden

On February 1, 1923, the membership of Humboldt Lodge No. 79 gave their approval and on March 31, 1923, a petition was sent to Grand Lodge asking for a dispensation. It was awarded by Grand Master William A. Sherman.

A first meeting under dispensation was held on May 2, 1923 with 150 Master Masons in attendance. Brother James Thomas Fraser, then Inspector for the First Masonic District (elected Grand Master of Masons in California in 1937) assumed the East and installed the Officers.

The first stated meeting under dispensation was held on May 8, 1923, where ten petitions for degrees and four petitions for affiliation were received.

The Charter was granted at the Annual Communication of Grand Lodge in 1923 and was signed by Grand Master Arthur Saxe Crites. The first regular meeting under Charter was held on November 30, 1923.

Below is another historical account:


A Short History Of

Semper Virens Lodge #552

Free & Accepted Masons

Eureka, California


By Lowell S. Mengel II 

Eureka is unusual in having two Masonic lodges for a city of only 28,000 residents. Most small cities with two lodges can usually trace the division of Freemasonry back to the Civil War, a vigilante movement, or some other divisive event, but Eureka has two lodges because of the early success and popularity of Humboldt Lodge No. 79, F&AM, founded in 1854.

At the beginning of 1923, Humboldt Lodge had over 450 members in a city with a population of about 12,000 residents. The size of the lodge made it impossible for many members to be officers or take part in ritual work. Possibly because it was already large, Humboldt Lodge frequently rejected applicants for degrees, including sons or close friends of lodge members.

At the same time Humboldt Lodge was building a new six-story Humboldt Masonic Temple with plenty of room for a new lodge to meet. The new temple was to open in June, 1923. Thursday January 12, 1923, sixteen Masons met in the existing Humboldt Lodge hall, then located at Second & G Streets, and resolved to organize a second Masonic Lodge in Eureka. The name of "Semper Virens Lodge" was selected from the magnificent Sequoia Sempervirens, or Coast Redwood trees that grow most abundantly in Humboldt County. Semper Virens means "Ever Living" and early member Edward Howard Van Vlack wrote it was the hope of the lodge founders the lodge would be "Ever Living".

Officers selected by the Masons for the new lodge were:

  • Harry William Call as Worshipful Master
  • Harry Armstrong Stern as Senior Warden
  • Leon Merle Conant as Junior Warden
  • Ira Pence Black as Treasurer
  • William Nelson Speegle as Secretary

The other eleven charter members were:

  • Isaac Saff Minor
  • Harry Arthur Duffy
  • Frank Wellington Henry
  • William Hopkins Huddart
  • Vern Leon Harran
  • Warren Edson Innes
  • Herbert John Kramer
  • Stacy Fisher Rittenhouse
  • Elmer Ford North
  • Albert V. Witzki
  • Fred Arthur Peterson

Eight of the Charter Members belonged to Humboldt Lodge and eight were members of other lodges.

Humboldt Lodge voted on February 1, 1923 to recommend the formation of a new lodge and on March 31, 1923 a petition was submitted to the Grand Lodge of Masons seeking a Dispensation, or authorization for a new lodge. Grand Master William A. Sherman issued the Dispensation on April 4, 1923, officially establishing Semper Virens Lodge. The first meeting of the new lodge under dispensation was held May 2, 1923 with Inspector James Thomas Fraser presiding and with 150 Masons present. The Charter Officers selected by the lodge were installed by Fraser.

J.T. "Tom" Fraser had become a Mason in Humboldt Lodge in 1903 and served as Master of Humboldt Lodge in 1912. He served as Inspector of the First Masonic District from 1919 to 1932. He was one of several Humboldt Lodge members who saw the need for a new lodge and supported its formation. Fraser was Grand Orator in 1932, then was elected Grand Junior Warden and moved up until in 1937 he became Grand Master of Masons in California. The husband of his granddaughter and two of Fraser's great-grandsons were later long-time members of Semper Virens Lodge.

The first Stated Meeting or business meeting of the lodge was May 8, 1923 and ten men applied to receive the degrees of Freemasonry and four Masons applied for affiliation with Semper Virens Lodge.

Grand Lodge issued a Charter to Semper Virens Lodge No. 552, F&AM on October 11, 1923, and the lodge was Constituted on November 30, 1923 by Grand Master Arthur Saxe Crites. By then the lodge had 30 members. Semper Virens Lodge prided itself on being a "Young Man's Lodge". It grew fast and had 102 members by 1928.

During the Depression years, from 1930 through 1936, at a time when many Masonic lodges saw membership declines of twenty to thirty percent or more, Semper Virens membership stayed between 119 and 121, then in 1937 it started rising again, reaching 154 members in 1944, 209 members in 1948, and 302 members in 1955.

Not less than nine early members of the lodge were employed by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. In following years at least 26 employees of Pacific Gas & Electric Company joined the lodge until it became known locally as "A PG&E Lodge" and PG&E degree teams often raised co-workers. Ten or more PG&E employees served as Master of Semper Virens Lodge.

The lodge also had numerous loggers, lumber mill, plywood mill and pulp mill employees as members, representing the major Humboldt County employers, as well as many members who supplied the forest products industry.

Semper Virens Lodge membership peaked at about 351 members in 1962. For many years Semper Virens was the second largest (after Humboldt Lodge) of the seven lodges in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. All but one of those other lodges were fifty or more years older than Semper Virens Lodge.

The lodge held its first meetings in the old Second & G Streets lodge hall but in June, 1923, both Humboldt and Semper Virens Lodges moved to the new Humboldt Masonic Temple at Fifth & G Streets, where Semper Virens Lodge has been a faithful tenant of Humboldt Lodge for over 75 years.

So far as is known, Semper Virens Lodge has never had a Masonic Trial, nor has any member been Suspended for Un-Masonic Conduct or Expelled. With about 700 men having belonged to the lodge since 1923, that is a proud boast.

Several officers of the lodge have been very faithful in their service to Freemasonry. Alexander Duncan served as Master of the lodge in 1943, was Treasurer during 1946-47, then he served as Inspector of the First Masonic District (and its renumbered successor districts) for over twenty years, responsible for supervising seven North Coast lodges. During the lodge's first seventy years four secretaries: Christian Knudsen, Cyril Gower Akins, James Courtney Tario and John Fraser Hart all served between eleven and seventeen years in office or over 60 of those first 70 years. Roger Eugene Herrera has served (as of 1999) as Secretary for six years beginning in 1994. Burnie Haywood Kemp served the lodge as Treasurer over fifteen years.

Ten members of the Wrigley family and their in-laws have belonged to the lodge and Theodore Radcliff Wrigley and his cousin James Beaumont Wrigley both served as Master. Three generations of the Skipper family served as Master of the lodge. Troy Malone Skipper was Master in 1958, his son Gerald Dee Skipper was Master in 1982, and Dee's son Gerald Allen Skipper was Master in 1987.

Harry William Call, Charter Master of the Lodge, was installed when he was 25 years old. He signed the by-laws as Number One on the roll and belonged to the lodge until he died in 1983 at age 85, having been the "Senior Member" of the lodge for sixty years. Call had finished his term as Master and gone to Stanford University, then to Stanford Law School, become an attorney, and under the more formal name of Harrison William Call, he served ten years in the State Assembly from San Mateo County.

Two members served as Mayor of Eureka. Harris Raymond Simmonds during 1939-45 and George Clarence Jacobs during 1953-56. Jacobs, who died in office, had a junior high school, a Little League baseball field, and an important street in a new industrial area all named after him. Seven other members of Semper Virens Lodge served on the Eureka City Council and one served on the Fortuna City Council.

Aaron Meyer Bistrin, a native of Poland, was one of the city council members. He founded Bistrins clothing store in 1927, and he and his sons built a chain of close to two dozen Bistrins stores throughout Northern California at the company's peak. One of the bridges crossing Humboldt Bay is named after Bistrin.

William Brother Smullin, a Golden Veteran member of the lodge, founded the first successful AM radio station in Eureka in 1933, the first FM radio station in 1945, the first TV station in Northwestern California in 1953, and the first cable television system. He owned television stations in six California and Oregon cities during his career. Smullin Hall at Willamette University is named after him.

Members of Semper Virens Lodge have held all the offices in the York Rite, several members have received the 33rd degree in Scottish Rite, and lodge members have been active in all other Masonic related bodies and youth groups.

Semper Virens Lodge, founded in 1923, sponsors Eureka Chapter of DeMolay, founded two years earlier in 1921, as a result of Semper Virens Lodge's steadfast support of DeMolay, which resulted in the Lodge assuming sponsorship in 1960 in place of the Oakland Scottish Rite.

The lodge, like many younger lodges in two-lodge cities, has suffered membership losses as post World War II members have passed away, but the members of Semper Virens Lodge still want to belong to an "Ever Living Lodge," practicing the teachings of Freemasonry in the Redwood Empire.