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Waluga 181 Past, Present and Future

by: Vern Uyetake, Mike Gates, the current Master of the Waluga Lodge, stands at the main podium when he presides over meetings. On the floor are members, from left, Tom Apperson, Loran Steinberg, John Masarik, Bill Soutwell and Ron Ellenson.

It seems that every time you travel in downtown Lake Oswego it looks a little plusher, newer and fashionable.

Changes never stop happening. The old small-town America atmosphere is fading away.

Then there is Waluga 181, a Masonic temple tucked away on Second Street, just off A Avenue. It hasn't faded away at all. In fact, it's just plain interesting. It looks out of place in a good way. It looks like somewhere that Judge Hardy wouldn't mind stopping by. Or maybe Rod Serling.

But it is also a little mysterious. What goes on there? Is it still in use? How has the temple avoided being transformed into a women's accessories shop?

'People ask me about it all the time,' said Mike Gates, Masonic master of Waluga Lodge, which meets in the temple. 'There is nothing mysterious going on there. It's about as secret as the Internet. It does have a lot of tradition.'

Gates, a West Linn resident, also happens to be president of the West Linn City Council.

The things done in the temple haven't really changed much in more than 70 years. Pretty much the things Americans enjoyed doing in the 1930s - having banquets, dances, pageants, parties, holiday celebrations, family gatherings - and also today.

Of course, to best appreciate the Waluga 181 it helps to have someone who has been around the place a long, long time as a guide. Someone like Loran Steinberg, who has been lodge master four times. In fact, his photo appears four times in what he jokes is 'The Rogues Gallery' of all masters of the lodge - except one.

'He didn't give us his picture,' Steinberg said. 'I'm still working on that.'

'The Rogues Gallery' is actually one of the most charming aspects of the temple, along with another long gallery of photos showing the Order of Job's Daughters from the 1940s and 1950s, all of them wearing beauty queen crowns and big smiles. Plus there is other Masonic memorabilia that is on display.

It's like a museum of Americana, but it also shows how much these Lake Oswego Masons appreciate tradition.

Waluga's temple has a long pre-Mason history. Built in the 1890s, it was known as the Red Man Building, and for many years it was used for Lake Oswego community events and as a movie theatre, showing such greats as Tom Mix.

But the grand old building went up for sale in 1933 and Waluga Lodge grabbed the chance to buy it for about $3,000. Lodge members traded their own lot, then took a mortgage on the rest of the price and paid it off in 10 years. It took a lot of spaghetti dinners, pancake breakfasts and dances, but they did it, even though it was the era of the Great Depression.

Waluga Lodge proceeded to build a legacy in the facility over the next 75 years. Members have included many community leaders, and as they helped to build this community (especially in education and hospitals), they steadily worked to improve the temple, upgrading and remodeling it as needs demanded. Often the lodge members took up picks and shovels and did the work themselves, such as when they dug out the basement and created the dining area.

Today, with 69 members in Waluga 181, Gates noted, 'We're not a big lodge.' But it is one of the most stable. Especially in this time when declining membership is forcing a lot of changes for Masons in Oregon.

'Lots of lodges are going through transformation,' Gates said, 'like in Forest Grove (where the old building is now a very large McMenamins establishment) and other places. When membership drops, old buildings are a bear to maintain.'

Certainly, Waluga 181 has had the chance to sell out and move to a smaller location. But so far the lodge members have not been given an offer they can't refuse.

As one long-time member said, 'I don't know what the city fathers have in mind for this block, but my hope is to keep using it. It has been here since 1933 and it would be kind of nice to stay here.

'There have been several offers to buy this building. We said, 'Why are you sending people? It's not on the market.''

The old temple may not be on the market for a long time, thanks to veteran members like Steinberg and relative newcomers like Gates, a six-year member who says, 'Waluga Lodge is the most recent adventure for me. We're not hurting. We do need to be creative in maintaining the temple.'

As the current lodge master, Gates doesn't want to keep the light of Waluga 181 under a bushel basket. He plans to have an open house at the temple in the future.

After all, it is about as mysterious as the Internet.

As for membership benefits of Waluga 181, this historic Mason slogan describes one of the best: 'It will take a good man and make him better.'