Hawai‘i was first visited by Freemasons as early as the early-1790s, with the visit of George Vancouver (however, some suggest Captain Cook was a Freemason, but the records don’t substantiate that.) Over time, other Freemasons (mariners, merchants and professionals) visited the Islands.
However, it was a French mariner who introduced this British cultural export into Hawai‘i at a time when the Union Jack flew over the kingdom’s capital. On April 8, 1843, during the reign of King Kamehameha III (Kauikeaouli,) Freemasonry was formally established in Hawai‘i by Joseph Marie Le Tellier, Captain of the French whaling barque “Ajax” when he warranted Lodge Le Progres de l’Oceanie No. 124, of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of the Supreme Council of France.
This was the first Masonic Lodge to be instituted in the Islands; with it, Freemasonry became firmly established in the Sandwich Islands. In Honolulu, the original lodge members were European and American mariners, shopkeepers and farmers.
Membership in Masonic lodges has always served to facilitate business contacts, as well as social ones. By the late-1840s there were about thirty-five merchants and storekeepers in Honolulu, of whom about one third were Masons. Similar ratios existed for the other 150 skilled “mechanics” and professionals in town.
Later, in 1879, King Kalākaua (one of the most active members of the Craft in the Island Kingdom,) conducted a grand Masonic ceremony at the site of the new ‘Iolani Palace, using Masonic silver working tools specially crafted for the occasion.
Then, on the evening of Thursday, December 3, 1896, an informal meeting was held at the home of William Whitmore Goodale, at Papaikou, on the Island of Hawaiʻi. The needs were discussed and it was decided to take the necessary steps for a Masonic Lodge on the Island of Hawaiʻi.
On February 4, 1897, the Grand Master of Masons in California, Thomas Flint, Jr., issued a dispensation to open and hold a Masonic Lodge to be called, “Kilauea Lodge.” The Lodge, with a membership of 16, was granted its charter on October 15, 1897, and was constituted as Kilauea Lodge No. 330, F&AM (Free & Accepted Masons.) (Chausee)
“Andrew Brown, District Inspector, Jos. Little, Arch. Gilfillan and half a dozen other prominent Masons will leave by the next Kinau for Hilo to some work for the order at that place. Mr. Brown will deliver to Masonic Lodge at Hilo, its charter and will direct the installation of officers. The lodge there has been working under dispensation for a year, but will now be firmly attached the Grand Lodge of California.” (Hawaiian Gazette, February 11, 1898)
Kilauea Lodge became “a full fledged lodge, peaceful, prosperous, progressive, and is ably and faithfully fulfilling its mission of brotherly love, relief and truth. They have recently purchased a large lot on Waianuenue street and hope at an early date to see their way clear to follow in the footsteps of Hawaiian Lodge and build for themselves a suitable and comfortable home.” (Freemasons)
“The Masonic Hall Association at its meeting Saturday last decided definitely to built a fine brick and stone building upon their lot recently purchased of the Territory at the corner of Waianuenue and Bridge streets.”
“The building will be two stories in height with basement … The upper story will be used for lodge purposes, while the lower will be constructed for the use of business houses, etc”. (Evening Bulletin, January 18, 1906)
At about this time (1908,) Teddy Roosevelt who was a Freemason was President of the United States; the US Congress authorized the construction of Naval Station at Pearl Harbor; and the Navy’s sixteen new battleships made up the “Great White Fleet” and sailed.
In the local community, the simultaneous event of the completion of the rail link to Honokaʻa, connecting the sugar plantations, their products, and their large working population to Hilo and its port, and the completion of the new breakwater allowing all-weather use of Hilo harbor, provided an expansive business environment for entrepreneurs In the community and across the Island Territory.
Then, the Hilo Masons dedicated their new building. “We have met here today for a specific purpose, namely to solemnly dedicate our masonic hall. Ten or more years ago the Hilo Masonic Hall Association was formed and later on a site purchased, which was farther up Waianuenue street than we are today.”
“Still later negotiations were entered into with the then Governor of the Territory, George B Carter, with a view to making an exchange of sites, the government requiring our uptown lot for school purposes, and giving us in exchange the site that this building now stands on”. (Hawaiian Gazette, March 1, 1910)
“It was finally decided to accept the plans of HE Starbuck, of Oakland. … The cornerstone was laid February 18, 1909. We started out to build a $40,000 building, and have ended up by having one costing double the amount, as nothing but the best of everything would satisfy the boys.”
The structure, which occupies the entire site, consists of three floors and a full basement. The street-level commercial spaces have a reinforced concrete floor, sidewalk freight elevators into the basement and an ingenious natural ventilation system which carried throughout the building.
Though altered in most areas the interiors remaining indicate a high level of decoration, with arched column bays, decorative cast concrete and plaster ceilings and high display windows with operable transoms above. (NPS)
The extensive unbroken tenancy by the Masonic Order (1909-1985) resulted in the second and third floors remaining virtually unchanged (a fire stair was added in 1986.) From the Waianuenue Avenue level lobby an elaborate granite stair with its ornate grained Oak balustrade ascends to the second floor foyer, on to the third level offices, and on again to the former Roof Garden, lauded for its panoramic view of the City of Hilo. (NPS)
The Temple room was two-stories in height with coved ceiling, wainscot, extensive paneling and moldings surrounding the large arch-topped windows, and an Organ Gallery overlooking the room through arched openings; the original suspended lighting fixtures with faceted globes were encased and formed brass frames.
Though ownership of the building has changed hands several times since its construction, the Masonic Order retained its occupancy of the second and third floor spaces until about 1985 when the Issuance of a liquor license to a ground floor tenant forced them to vacate under the rules of the Order which does not allow joint occupancy with liquor establishments.
The Hilo Masonic Temple is among the Hilo’s most substantial and best preserved historic structures. Constructed in 1908-10 in the Renaissance Revival style of reinforced concrete and steel, the building was clearly intended to be a lasting monument to the Masonic Order whose dramatic Lodge Hall and Temple facilities were located on the second and third floors.
The Masonic Temple construction came to completion about the same time as the new Hilo Hotel building was completed, the Hackfeld building nearing completion and with the Volcano Block and S Hata buildings in the planning stages.