On June 8, 1873, a group of Elks who were San Franciscan actors and entertainers decided to organize an Elks Lodge. During their fifth local meeting, the following communication dated April 26, 1873 was sent to the Grand Lodge in New York City:
To Grand Lodge, BPOE, New York City: We, the undersigned members of the above mentioned honorable order, now residing in San Francisco, respectfully request that you grant us a charter to form a branch lodge in this city. The good that the Order will derive from such a charter will be fully explained by Brothers Smith and Ryman.
The letter was signed by ten members and referred to a special committee. Members Gus Phillips, R. S. Martin, and Henry O’Neil recommended that the charter be granted immediately when seven members “of the second degree” (already initiated into the Order) were present. This proved a barrier for Lodges far away from Grand Lodge and this rule was finally modified during the June 1875 session of the Grand Lodge. On April 11, 1876 San Francisco Lodge No. 3 was formally instituted in Anthony Hall on Bush Street. The first election for Lodge Officers was held on May 2, 1876, with Thomas R. Eagleson (better known by his stage name of Tom Keene) elected as the Exalter Ruler.
The Early Years
We do know the dissension resulted in a number of members leaving and forming a second Lodge. In December 1879, a charter was granted to California Lodge No. 12. Both Lodges held their meetings at the Red Man’s Hall, located at 510 Bush Street. This was the first and only time in Elk history that two Lodges were chartered in the same city. Indeed, this was the reason Grand Lodge enacted rules prohibiting more than one Lodge in any city or town. On December 13, 1885, the two Lodges resolved their differences, merged, and were charted as Golden Gate Lodge No. 6. Lodge No. 6 met with mixed success until they began their annual carnival. The annual carnival was a huge success and allowed the Lodge to buy some local land as a burial plot for members.
Dissension soon reappeared at Golden Gate Lodge No. 6. Several members complained about morals violations, specifically games they perceived to be gambling and the activities of the annual carnival. This dissension grew until Golden Gate Lodge No. 6 was suspended pending the visit of Grand Exalted Ruler Meade Detweiler who would decide the final disposition. After a two week investigation, Detweiler determined that the two sides were so polarized that reunification was impossible.
Following a long discussion, a motion was made by a member unaffiliated with either side, that Lodge No. 6 be reorganized under the original name and number. The decision as to who could belong was left to the Grand Exalted Ruler.
Detweiller called on various business and civic leaders who became charter members. Detweiler then combed the lists of Golden Gate No. 6 and excluded all of those he considered leaders of the previous factions. On August 24, 1896, San Francisco Lodge No. 3 was reinstated. Despite the overwhelming accolades for the work of Detweiller, the dissension didn’t end there. Lodge No. 6 went on to incorporate as a fraternal organization with the State of California, and members who had been excluded from No. 3 continued to hold meetings as Lodge No. 6, though their charter had been revoked. A lawsuit eventually resolved the entire matter in favor of Lodge No. 3 and the meetings and incorporation of Lodge No. 6 ended. Meetings were held at 223 Sutter.
Prior to April 18, 1906, Lodge No. 3 held meetings at 223 Sutter Street. The earthquake and fire devastated the City, destroying the Lodge and records from the early years. In spite having no facilities from which to work, Lodge No. 3 Elks quickly set up soup kitchens and tents to serve the public. They donated, as they could, household items, clothing, and opened up the surviving homes of members for those less fortunate.
Grand Lodge also quickly mobilized and with a grant of $10,000 dollars, Grand Exalted Ruler Robert W. Brown set up a base of operations at Oakland Lodge No. 171. When he arrived in Oakland, he found a committee of one thousand Elks had already been organized. In the words of State of California Governor George Pardee,
The Elks were the first to render assistance and have valiantly headed the relief procession ever since.
Within ten hours of the disaster, Elks had equipped a tented city, hospitals, and were taking care of approximately 2,000 people with these facilities. Provision wagons from Oakland Lodge #171 were the first to enter the city.
As the recovery of the city progressed, San Francisco Lodge No. 3 moved their headquarters to a Victorian building located at 818 Hayes Street.