The mostly windowless building imposes itself upon Franklin Boulevard in Ohio City, near the axis of West 28th Street and Fulton Road. Passing motorists might not immediately recognize the monolith for what it is. A stone etching reads: "THIS BUILDING IS DEDICATED AND CONSECRATED TO THE SPIRIT OF FREEMASONRY."
This is Halcyon Lodge No. 498, and it is riddled with a divisive history.
Ingenuity Festival will host its second annual Bal Ingenieux May 4 at the lodge, which is alternately known as Halcyon Charities' West Side Community Center and the headquarters of the fledgling Grand Orient of the United States. Once upon a time, the members of the lodge forcibly detached themselves from any semblance of normalcy. The group voted to leave the Grand Lodge of Ohio and the umbrella of the United Grand Lodge of England in November 2007. In the name of progressive, forward-thinking ideals, the lodge fell into the lineage of the Grand Orient of France.
In 2010, the Grand Orient of France reversed a long-standing tradition of barring women from membership. In the ensuing years, the organization has begun - with controversy - initiating women into its ranks. Constituent lodges, of which Halcyon was one until recently, maintained the authority to decide among themselves whether women would be permitted. To date, women are not allowed as members of Halcyon Lodge in Cleveland.
A contingent of Halcyon's leadership sought to initiate female members locally, but they were unequivocally shot down. Abrupt resignations ensued and Halcyon's remaining flock was left seeking a new future - one eventually divorced from the Grand Orient of France. When even a localized Masonic revolution tried to move forward culturally, the organization maintained an ever-firm bar against admitting female members or professed atheists. It's a curious contrast to the open-minded creativity of Ingenuity Festival's ethos.
This weekend, hundreds of people from around Cleveland will attend Bal Ingenieux, a fundraising event organized by the folks behind Ingenuity Fest.
It will be held in Halcyon's beautiful building. Aesthetically, the lodge complements Ingenuity's throwback to Cleveland's Kokoon Arts Club, an arts-friendly, bohemian group that held its annual Bal-Masque event from 1913 to 1946.
And with a simultaneous eye for intrigue, the team behind Ingenuity Festival has actively sought out settings to illuminate Kokoon's outlandish history. Enter Halcyon.
"We want the audience to arrive there and kind of explore from room to room...and discover the place," Ingenuity Festival's artistic director, James Krouse, says. Halcyon, for its part, has granted Ingenuity a fair amount of autonomy over the place. "They've been fantastic in terms of opening the space and letting us explore it and make it our own."
For a night, the building encapsulates the transformative effects of Bal Ingenieux. Masked attendees will frolic among activities involving music, dance, food and drink.
Between hosting regular meeting for members and opening their doors for events like Bal Ingenieux and various performing arts gigs, Halcyon Lodge's goings-on remain little more than a combination of subtle mystique and run-of-the-mill Masonic business. "Here we sit with the coolest clubhouse in town," Tom Coste, one of the current leaders of the lodge, says.
One past member of Halcyon Lodge points to the group's bigotry - and the closed-mindedness of Freemasonry, in general - as a backdrop for open events taking place there. A prohibition on membership for half the population, the former member notes, "[is] something that most of society would find odious."
"It's accepted that they don't let women in, but it's something that needs to be questioned - especially when you have something like Ingenuity, [which is] devoted to advancing arts and culture in Cleveland," he says.
A quick overview of the lodge's history takes the casual observer back to 1875, when the Worshipful Brother A. D. Bigelow founded the temple with the seemingly earnest goal of progressivism.
In present times, average membership demographics include a turn toward relatively younger men in their 30s and young 40s. Recent trips to the history books show a propensity for self-reliance, albeit tied in with controversial attempts at snubbing authority.
In December 2006, the lodge set up Halcyon Charities, a 501(c)3 that assumed ownership of the building. The idea was to get the Great Lodge of Ohio off Halcyon's collective back. "We as Masons donated 100 percent of our stock to the charity - and our cash and everything," Coste says.
Litigation ensued and all sorts of nasty Mason forum bullshit flooded the Internet as the lodge's historical lineage ambled toward the formation of the Grand Orient of the United States, an offshoot group that was formed in retaliation to the Grand Lodge of Ohio's autonomy. "[We left] to get out of the umbrella of rules and regulations. We couldn't do anything with the facility under their rules," Coste says. For instance, Halcyon members wanted to serve booze at open events.
"It had never happened in the history of Masonry," Coste says of the break-away. In Ohio City, the basis of Masonic revolution was fomenting. "It was almost like the misfit island of Masons," he adds with a chuckle, pointing to the group's independent streak.
"There's such a history of traditions being broken. We blew them all away," Coste says. "I plan on pulling back the veil for people." Outside of third-party events like Bal Ingenieux, however, women are not permitted in the club and the veil certainly will not be pulled back for them.
In 2010 and 2011, lodges attached to the Grand Orient of the United States began dropping out of existence or voting themselves out of the Orient altogether. Some moved on to other umbrella organizations, such as the George Washington Union of Freemasons, a separate order that also works under the Grand Orient of France.
On Aug. 29, 2011, the order came down from France:
"We wanted to inform you that in its plenary session on 27 and 28 May the Council of the Order of the Grand Orient of France took the decision to terminate the agreement with the Grand Orient of the United States of America (GOUS) and the withdrawal of the licenses that had been granted."
That revocation of amity, four years after Halcyon split from the Grand Lodge of Ohio, dealt an internationally troubling blow to the organization. The move doubled as an opportunity for Halcyon to stray deeper into their own terra incognita.
"It's not who we are and what we're about, ultimately. ...We've stayed pretty far away from it," Krouse says of Ingenuity's intersection with Freemasonry via Halcyon Lodge. "We want to respect their past and work in partnership wherever their comfort level is."
And that partnership came about by way of Ingenuity's earnest search for the unsung nooks and crannies of Cleveland.
"In general, we specialize in moving into unknown spaces in the city," Krouse says. Indeed, that's a major thrust of Ingenuity's charm.
Halcyon Lodge, as a juxtaposition, remains one of the more closed-off organizations in the city.
"In reality, they can just call themselves whatever they want and they can do whatever they want and not be recognized by anyone. The flip side is they're not recognized by anyone," one of Halcyon's former members says. This weekend, they'll call themselves host to Bal Ingenieux.
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