Feb. 27, 1926: The proposed building for the 233 Club in the Los Angeles Times.
The jazz-mad, high-flying 1920s celebrated adventure, life, and excitement after all the dreariness and death of World War I. New-fangled fads skyrocketed in popularity one day, sliding to the basement the next as something shiny and new caught the eye. People rushed to join social clubs, with new private, social, and charitable organizations opening every day. While lodges like the Elks and Moose, and veterans and patriotic groups like the American Legion, the Grand Army of the Republic, and the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution had existed for decades, new organizations like the Rotary, Kiwanis, and Optimists exploded in growth. Not to be outdone, Hollywood formed its own social groups like the 400 Club, the Mayfair Club, and the Masquers Club.
At the same time, a group of 50 New York City Masons now in Hollywood decided to form their own Masonic Temple. Calling themselves the 233 Club, after the name of New York’s Pacific Lodge F & AM No. 233 which contained only theatrical and entertainment members, the group elected Edward Davis, former president of the National Vaudeville Association as President and Don Meany as Vice President, per the July 8, 1924 Los Angeles Times.
Over the next month, they visited other Masonic groups before deciding to set down roots, writing their own charter, and following other legalities. The main directive in their August 16, 1924 charter stated that a member must be “a Master Mason in good standing in any lodge in the world and a motion picture worker in any capacity.” The group quickly exploded in number, with visions of a fantastic future not always backed up by realistic budgets.
To celebrate the Shriners National Convention in Los Angeles in May 1925, the group organized a 7 pm parade on May 5 from the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street up Highland Avenue to the Hollywood Bowl for the large celebration, led by Buck Jones on horseback, an elephant from the Universal City Zoo, camels, Boy Scouts, and veterans of foreign wars. Hundreds of 233 Club members marched behind, including Jean Hersholt, Milton Sills, George Fawcett, Wallace Beery, Raymond McKee, and Henry Walthall, with electrical displays by film industry lights and trucks. Electrified floats carrying the likes of Mary Philbin, William Desmond, Phyllis Haver, Pauline Starke, Marion Nixon, Clara Bow, and Betty Bronson followed behind, along with bands.
In the November 25, 1925 issue of Motion Picture News, the club announced plans to construct a twelve-story clubhouse, providing auditorium, meeting, and social space, as well as apartments for “visiting Masons.” While the group lacked money for the project, they dreamed big, led by President Davis and Vice Presidents Frank Lloyd and Milton Sills. The article revealed that the group had expanded to a restricted membership of 1,233 as it celebrated its first anniversary with a fourteen-act vaudeville show by members.
The January 23, 1926 Motion Picture News stated that the financially sound club gave President Davis a Chrysler coupe at Christmas and appropriated $1,000 to bring holiday cheer to disadvantaged children and inmates. The article reveals a price tag of $1.5 million for the proposed clubhouse. Recently elected officers included a reelected President Davis; Vice Presidents Frank Lloyd, Wallace Beery, and John McCormick; Corresponding Secretary Bryant Washburn; and Recording Secretary Raymond McKee, among others. New inductees included Douglas Fairbanks, Edwin Carewe, Monte Blue, Del Lord, and Walter Long.
Film Director Frank Lloyd suggested a large patriotic event to celebrate the nation’s Sesquicentennial in July, which the group pitched to the American Legion and Sons of the American Revolution, who wholeheartedly supported it. Gaining the approval of the city of Los Angeles, the group announced in the February 9, 1926 Variety that Lloyd would stage an enormous patriotic pageant at the Coliseum on July 5 at 2 pm, sponsored by the 233 Club, which would “promote good citizenship and advance the cause of Americanization.” The Scottish Lloyd himself was inspired to dream up the grand event when he became a United States citizen in 1925.
Over 112 groups and 100 stars took part in the massive patriotic pageant, including 7500 people in costume and 1000 singers, which cost only 25 cents to attend, with advance tickets available for purchase at all drugstores and West Coast Theatres. A field staff of 300 organized participants, aided by 70 men handing wardrobe and 50 serving lunch. Such patriotic groups as veteran organizations, the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution, the Grand Army of the Republic, YMCA, Salvation Army, and Boy Scouts all participated. Performers included Maurice “Lefty” Flynn as Marquis de Lafayette, Wallace MacDonald as Junipero Sera, James Welch as Teddy Roosevelt, Tom Mix as Paul Revere, Lionel Belmore as Benjamin Franklin, Herbert Rawlinson as John Hancock, Viola Dana as Betsy Ross, George Bancroft as George Ross, Hoot Gibson as a Pony Express Rider, Russell Simpson as General Fremont, Monte Blue as an American Cavalryman, and Signers of the Declaration of Independence included Jean Hersholt, George Fawcett and Sidney Bracey.
The pageant included the midnight ride of Paul Revere, the battles of Lexington and Concord, the surrender of General Cornwallis, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the signing of Peace at Appomattox, Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, California and the establishment of the missions, and World War I, along with floats and bands. According to the July 6, 1926 Los Angeles Times, “50,000 men, women, and children alternately wept and cheered, applauded and sang,” gripped by the spectacle in front of them. One of the most moving segments occurred at the beginning as Boy Scouts ushered in 300-400 men and women who had recently become United States citizens, with the paper stating, “It brought home to the thousands looking on the realization that they have been enjoying these many years inalienable rights that others must acquire by formal procedure.”
Los Angeles Mayor Cryer and past President of the American Legion gave speeches before events concluded with the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner.
To celebrate their third anniversary, the 233 Club organized a massive parade up Hollywood Boulevard on August 18, 1926, with more than a 1000 members walking the street. They made an impressive sight as always, splashing their name across newspapers and entertainment trades. While they did some charity work, like giving out Christmas gifts to children in December, it appeared they enjoyed more social events like picnics at Sherwood Forest, giant Thanksgiving dinners, and evenings at the theatre celebrating each other.
While they planned this event, the group followed their grand dream of building their skyscraper clubhouse, organizing a real estate committee to search for locations, including members like real estate and banking man Gilbert Beesemyer, Davis, Hersholt, C. E. Toberman, and Harry Warner. Celebrities and entertainment workers continued joining the thriving club, like directors and executives Irving Thalberg, Harry Rapf, J. Stuart Blackton, Carl Laemmle, Jack Warner, Frank Borzage, William Beaudine, and Fred Niblo.
The October 9, 1926 Los Angeles Times reported the 233 Club intended to build a $1.5 million height-limit building at the northeast corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, an elaborately designed building by architects Walker and Eisen. The building would feature a swimming pool in the basement, barbershop, gym, and Turkish baths on the first floor, theatre and assembly rooms on the second and third floors, library grill, billiards, and club rooms on the fourth floor, rooms for men on the fifth floor, and the floors above to contain apartments for visiting Masons and their families. A leased roof-top garden would provide views of Hollywood. The building was intended as “a monument to Masonry and the 233 Club,” as well as a social gathering for the entertainment industry. Construction would begin in early 1927 for an opening by early January 1928.
Unfortunately, financial problems seemed to weight down the group. The pageant left debts of over $6,500, causing the 233 Club to organize a massive show and dance at the Shrine Auditorium on November 24, 1926 to cover costs, as well as to help build the construction fund for the new building. Stars, bands, and vaudeville performers would entertain in the show directed by Fanchon and Marco, along with the 50 piece 233 Club Band, 233 Club Symphony Orchestra, and 233 Club Sax-o-Seven. Actor Herbert Rawlinson served as Master of Ceremonies for the show, for which the paper announced Mary Pickford, Corinne Griffith, Mary Astor, and others had already purchased tickets. Many stars appeared at the show to draw the public, and then everyone danced until the wee hours of the morning.
On February 27, 1927, the group announced they had received authorization to sell stock regarding construction of their new clubhouse, property of which they had leased for 99 years. Construction would start in approximately sixty days, following removal of some one-story buildings.
While the group continued holding public events, providing charity, and participating in social activities, no work began on the proposed new clubhouse. Variety finally announced in November 28, 1928 that the group had leased the original Masquers Clubhouse at 6735 Yucca Street for 99 years as their own clubhouse, which they would occupy on January 14, 1929. The 233 club intended to build a $100,000 1000 seat auditorium behind the building shortly after moving in. The group hired architect H. Roy Kelley to draw up plans, announcing on April 18, 1929 that they hoped to being construction in thirty days. The planned auditorium would be shaped in an oval, with “rows of swivel chairs rising from the main floor on six inch elevations,” allowing for meal service either on trays or tables, with a platform at one end for speakers and officers. Not until March 8, 1930 did the Hollywood Filmograph announce that Meyer and Holler would build the $75,000 Auditorium, never to be mentioned again.
Current members like Harold Lloyd, Mix, Fairbanks, Walthall, Fawcett, Raymond Hatton, Charles Ray, Kenneth Harlan, and George Bancroft enjoyed festivities held by the club like a Midnight Revel and other social activities. Regular meetings were held semi-monthly on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. The group also organized a major three day benefit performance at the Shrine Auditorium in May 1930, raising money for the milk fund, Mt. Sinaaai House, and the Sheriff’s Fund. Unfortunately, major stars began leaving the organization as more minor entertainment workers and business people joined, causing financial problems and image issues.
Matters weren’t helped when 115 men, most 233 Club members, were arrested at the Montmartre and Embassy Clubs for illegal gambling on October 1, 1931. Such members as Gene Morgan, Robert Vignola, and Harry Carey were involved in the incident, which looked poorly on the club.
Finances dropped precipitously, with the club virtually moving to the Hollywood Masonic Temple for meetings in 1932. The 233 Club sued the federal government on October 25, 1932, asking for the return of $12,905 paid in taxes since 1924, arguing they were a fraternal, and not social club. The club won their suit, receiving all monies requested.
In 1933, the group leased 6735 Yucca Street to the Hollywood Chess and Bridge Club, which lasted only a few months. Max Amsterdam’s Casino with Gypsy Clarke moved in by August 11, 1933, per newspaper ads, later raiding in early 1938 on gambling charges.
When C. W. Hawkins, President of the Hollywood Masonic Club sued 233 Club and the Hollywood Masonic Temple for $100,000 on August 25, 1936 after the group was forced to move to the basement for meetings against their agreement, the writing was on the wall. On July 28, 1937 at 7:30 pm, items inside the 233 Club at 6735 Yucca St. were auctioned off, including “Many famous mementoes.” Everything was sold off, including furniture, appliances, billiard tables, radio, books, pictures, and typewriter. The Club ceased to exist.
Over the next sixty years, several groups operated out of the building, including the Vassa Memorial Spiritualist Church in 1942, the Villa Capri nightclub for decades, and KPAC classic music radio station in the 1980s and early 1990s. Now a fancy apartment building occupies the site.
Though serving the community and charity, pretentiousness and self-centeredness eventually brought down the 233 Club, Hollywood’s auxiliary Masonic group. While a short-lived organization, the group organized major events entertaining and inspiring thousands in the city of Los Angeles.