Mill Valley Lodge No. 356 of Mill Valley, Marin County, stands unique in that the first attempt to organize it was made by both Masons and non-Masons.
After several informal meetings of which no record was kept, the non-Masons learned that only Master Masons could organize a Lodge. Therefore, they withdrew from further deliberations and several of them petitioned Marin Lodge of San Rafael for the degrees. After they had been raised, they again gathered with their brethren, holding their first recorded preliminary meeting in the home of Brother Harvey Asbury Klyce in Mill Valley, March 3, 1903.
At this meeting, they chose the name "Mill Valley" for their Lodge, appointed a committee to draw up a petition for dispensation and respectively nominated Klyce, Louis Lyman Janes and Charles Ellis Stocker their first Master, Senior and Junior Warden. On recommendation of Marin Lodge, their dispensation was issued by Grand Master Henderson July 17, 1903. When the first meeting was held under it three days later, however, the officer setup had been changed a bit. Klyce was still Master and Janes was still Senior Warden, but James Newlands, Jr., had replaced Stocker as Junior Warden.
Mill Valley received its charter the following October 15, and was duly constituted on the floor of Grand Lodge that same evening. But, as with Presidio Lodge ahead of it, there was a lag between the issuance and dating of its charter. The Roster of Lodges in the Grand Lodge Proceedings tell us that its charter, the same as Presidio's, as dated October 16.
A note in Brother Thomas C. Nelson's history of the Lodge compiled in 1932 reveals that Mill Valley's first meeting place was indeed a humble one. "While the formal work of organization and degree work was being carried on," said Nelson, "there were many other problems before the Lodge, the most important of which was the procuring of a suitable Lodge room. When it was found that Grethel's Hall was not suitable for the purpose, Bro. Klyce and certain other loyal brethren converted Bro. Klyce's basement into a lodge room. Practice meetings were held there until the Masonic Hall was ready for occupancy."
As for the Masonic Hall, it appears that the brothers had bought a parcel of land on which to build one shortly after holding their first recorded preliminary meeting, paying $3,500 for it. This parcel apparently consisted of two lots, only one of which was used by the Lodge. When the Hall was almost completed, the Hall Association was formed and certain of the brethren subscribed for stock in it. Some years later, the Lodge, acting through the Hall Association, sold one of the lots for $3,525 in order to reduce its indebtedness on the Hall. And in 1924 it remodeled the whole building at a cost of $18,000, $16,000 of which was borrowed from a bank.
This debt was retired fast. At the time Brother Nelson wrote, only $1,000 remained to be paid.
For its first furnishings, Mill Valley had to depend largely on the resourcefulness of its members. According to Nelson, "the gavels were furnished by E.R. Hundley of Oakland; the Ashlars by (the) Colusa Marble Company through the courtesy of Mr. Van Norde. Bro. Harvey Klyce purchased apron cloth and with the aid of Mrs. Klyce, made the aprons; Marin Lodge presented the jewels; Bro. J. Fred Schlingman purchased many of the chairs and the alter and stations at favorable prices. Bro. Harvey Klyce and Tom Greaves purchased the dishes at wholesale, as well as other chairs."
Plainly, the brethren of Mill Valley "knew their way around" when it came to getting the most for their money. It is a good thing they did, for as Nelson noted, their fellows have ever since been "able to hold meetings with a reasonable degree of comfort."
In its first returns, filed under dispensation, Mill Valley reported 22 Master Masons. It grew fast at first, but like many other Lodges of the Bay Area, took some sharp losses during the 1930's. In 1930 it filed returns on a membership of 372; in 1940, on 299. By 1949, however, when it reported an enrollment of 399 it had completely recovered.
From, One Hundred Years of Freemasonry in California, Vol. III, (1950)
The Ceiling of Mill Valley Lodge #356
Mill Valley Lodge Construction Newspaper Clippings
Comprehensive History of Mill Valley Lodge