A largely vacant strip mall in downtown Savage is about to get a makeover for its new owner - a Masonic lodge that had been looking for a new home for more than a decade.
Rich Hervieux, master of Minnesota River Valley Lodge No. 6, said he was determined to find a new location before his one-term expires before the end of this year. An examination of the lodge's 150 members found Savage as a convenient place for a new home, he said.
The main reason for the move says a lot about the changing demographic profile of the worldwide fraternal organization, whose roots go back more than 3,000 years.
The current home for Lodge No. 6 is in Shakopee on the second floor of a building with no elevator. "There is no way to put an elevator or a stairlift into the building, and a lot of the brothers in the lodge are in their 70s and 80s and can't go up there anymore," Hervieux said.
Although it has many older members, Lodge No. 6 has added more members than it has lost in the last several years, Hervieux said. That's not the case for the state overall, where 152 chartered lodges started 2012 with about 14,000 members -- down from more than 21,000 members in 2000, according to reports from the Grand Lodge of Minnesota. Hervieux said membership in the state peaked in 1960 at more than 60,000.
Declining membership has resulted in fewer lodges, many of which have merged in order to continue operating. Lodge No. 6 is made up of four from Shakopee, Jordan, Chaska and Belle Plaine, which joined forces in 1999.
In addition to easier access for its members, the new space for Lodge No. 6 will be about twice as large as the building in Shakopee, Hervieux said. Masonic lodges do a lot of fund raising to support their philanthropy with events like pancake breakfasts. "If your lodge isn't big enough, you end up have to beg or borrow space someplace else that has a kitchen," Hervieux said. That's been the case in Shakopee, but he said the lodge will be able to have its breakfasts and other events at the Savage site.
Although Lodge No. 6 will be a newcomer to Savage, the ties between the city and the Masons go back many years.
More the 90 years ago, the Minnesota Masonic Fraternity bought the former summer estate of M.W. Savage -- a Mason and the city's namesake who is best known as the owner of legendary race horse Dan Patch. Located on the Minnesota River Bluffs in Bloomington, it is the site of the Minnesota Masonic Home nursing care facility as well as the Grand Lodge's headquarters.
Mayor Janet Williams said that historic connection makes it very appropriate that Lodge No. 6 should wind up making Savage its new home.
"It was worth the wait to get them. They're a great asset to the community," she said.
Even though the group won't move into it new facilities until next year, Williams said the lodge has expressed interest in being involved in community events like WinterFest and Dan Patch Days.
Williams was among the crowd of about 100 people on hand for the lodge's recent cornerstone ceremony at the new location. The ceremony recognizes the first stone in a Masonic building's foundation and is a reminder of the group's roots as an organization of stonemasons.
Hervieux said Lodge No. 6 used a symbolic cornerstone for the ceremony. The actual cornerstone will be placed at the new lodge after the architect who is overseeing the renovations decides where it will be placed.
Hervieux said the lodge paid $400,000 for the strip mall on 124th Street and will occupy about one-third of its 15,000 square feet. Part of the mall already houses a dance studio, which recently expanded. The lodge will rent the rest of the space to other tenants.
Susan Feyder • 952-746-3282