Highland Park's newest music venue already has quite a history — not to mention, no doubt, a few ghosts.
For 30 years, the 7,533-square-foot, second-floor space has hosted countless wedding receptions, community meetings, quinceañeras and $5 club nights. That's been the main hall’s principal use since the late '80s, when it was refurbished, along with the rest of the building. Traditionally, the events have been subdued affairs; the building’s one-time manager, Tom Buford, told the L.A. Times in 1990, "I've only once offered to lay a shillelagh on a boy."
Before that, the building was owned and operated by the Masonic Lodge 382, the members of which erected it at the corner of Figueroa Street and Avenue 56 in 1923. The Masons adorned the lodge room with their cryptic iconography, as well as some more unique touches for their members: a mural of an Egyptian sphinx with George Washington’s face; a star-shaped fixture with a secret inscription (“F.A.T.A.L.”) on the ceiling; a tall seat custom-made for Master Mason John Aasen, a silent movie actor who stood a towering 7 feet, 3 inches.
This Friday, Nov. 3, the next chapter in the room's long history begins, as Ty Segall, Bleached and a handful of other L.A. indie rock and singer-songwriter acts will play the inaugural show at the venue christened the Lodge Room by its new owners.
"We wanted to open [the space] up to L.A., for people who have never seen it,” says Kyle Wilkerson, who, along with Brandon Gonzalez, will head up event programming at the space. Wilkerson also works as talent buyer at the Bootleg Theater, and Wilkerson and Gonzalez book and promote shows together around L.A. under the name Sid the Cat.
On a recent Thursday morning, Wilkerson and Gonzalez walked through the back rooms and darkened corridors of the space, testing out trap doors, and stepping around the massive Scandinavian chandelier that lay in an unfinished state on the floor. Even though some elements have changed in the year since the team began updating the space — “The first time we came in here it was set up for a quinceañera,” Wilkerson says — much of the main concert space itself remains fundamentally untouched, including the esoteric touches.
For instance, the George Washington sphinx still watches over the room, albeit now from behind a small bar. The star fixture on the ceiling — a symbol of the female-inclusive Masonic Order of the Eastern Star — looks brand new. (Aasen’s massive chair, unfortunately, is long gone.)
Unlike so many historic spaces in L.A., the room has escaped dismemberment by over-zealous landlords; instead, the team says, their work in restoring the room was fairly minimal. They were aided, too, by the care taken by the building’s original owners, not to mention the renovations the space underwent in the '80s.
"The great thing about the Masons [is] they were really into the way buildings were set up, and their flow,” says Wilkerson. “So, luckily, we were blessed with folks who knew what they were doing."
Lodge Room joins other new mid-sized venues to open this year, including Zebulon in Frogtown and Moroccan Lounge in the Arts District, as part of a certifiable boom in local concert spaces. But Lodge Room has a particular kind of magic — a room that hasn't lived up to its aesthetic potential in decades.
Wilkerson and Gonzalez say their approach to booking is open-ended and genre-agnostic, another aspect they hope will set them apart. In addition to the show on Friday, which is also a benefit for Puerto Rico, the venue has announced shows upcoming shows featuring The Wild Reeds (Dec. 8), Bedouine and Springtime Carnivore (Dec. 9) and The Album Leaf (Dec. 15) among others.
Also part of the venue is a new restaurant, called Checker Hall, serving New American food. (The restaurant is set to open in two weeks.) The space was re-envisioned by the design and architecture firm Design, Bitches, who also designed the Oinkster in Eagle Rock and Button Mash in Echo Park. Unlike the venue space, which required only the installation of the bar and the sound, stage and lights, the team installed a new full bar and booths in the restaurant. On the Figueroa side, the dining room opens via walk-through windows to a full, New Orleans-style balcony.
The building itself is owned by Hugh Horne, principal of a self-storage real estate firm — also headquartered in the building — and other partners, who purchased the building about two years ago. (In 2014, the building was listed at $4.75 million.)
Gonzalez and Wilkerson, both of whom live in Highland Park, started booking shows in the neighborhood in 2016, at the Highland Park Ebell Club — a neighborhood spot with its own vintage-community-space vibe. (The night before we meet at the space, they produced a show there featuring the band Big Thief.) So the leap to the Lodge Room space, when it presented itself, seemed perfect for their two-person outfit.
"They were just going to keep doing quinceañeras and wedding receptions,” says Gonzalez. “We came in and were like, we want to do Monday through Thursday when you guys aren’t booking it. They liked our vision, so we kinda collaborated, and made it what it is today.”
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Lodge Room joins a neighborhood brimming with businesses new and old — from Good Girl Dinette and Panaderia Delicias, which both inhabit the ground floor of the same building, to the bars La Cuevita and ETA, the record store Mount Analog and the Stones Throw label's storefront space, all on the same street. It also has another well-established music venue, the Hi Hat, over on York. But Gonzalez and Wilkerson see their competition in more citywide terms.
"I see us being right up there with Teragram and Troubadour and Bootleg and Echo,” says Wilkerson. "We’re an independent venue with this beautiful space. I think we’ll slide right in there.”
In some ways, the pair say they’re motivated to do justice to the building itself, hoping to give showgoers in L.A. a little more than the typical sticky floors and graffitied bathrooms. (The bathrooms at Lodge Room, by the way, are full of original marble.)
"I think people are going to be blown away by the sheer beauty of it,” says Wilkerson. "There are tons of places to go see shows in L.A. But there is only one of these.”