A Point Within A Circle

Masonic Symbolism Hidden In Plain Sight On The Coast of California

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Michael Arce

I'll admit it, I was a fan of the TV show "LOST." Yes, I loyally tuned in every week as the show veered off course from the code, the bunker, and what those mysteries all meant, in favor of time traveling and character side stories that spun the storyline out of control. Sometimes during my journey for Masonic knowledge, I feel like I am chasing the same answers the characters on the show pursued during their time on the island. One of my favorite quotes from the show comes during an exchange between John Locke, played by Terry O'Quinn (who won an Emmy for that role), and Eko, played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.

The scene that came to mind follows Locke and Eko when they discovered missing film footage that explained the mysterious scientific research, performed on the island. "Think about it," Locke says to Eko, "somebody made this film. Someone else cut this piece out. We crash, two parts of the same plane fall on different parts of the island. You're over there, I'm over here. Now, there's the missing piece, right back where it belongs." While Locke is splicing the film back together, Eko sternly says to him, "don't mistake coincidence for fate."

That exchange echoed through my head when I received a text of Lodge building from my younger brother, David, who lives in Modesto, California. During my "wine and sunshine" visit with my girlfriend this past February, he remembered my disappointment when the local Lodge was meeting did not fall during the week of my trip. Since then, whenever he spots something to do with Freemasonry, he'll snap a pic of it and send it to me.

One Friday afternoon, fate arrived via a text message as I was coincidentally collecting my thoughts for an upcoming discussion on a Point within a Circle. I am working on a presentation with our Senior Warden for the upcoming Masonic year. Our goal is to cover the esoteric meanings explained in ritual along with the practical application of the teachings in everyday life. My phone buzzed on the table near my computer, I looked down at the screen and saw this.

Pacific Grove Lodge #311, Monterey County, California

Symbolism In Plain Sight

Freemasonry teaches that a certain Point within a Circle is represented in every Lodge. For the Brothers living in the coastal community of Pacific Grove, California, that symbol is present in and around their building. That is what I had to find out. Why? How many Masonic buildings have you seen where the traditional square and compass is moved to the side in favor of the Point within a Circle? Why would a Lodge place this symbol, this way? I reached out to Tom Thiel, Worshipful Master of Pacific Grove Masonic Lodge #311, to learn more.

"After talking with our Lodge Secretary, PM Herschel R. Amos, we're not exactly sure why they did that," shared Brother Thiel. I have to admit, I was hoping to hear a story that comes with so many artifacts and treasures in the Lodges and Temples I've visited. Bro. Thiel continued, "the members built the Lodge back in the fifties, all with volunteer labor. They definitely had thing for that symbol because it’s also on several paintings in the building." That caught my attention. Bro. Thiel then shared more photos of the Lodge and a video walkabout. 

The Master's Station

Above the Master's Chair

His last photo was a detailed painting that portrays the lesson symbolized in the Point within a Circle.  

A Point Within A Circle

The story behind this portrait exemplifies the meaning of where are first made a Mason. The painting was done in 1956 by Bro. Ernest U. Hardenstein Jr., who laid down his Working Tools on August 7, 2007. Bro. Hardenstein was born in Mississippi and made his way to Monterey, California during his service in the US Army. After the war, he settled in the community, raising a family. By the 1950's, Bro. Hardenstein completed several large paintings for his church and the newly constructed temple. His story reminds me of every Brother I have met, and those who I never will, who have physically contributed in someway to the care, decoration, and upkeep of their lodge or temple. Bro. Hardenstein’s paintings remain above the several stations in Pacific Grove Lodge Temple today, serving as an educational tool and inspiration for members and visitors.

Two Brothers, One Craft

What makes Masonry special is the history that is proudly displayed in our lodges and temples. I can't recall a Masonic building that I’ve visited that doesn’t have a local artifact, legend, story, or claim to have a famous member in their past. In the case of Pacific Grove, the Brothers raised their lodge, building it together. I asked Bro. Thiel, during a follow up phone call, how he explains the meaning of the Point within a Circle theme to visiting Brothers or guests who seek admission. It was at that point that we discovered that two Brothers, belonging to different jurisdictions on opposite sides of the same country, share a common bond. 

I opened up my Standard Work and Lectures of Ancient Craft Masonry, the ritual book that is given to every Master Mason when they are raised in the State of New York. From my book, I read an excerpt that explains the history of lodges. After my reading, Bro. Thiel opened his Monitor and Officers' Manual from the Grand Lodge of California, to read a passage that sounded very similar to what we profess in New York. A few seconds of silence passed before we agreed: the Brothers of Pacific Grove Lodge were simply following the instructions given to us as Masons. That symbol in and around their Lodge serves as a constant reminder, impressing the meaning of its lesson in everyday life. How could you pass by that building with that knowledge and not, for a few seconds, instantly connect what you learned to what you had just seen?

From The West

It’s fitting that you would find this symbol on the outside of a lodge building, in a city with the nickname "America’s Last Hometown." The historic city of Pacific Grove is nestled in Northern California’s Monterey County, one of the most beautiful coastal communities you will ever see. If you've never visited, I highly recommend walking through their Cannery Row, have dinner or drinks at Restaurant 1833 (it’s haunted and loaded with history), and if you’re a golf fan, take the iconic 17-Mile Drive to Pebble Beach. Don’t forget your camera! 

The last time I visited Monterey was almost five years ago for my brother's wedding, which just so happened to fall at the time I sought a petition from my mother lodge in Schenectady, New York. Ironic that fate would give me another reason to return… a trip that you bet will include a stop at Pacific Grove Masonic Lodge. They meet on the first and third Thursday of the month, September through May. Pacific Grove Lodge has been a part of their community for more than 100 years and I've heard they have some amazing portraits of a Point within a Circle that I need to see for myself.


Brother Michael Arce is the Junior Warden of St. George’s #6, Schenectady and a member of Mt. Zion #311, Troy New York. When not in Lodge, Bro. Arce is the Marketing Manager for Capital Cardiology Associates in Albany, New York. He enjoys meeting new Brothers and hearing how the Craft has enriched their lives. He can be reached at: michael.arce@me.com

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