CALM HAVEN AMID TURMOIL : Moose Lodge Avoids Scramble Over Anti-Discrimination Laws Faced by Other Private Clubs

Times Staff Writer

The back door buzzed. A blinding light shot into the bar.

Dick Earnhart, silver-haired and suited, blinked into it. “Oh, God. Here comes Jim. That’s Jim Gunn. We call him Tommy. He’s got a son named Pop and his daughter’s named Beebee. He’s in charge of the Orange County Roto Rooters.”

Gunn approached the group at the bar and joined in repeating the joke about his name. He said they’d been telling the same joke for seven, maybe eight years at Moose Lodge No. 1025 in Santa Ana.

That’s why members like the Moose: It’s friendly and it doesn’t change much.

Other private clubs are scrambling now to handle anti-discrimination laws and regulations. But fraternal orders like the 99-year-old, men-only, historically Anglo Loyal Order of the Moose seem to be floating unperturbed in the backwater of social change.

“We escaped,” said Earnhart. A 30-year veteran of the Moose, he has for 15 years been administrator of the tile-and-stucco lodge huddled in a condominium-lined neighborhood between the Santa Ana Freeway and the railroad tracks.


Not a Place for Career Contacts

In any case, women wanting to join private men’s clubs aren’t likely to protest the Moose. With its padded horseshoe bar, TV, pool tables and meeting hall decorated with two moose heads, it’s not a place where career contacts are made--the basis for recent rulings.

“This is not high class. This is just a fraternity, a family fraternity,” Earnhart said.

On the other side of the bar, Zell Pierce, 64, poured beer. Pierce, a bartender/bouncer in sandals and bifocals, knows everyone’s name. Half the members call her Mom, she says. They know she’ll throw them out if they’ve had too much to drink, and will make sure they have a ride home.

Sometimes wives call wondering if their husbands are there. But the women don’t mind, Pierce said. “They come down here, too.”

Women may come to the lodge as guests. Many belong to Women of the Moose, an auxiliary of female relatives of Moose members.

Of 1.8 million Moose in the United States, Canada and Great Britain, 1,450 of them belong to the Santa Ana Lodge. Four hundred fifty are Women of the Moose, 150 are Latino and none are black.

The order is not facing any legal challenges at the moment, says a spokesman for the national organization, headquartered in Mooseheart, Ill. But in 1973, the members responded to a lawsuit by changing their whites-only membership policy.

Many Moose are retired, most are middle-aged and working class, Earnhart says. Members must be invited to join and are voted on for qualities of honesty and decency, whether they are “people you’d want to have over to the house.”

Women Share Lodge

About 10% are active in club elections and charities: Mooseheart, a school and home for orphans in Mooseheart, and Moosehaven, a home for aged and dependent Moose and their wives in Orange Park, Fla. Some join for bingo, golf, bowling, darts league, youth clubs, or Friday and Saturday night dances, Earnhart says.

The women hold their own meetings and raise funds for the charities. They share the lodge, owned by the men, and pay most of the bills, Earnhart says.

Dues are $40 a year--a cost that is made up by savings on eating and drinking out, Earnhart says. Inside the lodge, a glass of beer costs 50 cents (Moosehead beer is not on the list) and a margarita $1.60. The most expensive dinner is $7. There is no sales tax.

Most of the members congregate at the bar where Christmas lights are reflected in the sparkling stucco ceiling. They tend to arrive in clusters, openers at 11:30 a.m., lunchers at noon, and those who come for happy hour when lottery-type tickets determine discounts.

“This is a place to like people you normally wouldn’t like,” said Roland Mills, a self-described loafer in shirt-sleeves. “Outside nobody likes me.” Inside, they call him “Roalie the Goalie” for the position he was playing when his top teeth were knocked out.

Quiet and Safe

Compared to the world outside, it’s quiet and safe in the Moose, say the regulars. Moose officers patrol the bar for conflict, profanity or improper advances. “We protect the ladies here,” Earnhart explained. “In some bars, they wouldn’t be safe.”

Behind the bar, a ceramic Santa’s boot marked “Children’s Christmas Fund” holds quarters--fines for blue language. “Only foul words spoken here are chicken, duck and turkey,” Mills joked.

Membership is growing, according to Moose headquarters.

At Lodge No. 1025, one of the youngest members is 35-year-old John Kury, who says he joined when, as a single father, he wanted to socialize without having to pay a baby sitter. He brought his 15-month-old son and they sat at the tables away from the bar. He met his wife there.

As the bar filled with smoke, he and another member began to discuss the race issue. “The Moose is a white organization,” said Brian O’Connell, 49, a man with shiny jewelry and a tattoo who nursed a Michelob and described himself as a psychiatric nurse and firearms instructor. Blacks will never be invited for membership, he predicted.

Welcome as Anybody

Sensing trouble, Bill Strange, a two-year trustee, approached. “That’s not true,” he argued. “There are black members in lodges in the east. They’re as welcome here as anybody with a dues paid membership card.”

Kury said he had brought a black friend to the Moose without incident. He said he had visited his friend’s all-black Masonic group in return. Neither expected an invitation to join the other’s group, he said.

As far as women are concerned, they don’t mind being guests rather than members, says Dottie Self, 65, who dropped in for a cold drink. A grandmother and senior regent of Women of the Moose, she says auxiliary women must have one of the order approve if they want to bring a “gentleman friend.”

When she separated from her husband, a member of another lodge, she said the male membership could have placed her in a “home chapter"--a group of lesser status and power. But they didn’t.

“I love the Moose,” she said. Many women who lose their husbands, lose their social life at the same time. At the Moose, they can socialize without being afraid of strangers in bars, she says.

Discrepancies in status don’t bother her. “It is a men’s lodge. They’ll be the first to admit they can’t get along without us.”

A few believe the Moose may need to bend to the winds of change.

“I don’t believe so,” Self said. “This has been going on a lot of years.”