Bahia is located in Orlando, FL, and has exclusive jurisdiction over the counties of Lake, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Sumter, and Volusia. It currently has approximately 1,200 members, 8 Shrine Clubs, 23 Uniformed Units, and 19 Social Clubs.
In 1951, the first attempt was made to organize a Shrine Center in Orlando when A. J. Thomas, Sr., and a delegation from Lake County Shrine Club presented a petition to the Imperial Council then in session in New York City.
This petition contained more than 900 names, but after a process of elimination was completed, a little less than 800 were left. Since 800 was the minimum required at that time, the petition was denied and the Orlando group was told to try again in three years.
Between 1951 and 1954, A. J. Thomas, Sr., continued to spearhead the effort to form our Center. In July 1954, a group of 35 to 40 Nobles from Central Florida went to the Imperial Session in Atlantic City. This time there were more than 1200 names on the petition and the final count after elimination was 1178. Since 1000 names was then the minimum required, Dispensation was granted on June 30, 1954. The majority of the membership came from Egypt Shrine Center in Tampa and Morocco Shrine Center in Jacksonville, in addition to Nobles formerly from 126 of the then 165 Shrine Temples.
Bahia’s first Ceremonial was held at the Howard Junior High School gymnasium on November 20, 1954, with 187 candidates. The highlight of the day’s activities was the formal presentation of Bahia’s Dispensation by Past Imperial Potentate Thomas C. Law. Included among the 187 candidates in the class were Sam H. Walkup (Potentate 1975), Joe H. Wickham (Potentate 1968), and Leonard K. Wright, Jr. (Potentate 1967).
When it came time for the granting of the Charter in 1955, the entire Imperial Council at Chicago heard the petition and Bahia became the 166th Shrine Temple with a Charter Date of July 14, 1955.
Bahia’s first election was held at the Chamber of Commerce building on the evening of August 10, 1955, with 279 Nobles in attendance.
Bahia’s Charter Ceremonial was held at Orlando’s City Auditorium on November 26, 1955, with 99 candidates. Highlight of the day was the formal presentation of our Charter by Past Imperial Potentate Thomas C. Law. InÂcluded among the 99 candidates was Mervin D. Henning (Potentate 1977).
Early meetings were held at the Masonic Temple then located at 205 E. Central Blvd. In 1956, property was purchased at 60 W. Gore Street and meetings were held at that location until 1992 when Bahia moved to its current location in a newly constructed facility at 2300 Pembrook Drive.
Bahias membership was 1178 when the Dispensation was granted in 1954. Membership peaked at 6454 as of December 31, 1980. In July 1981, 917 members demitted to newly formed Azan in Melbourne, FL. As a result of that loss and the general membership decline in Masonic organizations, Bahia’s membership stood at 2,150 as of January 1, 2011.
Stated Meetings originally were held on the second Wednesday of each month, but in 1958 they were changed to the first Thursday of each month to avoid conflicting with the city’s Wednesday night church activities.
To raise operational funds, Bahia has held a Circus each year beginning in 1954 at Tinker Field. The first Circus netted approximately $2800.00; the 2008 Circus realized approximately $204,273.00. After 23 years at Tinker Field, the Circus has been held at the Florida Citrus Bowl, the Orange County Civic Center, Central Florida Fair Grounds, the Orlando City Arena, and since 1996 at the University of Central Florida Arena.
Bahia has been a big supporter of the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Since 1967, Bahia has raised several millions of dollars for the Shriners Hospitals by conducting an annual Paper Crusade soliciting funds from members and the general public. From 1967 to 1977, Bahia furnished concentrate dispensers and orange & grapefruit concentrates to all Shrine Hospitals east of the Rocky Mountains. Since the inception of the program in 1972, Bahia has contributed over $858,100 to the Shrine’s Hundred Million Dollar Club.
Over the years, Bahia has been honored to host a number of Shrine Conventions. It hosted the Imperial Council Sessions in 1982, 1992, and 1998. Other conventions hosted include the Shrine Directors Association (SDA) in 1962 and 1991, the Southeastern Shrine Association (SESA) in 1975, and the Florida Shrine Association (FSA) in 1976, 1983, 2000 and 2008.