Historic Structures

Clatskanie IOOF Hall, Clatskanie Oregon

Date added: November 9, 2022 Categories: Oregon Community Facility Theater

Constructed in 1926 the Clatskanie Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) Hall was built as the town's first large concrete building, and remains the most imposing structure in town. The construction of the new highway in 1918 and the booming economy of the 1920s made Clatskanie more connected and prosperous than any other time in its previous 75-year history. It is at this opportune time that Clatskanie's IOOF Lodge decided to build a grand building to be designed by noted Portland architect Ernst Kroner. Krone previously completed the design for the Portland IOOF Grand Lodge two years earlier, and was responsible for a number of institutional buildings. Immediately upon its opening, the building became the community's social and cultural center. With the movie theater and Post Office on the first floor, and dental and law offices, meeting spaces, and the lodge hall itself on the second, the IOOF Hall soon became the community gathering place. Whether it was to attend a vaudeville show in 1927, watch the first local "talkie" in 1930, meet to organize Oregon's first People's Utility District in 1940, attend a war bond benefit dance in 1945, participate in a Grange or Kiwanis meeting, pick up the mail, or consult a lawyer, the IOOF Hall was central to life in Clatskanie. Here one accomplished life's business, was entertained, and ran into friends. By the early 1960s importance of the hall faded as more residents traveled outside the town for entertainment and professional services, and interest in social organizations such as IOOF began to wane. The building continued to house a theater, community gatherings, and retail spaces and professional offices for several more decades.

From its founding in the mid-nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century, Clatskanie was a relatively isolated rural town and its social life revolved around local organizations. The Clatskanie IOOF Hall was built by one of these social organizations during the economic optimism of the 1920s and soon after a new highway connected the town to the outside world in 1918. The IOOF Hall was the first, and by far the grandest of five fire-resistant concrete and/or masonry commercial structures built in the late 1920s.

During the mid-twentieth century period, the IOOF hall was the venue for a continuous round of organizational activities, dances, dinners, parties, and gatherings of up to 400 persons. The retail space on the northern side of the ground floor was the home of the Clatskanie Post Office throughout the building's period of significance. The theater was the venue for vaudeville shows, boxing matches, silent movies, and then "talkies" shown six days a week from 1927 until 1962. The upstairs professional offices housed a lawyer, dentist, naturopath, and justice of the peace. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion met in the building for many years until they finally built their own buildings. All of these uses provided income to the Lodge and made the Clatskanie IOOF Hall central to the community's daily life.

As the twentieth century progressed, new members were less drawn to small-town fraternal organizations. Improvements to Highway 30, which began in the mid-1950s and continued into the 1960s, made outings to theaters and other entertainment events in larger towns much easier, eroding the Avalon Theatre's audience. The theater finally closed shortly before the Clatskanie IOOF Lodge dwindled to three members and then disbanded in the late 1980s. Only a floral shop, occupying the retail space, continued to draw community members to the building into the 1990s.

History of the International Order of Odd Fellows

The Clatskanie IOOF Lodge was built at a time when fraternal organizations were becoming increasingly popular in Oregon and across the United States. The roots of the building's history lie in the history of the Odd Fellows. The Odd Fellows came about in eighteenth-century England. The name for the organization in England was The Patriotic Order. It was a benevolent fraternal organization based on performing altruistic and charitable acts and was commonly known as the Odd Fellows.

In eighteenth-century England, it was odd to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to those in need and pursuing projects for the benefit of all mankind. Those who belonged to such an organization were called "Odd Fellows".

In America, Thomas Wildey was the founder of the Odd Fellowship of North America. A native Englander, Wildey was raised in an Odd Fellows orphanage where he experienced the fellowship's charity first hand. When he came to America in 1817 he sought to continue the brotherhood in Baltimore where he had settled. On April 26, 1819 Wildey and four other men formed the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in North America, dedicating the order to achieving philanthropic goals. The organization grew rapidly and in 1861, just over forty years after its establishment in America, membership exceeded 200,000 members in 42 states.

The first IOOF Lodge in Oregon was established on August 16, 1852, in the Salem area. By late 1852, a large enough group had settled in and around Salem to organize the Chemeketa Lodge No. 1, Oregon's first lodge and the first order in the Pacific Northwest. This "mother lodge" furthered the objectives of all other lodges in the U.S. by offering aid and assistance to its members in a time of need.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, as Odd Fellows continued to increase in popularity, several lodges were created in Oregon. In 1924, the Grand Sovereign Lodge of Oregon was built in Portland, also designed by architect Ernst Kroner. In 1925, there were over 25,000 Odd Fellows in the state of Oregon. An article in the Oregonian in 1925 featuring the Odd Fellows convention in Portland discussed the popularity of the IOOF from its founding in the United States.

"And these were the original sources of the order in America. From them has spread, and so naturally as to warrant belief that a real demand existed, the great national order of this day. Scores of fraternal orders have since been organized, and of these several have attained huge memberships and important fields of fraternal activity, but Odd Fellowship has suffered not at all from this amiable competition. It is still among the foremost, still convinced of its mission, still working for the expression in fact of the symbolism of the three mystic links - friendship, love, and truth."

The IOOF Clatskanie Lodge No. 160 organized in a period that was one of rapid growth for the Odd Fellows generally. From 1850 through the 1920s the IOOF organization played an integral part in the Euro-American frontier, and as such its membership included white Anglo-Protestant men who were the pioneer entrepreneurs, craftsmen, and farmers found in these rural communities. One factor contributing to the fraternal organization's popularity was the support it brought to men, especially following World War | when the government had few programs to aid the common man. Additionally, Odd Fellows across the county were strong wartime contributors and advocates, so when veterans returned home membership grew. The Odd Fellows tradition of founding orphanages and homes for the aged and a philosophy that supported philanthropy contributed to their popularity. Finally, social and community life, a fundamental element of Odd Fellows tradition, was increasingly important in 1920s culture and grew in importance as leisure time expanded in the twenties. The culture of the 1920s was greatly influenced by America's wartime experience. The community as a whole sought a return to normalcy, and sought membership in a number of organizations.

In the 1920s in Americans began to earn more money and to have more time for leisure due to the mechanization of industry. Sacrifices during the Great War and the shortage of raw materials and manufactured goods gave way to the desire to overcome these issues. Consumer appetites were driven by the return of tens of thousands of American troops, many of whom had never before set foot outside their own towns or neighborhoods. These former soldiers had discovered an outside world offering an incredible array of foods and consumer goods. Another factor was the advance of technology at work and at home that created increasing amounts of free time. Collectively, these forces allowed Americans more leisure time. The Odd Fellows provided a virtuous way of filling this newly increasing free time.

In 1908 The Clatskanie Chief listed the meeting times of fourteen local organizations, among them Clatskanie Lodge No. 160 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), and its sister organization, LaFrance Rebekah Lodge. Its members formed the middle-class backbone of the community, including farmers, loggers, laborers, teachers, the owners, operators, and employees of small businesses. By the 1920s, the IOOF and Rebekahs had grown to be the town's largest fraternal/philanthropic organizations. In March of 1925 98 Odd Fellows and "Odd Fellow prospects" gathered in the jointly-used "local lodge room where a teacher spoke about the ideals of the Lodge - faith, hope, charity, friendship, love and truth."

With their ranks growing, and feeling the booming economy of the mid-1920s, the Clatskanie IOOF made plans to build their own lodge hall which would be the town's first large concrete building. It was constructed under a new city ordinance requiring all new commercial buildings to be built of concrete, stucco, or brick to lessen the danger of fires that had damaged the commercial districts of other northwest Oregon communities, including Astoria and Rainier on either side of Clatskanie. To design the building, the Clatskanie Odd Fellows hired Ernst Kroner, a prominent Portland architect who had recently designed the IOOF Grand Lodge in Portland. His drawings and specifications for the Clatskanie I.O.O.F Hall were discovered 80 years later in the archives of the Oregon Historical Society in Portland. With a loan of $2,500 from a member of the Lodge, John Erickson, and another loan of $10,000 from Benefit Savings & Loan Association of Portland, construction began in 1926. The completed building included club rooms and a banquet hall/ballroom which could be rented to other clubs and organizations as a source of revenue. Further income could be derived from renting out the retail space to the Post Office, and the offices and theater to other tenants.

On New Year's Eve of 1926 the building was complete and ready for a community dance to welcome in the year 1927. More dances and an installation ceremony for IOOF and Rebekah officers continued in celebration of the new hall. In early February, the Federal Post Office Inspector from Seattle visited Clatskanie to oversee the final touches on the new quarters for the Post Office on the new building's north-side street-level storefront. Clatskanie Postmaster Easterday was given instructions to move into the new quarters "just as soon as they can be gotten ready." That occurred on Monday, February 21, 1927. According to a census taken later in 1927 there were 368 Clatskanie Post Office box holders. The grand opening of the "Peoples Theatre" in the new building was celebrated that spring with vaudeville shows, the latest silent movies, and boxing matches. At the grand opening of the theater, Clatskanie Mayor W.T. Evenson spoke and "asked that the people of Clatskanie [to] patronize Mr. Langlois in his efforts to bring good, clean amusement here."

While Kroner's predictions about the growth and prosperity of Clatskanie failed to materialize, the grand building he constructed was the scene of events that reflected the history of the community during the mid-20th century that were small-scale manifestations of what was happening in the larger world. In the midst of the Great Depression, the hall was used for registrations for Federal Emergency Relief Administration work. In January of 1935, the community celebrated the New Year with a "President's Ball" at the IOOF Hall in honor of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Seventy percent of the proceeds went to a local fund to combat infantile paralysis, while the remaining 30 percent was sent to the Warm Springs Foundation. The hall continued to host fundraising events for polio through the 1940s and 1950s. In January and February of 1940 public hearings of the Oregon Hydroelectric Commission were held at the hall to discuss the proposed formation of the Clatskanie People's Utility District, which would become the first operating Public Utility District in the state of Oregon. Continuing through the World War II years, war bond drives were held in conjunction with the showings of movies. Dances and farewell parties were held for military personnel stationed at the nearby Beaver Army Storage Point. During the flood of 1948, the women of the town served meals at the IOOF Hall for the volunteers fighting the flood. In the 1950s, the hall was the scene of Clatskanie Farm Bureau meetings to discuss problems with the "rust" that had infected the soil of the area's dikeland farms and was ruining the peppermint crop that was a cornerstone of the local economy. While it was originally designed for silent movies, the theatre was remodeled in 1930, 1933, and 1940 to accommodate advances in the motion picture industry. In 1934 the name of the People's Theatre was changed to the Avalon Theatre, and that remained its name until it finally closed in late 1987.

During the mid-1950s, the theater was feeling the loss of an audience because of the proliferation of television sets in local homes. A larger-than-usual Avalon Theatre advertisement in late 1955 took a direct shot at the enemy: "if you are tired of Squintin', Squattin' and Squawkin', looking at four walls and a picture the size of a keyhole, you'll thoroughly enjoy To Catch a Thief - and remember no 'Network Difficulty.' If you don't think this is one of the best pictures you have ever seen - we'll refund your admission."

Television sets were becoming increasingly common in the homes of area residents, which gave the movie theater serious competition. Interest in social organizations was waning, and eventually led to the demise of IOOF in Clatskanie. By 1962, the theatre was only opened on weekends, and it was reported in the local paper that membership in the IOOF was in decline. Improved roads encouraged people to leave town for dental or law services. In the mid-1960s, the Post Office moved to a new stand-alone building. Schools, restaurants, and other newer and more comfortable venues competed for the public gatherings once held in the hall. All these factors led to a gradual, but steady decline in the number of local citizens that used the IOOF Hall. Its central place in the community was greatly diminished, and it gradually fell into disrepair by the early 1990s.

Building Description

The Clatskanie IOOF Hall is located on South Nehalem Street, the primary commercial street which intersects with US Route 30 in the center of Clatskanie, Oregon, a town of approximately 1,800 people in Northwest Oregon. The former lodge hall of the local chapter of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), the building sits on the hillside above the main commercial district, overlooking the Clatskanie River. The 14,000 square foot two-story building of reinforced concrete with a brick facade was built in 1926 and was designed by prominent Portland architect Ernst Kroner. Stylistically, the building is an eclectic two-part commercial design, three bays across. The remaining facades are board-formed unpainted concrete. Most of the interior finishes and many of the architectural elements and walls have been removed, but the building retains the original separation of space between the theater and retail space on the first floor and the offices and gathering space on the second. At the time it was constructed, the IOOF Hall was the most architecturally impressive structure in Clatskanie, and it quickly became the center of the town's life. The ground floor contained a theater showing movies and staging live performances, as well as the town Post Office. On the second floor were five professional offices, the Odd Fellows meeting rooms, a kitchen and dining room, and the lodge hall/ballroom.

The building is located on an interior rectangular parcel facing southwest onto Nehalem Street. The parcel is 101 feet southwest to northeast, and 76.41 feet northwest to southeast. The parcel is flat and slopes approximately 10 percent down toward the northwest along the street. The building is built to the lot line at the street and has a narrow concrete walkway at the two sides. The rear essentially abuts the property line with a gap of approximately 1 foot. The northwest wall is set about 8 feet back from the property line. There are no character-defining landscape features.

The building is two-stories with a partial basement, and is constructed with reinforced concrete with wood framing support. It is rectangular in shape measuring 66 feet from northwest to southeast and 100 feet southwest to northeast. The building has a concrete support wall at the basement and first floor levels running the length of the building, off-center 26 feet from the north. Heavy-timber joists and beams provide horizontal framing. Additional vertical support at the store is provided by wood posts.

The primary facade faces southwest onto Nehalem Street. It is clad in combed tan brick in stretcher bond with tan-colored mortar. The facade is organized in a generally symmetrical fashion into three bays. The center bay features a pronounced entry 18 feet across. It is distinguished by a center-arched recessed opening flanked by arched vertical side windows with a painted concrete sill. The windows have metal mullions in wood frame with prism glass. The recessed opening leads to a single-panel door flanked by wood side lights and panels with a single-window transom with metal mullions, wood frame, and prism glass. The arches here are accented with decorative header and stacked course brick work. Above the entry is a cementitious plaster panel reading "IOOF" in black painted letters. At the second floor are three grouped windows. The bay to the north is a traditional storefront with a center recessed doorway flanked by metal-framed storefronts on a concrete bulkhead. Spanning across the storefront is a transom of prism glass. At the second floor are two pairs of windows. The south bay is the one-time theater entry. This too was recessed, defined by Tuscan columns supporting three arched openings leading to what originally had been sets of paired full-glass wood doors in wood frames. Again at the second floor are two pairs of windows. All second-floor windows are one-over-one double-hung wood sash in wood frame. Tying the second floor, above the second-floor windows, is a painted concrete frieze. The parapet centrally steps down with painted coping. The roof is sloped down rear to front and has a wood deck covered with rolled asphalt, enclosed by a parapet wall.

Much of the interior features, finishes, and walls have been removed; however, the building retains the historic division of space. The south two-thirds of the first floor houses a theater that originally had 400 seats and a 14-foot stage. In keeping with small town theaters of its day, the interior was functional with minimal ornamentation. The stage, main entry stair, floor, and walls have been removed in this space revealing the concrete walls, ceiling structure, and dirt floor. The north portion of the first floor is devoted to a retail space with 26-foot storefront which served as Clatskanie's Post Office from 1927 into the 1960s. The current arrangement reflects the alterations made to convert this space into a flower shop after the Post Office was relocated. A mezzanine constructed in the last several years is located in the northeast corner. The stair to the second floor is included in this same area.

The second floor was primarily devoted to the IOOF spaces including ballroom/lodge hall, social rooms, and kitchen. Facing the street were five offices, mostly two-room suites, which were leased to tenants including an attorney, dentist, naturopath, and justice of the peace Today, the second floor is largely a single open space with the exception of a recently-constructed wood-frame structure in the northwest corner of the building and original walls sheathed in chipboard in the southwest corner. The original maple dance floor has been retained. Like the theater, the concrete walls and roof structure are exposed in this area.

In the late 1980s the lodge and the theater closed, and beginning in the 1990s the property changed ownership several times. During those years maintenance was neglected and poorly conceived interior alterations were undertaken. One of the owners removed the theater stage and sloping concrete floor down to the dirt, together with the bathrooms and other partitions, in an effort to address a water intrusion problem. The ticket booth and front doors were removed, and the ceiling plaster was stripped to expose the structural beams. The front stairway was removed, and the second floor was stripped of features including ceilings and most partitions. The retail space remains unchanged since its 1960s conversion from a Post Office to a flower shop when its floor plan was modified and bathrooms and a false ceiling were added. While the majority of the original openings are intact, several small windows in the concrete side walls have had their sashes removed and the openings filled with concrete. The windows surrounding the main entry were severely damaged, and the second-story double-hung windows were removed. The original theatre entrance and wall were removed by the previous owner, and the openings are currently covered with plywood.

The current owner, the Clatskanie Foundation, has developed a master plan to return the building to very close to its original floor plan and function. It will be utilized as a local community center and incorporate the original uses of theater, offices, ballroom, social rooms, and retail space. Current plans call for the City of Clatskanie to occupy the office spaces and the Clatskanie Arts Commission to use the theater as its home venue.