Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Odd Fellows Hall, Part 3: For Sale

You can own a piece of history. The Odd Fellows Hall is for sale—yes, right now! Buy it today for a cool $575,000, and that’s a bargain because it has been appraised at $1 million (in better economic times). Here’s the link. (Click on “Commercial Property” search. Type in the number of the MLS listing “07120675” and set the pull-down menu to “Mixed Use.”)

The real estate blurb states: “An Exceptional Historic Building In The Downtown Of Aurora. Building Is Awaiting The Discerning Investor Interested In Turning The Building Into Multiple Income Generating Opportunities. Owner Financing And City Grant Money Available.”
We took this photo when we were in Aurora a couple of weeks ago. Although we didn’t connect with a realtor and therefore did not tour the inside, we learned that the building has 17,000 square feet in all (plus a full basement), with 5,000 square feet on each of the first two floors and 7,000 square feet on the third floor. The storefront on the lower right still has the original tin ceiling. The building has new windows and, presumably, an HVAC system. In the “olden days” the windows were double-hung and both the lower and upper sashes could be opened. The air conditioning consisted of a couple of ceiling fans. (For a photo of the building in 1937, see blog post “The Odd Fellows Hall, Part 1” from May 19, 2009.)

The cornerstone plaque on the front shows that the Odd Fellows Hall was built in 1912. An article published on September 5, 1937, in the centennial edition of the Aurora Beacon News gives more information:

“Members of the various branches of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows have played an important part in the development of Aurora. It is one of the oldest fraternal societies in the city, the first lodge being organized by pioneers 88 years ago [January 1849]… The lodge now has a fine home in the Odd Fellows Hall temple. A fine three story building, the first floor of which is occupied by one of the city’s pioneer hardware merchants, the second floor comprises a well equipped club room and the third floor is given over to a large, well furnished meeting hall, a banquet room and a well equipped kitchen.”

The newspaper wasn’t exactly right (hence its well-earned nickname “The Be-Confused”), because the kitchen was on the second floor. The “large, well furnished meeting hall” on the third floor was designed for lodge ceremonies and meetings. As children, we were not supposed to go in there—so of course, we did. Because it was forbidden, it seemed dark and mysterious (and we didn’t dare turn on the lights). It had a raised platform around three sides of the room (about six inches high and 4 feet deep), with three (or so) impressive chairs in the center along each wall.

When my aunt Jane was a child, she refused to go there and in 1993 she explained her reasons: “[My big brother] Jim would tell me about what was on the third floor of the Odd Fellows Hall, and it was enough to keep me from ever wanting to go up there. He said there were black cloths draped over large black boxes and that was where the Odd Fellows stayed whenever there was church on Sunday. Well, being five or six years old at the time, I believed him and never went up to the third floor.…

“Before [the branch began meeting in the Seventh Day Adventist Church] I finally did have courage enough to go and see what was on the third floor. Jim was right, at least for two out of three things–there were big black boxes and they were covered with black cloths, but I never saw any Odd Fellows.”

(A mystery solved is quite mundane. It was the practice in those days to cover the grand piano and other pieces of furniture with heavy cloths to keep the dust off.)

Because we couldn’t contact the realtor for a tour when we were recently in Aurora, we did the next best thing. We climbed up a fire escape to the third floor and looked in the window. (Only the landing and a few stairs show in this photo. The rest is hidden behind a trash container.)

The building is built into a hill, so the back stairway to the third floor is only one flight. Of course, we had to cross the parking lot of the adjoining property to reach the fire escape, and it was exceedingly rusty and wobbly (1912 vintage?). Undaunted, I put my camera up to the window and snapped this photo.

Hmmm, the room doesn’t seem mysterious at all. The hardwood floors, woodwork, and lighting fixtures are all original, as is the riser along the wall on the right. I believe what looks like blue wainscoting is a protective covering to protect the wood from paint overspray while the building is prepared for sale.

So, are you that discerning investor the listing agent has in mind?

My husband thinks the LDS Church should buy it and turn it into a visitor center, honoring the early Church in the Midwest where small branches often met in rented halls. What do you think?

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