Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Ghost of Sundays Past: The Odd Fellows Hall Revisited

When I was in Aurora to attend my high school reunion last July, Ed and Sharon Kettley took me to see the Odd Fellows Hall. It’s still for sale, and the price is now only $449,000 (Price reduced by $126,000—aren’t you glad you didn’t buy it two years ago?). Ed, who is the owner of the successful Kettley Realty in Aurora, arranged with the listing agent to let us walk through the old building. What a trip down memory lane!

So, is anything the same after fifty-one years?

The stairs are still there! Now nicely carpeted, they still lead forever upward. I counted fourteen stairs to the landing and then another twelve to arrive at the second floor where the branch met during most of the 1950s. (There are so many steps because of the high ceilings of the commercial spaces on the ground floor.)

This picture of Louise Erekson, standing in front of the open door of the Odd Fellows Hall, ca. 1955, reveals the wooden—uncarpeted—steps and the dimly lit stairway. (Disclaimer: I'm not responsible for the 'artsy' angle of this photo.)

The long, steep steps provided a weekly trial for older folks who sometimes had to use the handrail to pull themselves up hand-over-hand. The original handrails are still in place, as are some of the paneled oak doors and hardware.

Throughout the 1950s the branch held Sunday school, sacrament meeting, and potluck dinners in the large second-floor hall on the north side of the building. We measured the room and found it to be 75 feet long and 20 to 23 feet wide. The photo below, taken during a 1959 Primary program, looks toward the windows on the west side of the room.Taken on the same occasion in 1959, the photo below clearly shows the length of the room.
Still as long as ever, here's what the room looks like today (2011). The desks are left from a tutoring service that recently rented this second floor space.
Going up to the third floor means climbing another twenty-three steps. The branch met on this level before moving down to the second floor. In the late 1950s, however, the children of the Junior Sunday School climbed the second set of stairs to meet in the third-floor room at the front of the building. We were told that in recent years the rooms on the third floor were rented by a “Swingles Club.” (Don’t ask what that is!)

The large ceremonial room at the back of the building was off limits to children when the branch met at the Odd Fellows Hall. The doors still have the peep holes and covers used by lodge members to gain entrance to restricted meetings.

For twenty-five years (from about 1935 to 1960) members of the Aurora Branch crossed this threshold into the Odd Fellows Hall. The original tiles are still in place. “I.O.O.F” stands for “Independent Order of Odd Fellows.”

It was exciting to enter this amazing place after so many years. Again I express my appreciation to Ed and Sharon Kettley for arranging the visit to the Odd Fellows Hall.Ed and Sharon Kettley at the main office of Kettley Realty, Aurora, Illinois

The Odd Fellows Hall will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2012. The past fifty-one years have not been especially kind to the building, but it deserves to be memorialized for its role as home to the Aurora Branch.

For the next post, I will try to recreate a floor plan.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, I found this blog while searching for information about my grandfather, Earl Leroy Spahr. My mother, Dawn Alicia Spahr was his daughter but both her and my grandmother, Rosalee Spahr have passed away. If you have any information about my family, will you please email me. Thanks, Jaimee Lloyd