By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Wall, a stone carver and art restoration specialist by trade, started looking for new owners of the historic former Independent Order of Odd Fellows building in April but has so far received no interest.
To help remedy this, Wall has scheduled an open house at the historic building from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at 314 W. First St.
The open house will feature the ballroom space on the second floor, which serves as Wall's studio, with Wall and Deborah Norman, the listing broker for the property, on hand to answer questions.
The 12,000-square-foot building, for which Wall is asking $822,000, has two unoccupied commercial spaces on the ground floor, with three currently rented apartments toward the rear.
The taxable value of the building is $179,490, according to Clallam County assessor's records.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a 600,000-member-strong fraternal organization that came to the United States in 1819, finished constructing the building in 1912 and occupied it until the mid-1960s, when it sold it to Hentray Ltd., Wall said.
The building's history is written on the interior of the building, with the planks that comprise the ballroom floor marked with the heels of women's shoes from hundreds of dances past.
The tall closets lining a long wall between the kitchen at the rear of the second floor once held the ceremonial robes of the Odd Fellow officers, who presided over the lodge's regular meetings, Wall said.
The full-size closet doors look normal except for a fist-size peephole with a dinner-plate-size piece of wood designed to slide out of the way and allow communication between those in the meeting hall and those in the dressing rooms.
Harry Coulter, grand secretary of the Odd Fellow Grand Lodge of Washington in Buckley, said the peepholes would have been used as part of one of the Odd Fellow rituals but stayed mum on their exact purpose.
“That's all the information I can give you on it,” Coulter said.
The closest operating Odd Fellow lodge to Port Angeles is Chimacum Lodge 343 in Port Hadlock, Coulter said.
The second floor hosts the large Odd Fellows' ballroom, once host to Odd Fellow rituals and dances, with a small bonus room above and to the rear of the ballroom that serves as Wall's bedroom.
Wall also has collected a slide show of images taken during the years-long restoration of the building that will be displayed throughout the open house.
The restoration images show the utter transformation of a building whose exterior once sported peeling white paint in place of the canary-yellow with blueish-purple trim so visible today.
The exterior paint job was just the first step in an estimated $350,000 worth of renovation that Wall and a collection of local contractors undertook to overhaul a building that Wall almost regretted purchasing.
“It was a scary place,” Wall said when describing the condition in which she found the building. “Like a haunted house.
“It was really hard to believe how bad it was.”
Moss in some places on the second floor, peeling plaster nearly everywhere and a foundation that had sunk almost a foot in the rear were just some of the issues Wall faced when she started renovating the building in 2004.
Initially, Wall said no contractors wanted to tackle the project because the construction market was still healthy at the time, and no crews wanted to attempt something as fraught with unknowns as a historic building renovation.
But contractors she found, and the first thing Wall and her team had to tackle was the crumbling foundation, a foundation that, if it completely failed, would endanger any other restoration work done on the building.
The building had sunk 10 inches on the east side and 8 inches on the west, Wall explained.
Additionally, the difference in heights of the building's sides also was forcing the wood emergency stairwell on the rear of the building to tilt away from the structure.
From November of 2004 to May of 2005, crews with J Grice Construction, a Port Angeles-based contractor specializing in foundation repair, worked to replace the foundation without damaging the building itself.
Jayson Grice, owner of J Grice Construction, who has worked on a number of historic building renovations in Port Angeles, said Wall's project was one of the most challenging with which he has ever been involved.
“The heaviest building I've ever lifted,” Grice said.
Once the building was perched on massively strong hydraulic jacks, new concrete foundations could be poured to replace the crumbling ones.
Before any pouring could happen, however, holes for the concrete had to be dug down to solid ground, Grice explained.
Since the building effectively sits on compacted sand, solid ground was between 6 and 7 feet below the surface, he said.
The crumbling concrete foundations Grice and crew replaced had taken the place of thick wooden pilings installed when the building was constructed in the late 1900s.
The massive pilings, akin to modern-day telephone poles, had completely rotted away aboveground but looked just like they did the day they were installed underground, Grice said.
“I can't imagine how they even pounded the pilings in back then,” he said.
The pilings were only a small example of the 100-year-old Douglas fir wood that forms the skeleton of the building, none of which Wall could bear to part with throughout the course of the restoration.
“I never throw away wood, almost to the point of stupidity,” she said with a laugh.
The kind of wood found in the historic building can't really be found anywhere else, Wall explained, and is so fine-grained and high-quality that it would be used to make musical instruments today.
Wall has kept as much of the original 1912 wood as possible, from the old pilings still stored in the building's basement to the lovingly restored trim and moldings in the main living space on the second floor.
“[Wall] worked her butt off on that building, no doubt about it,” Grice said.
Wall said she has seen a number of old Odd Fellow buildings repurposed for myriad uses, but the most-often use seems to be as art galleries because of the spacious ballrooms with high ceilings Odd Fellow buildings most always include.
Whatever a new owner might plan to do with the canary-yellow piece of history, Wall said, she hopes the next owner will continue to maintain the building that has witnessed the growth and change of Port Angeles since 1912.
“I feel like it belongs to Port Angeles more than it does to me,” Wall said. “I'm just the caretaker of it.”
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.