Walla Walla history takes an odd turn


Local history buffs and art lovers got together two decades ago through the Blue Mountain Arts Alliance (now ArtWalla) to save and relocate the sandstone facade of the 1902 Odd Fellows Temple that was across Alder Street from the Drumheller Building.

When I heard about spending $75,000 to move the face of the building to a vacant lot on Main Street I was even more skeptical than usual — a condition common to those such as me who spend their lives as ink-stained wretches.

But I have to concede I’m glad it was done.

The facade mounted on a wall in Heritage Park, next to Public House 124 and across from Pontarolo’s Office Supplies, really fits in — it works.

Designs are carved into the stones used to build the face of original structure, which was designed by Henry Osterman — the go-to architect at that time.

Historical photos, many depicting the ethnic and cultural diversity of people in the Valley, are inserted into the spaces where there were once windows are particularly interesting. Amazingly, the photos look as good now as the day they were put up, thanks to a spendy process in which porcelain enamel is fused on to steel sheets. Preserving all the photos on the facade cost about $300,000.

It was those photos that led to an interesting discovery by my U-B colleague, reporter Terry McConn.

On a recent Saturday night, McConn stepped out of the nearby restaurant to smoke a cigarette. (By the way, tobacco smoke seems to be a rarity in Heritage Park, as the smell of pot was pervasive. I don’t think the classical music played to drive the dope smokers out is particularly effective. In addition, somebody might want to rethink the string of lights on the trees; they have become a source for recharging cellphones.)

After our group left the restaurant, Terry wanted me to see something.

“Look at this photo and look at the facade,” he said, pointing at a picture of the Odd Fellows building taken sometime about a century ago.

I looked and looked. OK, Eagle-eye McConn, what?

The Odd Fellows symbol, three chain links — representing friendship, love and truth — was curved down on the facade. But in the picture of the exact same building, it was pointed up.

Wow! That’s odd (pun intended). What’s up with that?

Clearly somebody got it wrong — either in 1902 when the building was constructed or in 1993 when it was rebuilt at Heritage Park.

I’d remembered that Rob Robinson was a key player in the project, so I gave him a call. I got a twofer — Robinson and his wife, former ArtWalla Executive Director Jeana Garske.

They had the answer, and more.

The symbol at the top of the structure was originally put in upside down. The state and local Odd Fellows officials were aware of the error and asked Robinson, Garske and the others involved to correct it when the facade was rebuilt.

And that’s what was done.

Hmmm. If the point of moving the facade to Heritage Park was to save a piece of a historically significant building, wouldn’t that be changing history?

I connected with local historian Bob Bennett.

“I am not real sure what I think of that,” Bennett said, pondering whether the decision to fix an error that stood that way for 90 years was a problem.

“The spirit (of history preservation) is there,” he said after thinking about the historical dilemma. “I am glad to have it. They are not claiming it to be historically accurate and they had to modify it to get it up. I guess there is probably a lot of differences (from the original building).”

Still, he added, it would be an interesting discussion to have among historians.

But it’s not much of a concern for the members of Odd Fellows.

Craig Schultz, the highest-ranking Walla Walla member (the Noble Grand), said he was unaware it was originally wrong or how it got that way. He has been a member for 52 years and said he never heard it discussed.

So there’s no history scandal.

And the stone masons who originally put up the huge block with the logo upside down can be easily forgiven. After all, that thing probably weighed a ton, literally. Once it was put in place it wasn’t going anywhere soon, and it didn’t — until 90 years later.

Rick Eskil can be reached at rickeskil@wwub.com or 509-526-8309. If you, too, wonder what’s up with that, let Eskil know about it and maybe he can find out.



drazan says...

Here's a couple old U-B file photos to add a bit more to the story.

Joe Drazan



Posted 2 September 2013, 7:24 p.m. Suggest removal

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