With the Highlight Gallery now in residence at the Odd Fellows Hall on Kasten at Ukiah Streets, one of Mendocino’s venerable landmarks is once again brought back to life. For several years it has stood mostly empty – but the doors are open again. Beautiful objects occupy the well-lit, high-ceilinged rooms, and voices fill the air like it did 143 years ago.
It was 1878 when Stellar Lodge No. 213 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows constructed this special place. The fraternal group had been organized six years earlier and originally met down on Main Street in the hall over Murry’s Drug Store. But as their membership grew, larger quarters were required.
The construction of their new two-story structure was led by Albert Maxwell, the man who also built the Mendocino Presbyterian Church. He used three-piece support timbers that ran the length of the building and employed wooden quoins on the outside corners. This gave the appearance of a substantial edifice since those special blocks are typically used to reinforce the corners of brick or stone buildings. The interior was described as “quite chaste and refined, with stainless white walls above the exquisitely grained wainscot.”
One year after the hall’s dedication, the Odd Fellows gave Mendocino its first public library. Located downstairs below the lodge’s meeting room, library members paid dues of $1.00 per quarter to enjoy what was described as a small yet select collection of English and American poetry, historical works, magazines, and newspapers.
In 1893, the group built a second, much larger IOOF Hall across the intersection, and the older building was rented out to the Ancient Order of United Workmen (AOUW) as well as other fraternal groups needing a meeting space.
The Odd Fellows finally sold the building in 1908 to Elizabeth Millard who lived next door. It was then referred to as Millard’s Hall, and later Gregory’s Hall when she remarried.
Now in its third decade as a hall, the building’s next owner was the Ancient Order of Foresters, another insurance fellowship, and was known (you guessed it) as Foresters’ Hall. While Dr. Russell Preston purchased the property in 1920, it continued under that name, operating as a community gathering place and the occasional site of the Justice Court. Then in 1953, Preston gifted it to the Farm Bureau to be used exclusively by that organization and the Mendocino Spartans 4-H Club.
At first this seemed a wonderful idea, but eventually the gift became a liability. The 4-H’ers had no funds to maintain the old building so its underpinnings deteriorated, floors sagged, interior plaster cracked and sometimes fell off, and the exterior suffered from want of fresh paint. The decision was made to lease the aged structure.
In 1964, the Odd Fellows Hall left behind its 86-years as a hall and metamorphosed into a place that showcased the art, craft, and architecture of Mendocino.
For it was that year that Warren and Dora Zimmer leased it and after a lengthy and thorough renovation process opened Gallery Faire. A Beacon article reported that, “The beautiful building would serve two needed functions. It would house a museum featuring Mendocino at the turn of the century and also provide a sales outlet for locally produced arts and crafts.”
The first floor was designed for the display of sculpture, pottery, ceramics, jewelry, and fabrics, including items produced by the Spartan 4-H members (who now met at Preston Hall). The second floor was devoted, in part, to “Mendocino Historical Displays. Here, the famous Nanny Escola collection of photographs will be available for public viewing for the first time.”
By 1972, Gallery Faire also had a framing shop, and Mildred Benioff and Margaret Nagtegaal were operating the yarn guild on the first floor. Upstairs, part of the second floor was devoted to the Mendocino Historical Research Center, “a selfless endeavor of Beth Stebbins and Dorothy Bear.” Two years later, these ladies had moved their Center into another old and dilapidated building, and it is still operating today as the Kelley House Museum.
In addition to many changes throughout the structure, the Zimmers installed the outside porches and added the old farmhouse doors from their own Little River home, the Stevens-Pullen house, now Glendeven Inn. Gallery Faire continued for many years and then became the William Zimmer Gallery, operated by his son William and his wife, Lynette.
Van Phillips has owned the building since 2003, and donated space to the non-profit group Flockworks to present local artists and community-oriented art projects. That wonderfully successful endeavor ended in 2018, when it was placed on the market to be converted into a residence or kept as a commercial building.
Thankfully, Highlight Gallery was able to find a new home within its well-loved walls, bringing this old structure back to a use for which it is remarkably familiar – celebrating the accomplishments of the people on the Mendocino Coast.