ODD FIT: East Providence officials see a renovated Odd Fellows Hall as a key part of a plan to create a thriving arts and entertainment district.
COURTESY EAST PROVIDENCE HISTORIC DISTRICT COMMISSION
By Patrick Anderson PBN Staff Writer
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows didn’t cut corners when they built a new meeting hall to accommodate their growing brotherhood in the 1880s.
They hired leading Providence architectural firm Gould & Angell to design the new building in the then-fashionable Shingle style and gave it an ample 8,300 square feet of interior space.
For a location they chose the bustling center of 19th-century East Providence, the riverfront western end of Warren Avenue known as Watchemoket Square. The building at 63-65 Warren Ave. would serve as the Odd Fellows’ Rhode Island headquarters for 82 years, but eventually the influence of both the fraternal organization and their neighborhood would wane.
By the 1960s, American culture had changed and the construction of Interstate 195 had leveled half of Watchemoket Square, leaving the remainder a backwater under the shadow of highway ramps.
Now as East Providence redevelops its underutilized waterfront, city leaders want to transform Watchemoket Square into a thriving arts and entertainment district. At the center of the revitalization plan is Odd Fellows Hall, which the city seized last year for an unpaid tax bill and hopes to restore to its former glory.
“My perspective is it is the gateway to the East Providence arts and entertainment district,” said East Providence Director of Community Development David Bachrach about the Odd Fellows Hall. “We purposefully acquired it a few months ago even though there was interest to pay off the back taxes. We made the argument that this is a significant historic structure and we want to maintain control to make sure it’s restored the right way.
To jump-start the Watchemoket arts district plan, the city recently secured a $7,500 state historic-preservation grant to assess the physical condition of Odd Fellows Hall and figure out what work will be required to fix it. The East Providence Waterfront Commission has promised to match the grant, bumping the total resources for the project up to $15,000.
Built in 1889 and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Odd Fellows Hall is valued at $179,500, according to assessor records.