If you've ever noshed on the sumptuous bao of Hong Kong Bakery or slurped down pho from Pho To Chau, you have walked past Odd Fellows Lodge #244 Maybe you and your kids have seen inside this historic 1909 building during the Odd Fellows' annual Spring Mad Hatters Tea Party, Treasure Hunt, or Haunted House. Maybe you visit the lodge every Wednesday night for the Odd Writers' League, one on 2nd and 4th Sundays as a genderqueer member of the Oddizens DnD group. Maybe you're a foster child whose Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is using the Odd Fellows' kitchen to teach you how to cook. Maybe the Odd Fellows gave you a book scholarship for college or your grandfather was an Odd Fellow. Maybe you come to their monthly Muslim immigrant women's dinner group to cook, dance, and sing in a private and welcoming space.
But if you're not one of the dozens of residents who fill the space with life every week, you might not have any idea what an Odd Fellows Lodge is or why there is one in downtown Mountain View.
Let's start from the outside-in. The building is at 823 Villa, on the corner of Castro and Villa, housed in the old First National bank (built in 1909). The Odd Fellows have owned the building since 1970, when they bought it from a Christian Science reading room. Some members suspect there is beautiful earth 20th century crown-moulding hidden behind the '70s-tastic drywall ceiling with its embedded florescent lights. They're deciding if they want to find out or keep it a mystery for the next generation. It's not a beautiful space when it's empty, but if you've seen it teeming with children during the Haunted House or filled with laughter during the weekly writing group, you know that looks aren't everything.
Now, who are the Odd Fellows? And what's with the name? The Odd Fellows are a fraternal order, like the Eagles whose Aerie is across Castro street. Think of it like a union or a social club. There are bi-monthly business meetings that use Roberts Rules of Order; there are century-old rituals, regular dinner parties, and lifelong friends.
Applications are open to anyone of any gender. The current head of the lodge -- called the Noble Grand -- is a 30-year-old East Palo Alto and San José native and queer woman, Jessica Dickinson Goodman. One of the other members, whose average age is in the 60s, let her know she is the youngest woman ever elected to be the Noble Grand of a Silicon Valley Odd Fellows lodge. The woman serving as Vice Grand this year, Jackie Brown, has played a major role in keeping the Odd Fellows Lodge alive in Mountain View for the past 30 years. These kind of intergenerational groups are a vital part of a healthy community where we may not always agree, but we can find ways to work together.
There are dozens of Odd Fellows lodges in the Bay Area -- Saratoga, Cupertino, Redwood City, San José, San Francisco all have a lodge or six. But the Mountain View Odd Fellows is unique in how they share their space, for free, with anyone who is furthering their mission.
Much of their mission uses archaic language that speaks to their 170-year history. But it boils down to: members of Mountain View Odd Fellows are working for a world with more truth, more friendship, and more love. To them, that looks like providing their space for free to groups supporting people in our community who are not always welcomed. To them, that looks like donating nearly $10,000 a year to groups like the Community Services Agency or RAICES. If you've like to use their space, you can fill out this application; expect to wait a few weeks for a confirmation of the schedule. If you'd like to join the lodge, come by during any one of the public events, or reach out to their Noble Grand -- Jessica Dickinson Goodman, Jessica.firstname.lastname@example.org, 650-804-9044. If you're interested in joining a different lodge in the area, she is happy to help connect you to her fellow Nobles Grand.
What does it take to be a member? All members have to believe in a higher power, broadly defined. They have to pass an interview with 3 current members. Once the lodge votes to approve them, the lodge welcomes new members through an initiation ceremony every 5th Monday (about once a quarter). The next initiation is April 29th. Annual dues are $45, and have gone down since 1923, when they were $50/year. Once you're a member, you can apply for $1000 a year in scholarships, can use the space for the own events with the consent of the lodge, among a range of other benefits. The lodge has a comfortable budget from years of wise/lucky investing and is glad to be in a position to support its members without having to fundraise.
But you don't have to be a member to use the space. So if you've dreamed of teaching a dance class or running a pop-up gallery*, if you have a book club that's overflowing your living room or a birthday party and you don't mind '70s-tastic decor, reach out.
Here are a list of their public events this year:
Friday - Sunday, May 3 - 5, 11-5pm, Rebekah's Crafts Fair, benefitting Rebekah Childrens' Services
Sunday, June 16th, 7.5th Annual Mad Hatter's Tea Party, 10 - 2pm
Thursday July 11th (Thursday Night Live), the Odd Fellows will be transformed into a pop-up ceramics gallery hosting local artists from 5-9pm. RSVP here or just come by during Thursday Night Live.
Friday - Sunday, September 6 - 8, Rebekah's Crafts Fair, benefitting Rebekah Childrens' Services
Thursday, October 31, Halloween Night Haunted House ($1/child, $5/adult, no one is turned away for ability to pay, all proceeds go to benefit Community Services Agency)
Friday - Sunday, November 22 - 24, Rebekah's Crafts Fair, benefitting Rebekah Childrens' Services
Regular public events:
Every Wednesday: 6:30-9pm, Odd Writers' League
2nd and 4th Sundays: 10 - 7 pm, Oddizens's gender diverse and queer-friendly Pathfinder (DnD) game
1st and 3rd Thursday nights: 8-9pm, Odd Fellows Lodge #244 business meetings
Generally, the Odd Fellows host groups who don't have a budget (genderqueer board gaming groups and writing clubs are probably never going to be 501(c)3s). But if your group is charging for an event or class and fits their mission, the Lodge asks that at least 10% of proceeds be donated to a community group. You can indicate which one in your application.
So the next time you're getting bao or pho, the next time you're sipping coffee at Red Rock or enjoying a taco at Agave and wonder about that building with the blinds drawn, now you know it might be full of writers drafting their next poems or a foster child learning to bake her first cake -- or maybe it's empty, just waiting to host your next big idea to benefit your community.