FORT BRAGG, CA, 9/19/22 — When the general manager of the Skunk Train was taking a walk in his new hometown of Fort Bragg, he saw something that thrilled his imagination as an archeologist and history buff — the old Eagles Hall.
So he bought it. Efstathios Pappas and his wife Miranda Pappas have purchased the building at 210 N. Corry Street. The family plans to live in it while conducting needed extensive repairs. He hopes to offer it someday for hall use.
The deal closed at the end of last week, county files show. No sales price was indicated for the recent transaction. Pappas, who goes by “Stathi,” took over as general manager of the California Western Railroad and the Skunk Train in April, running the local operation. The Sierra Railroad operation is the corporate structure above the California Western/Skunk.
The hall was built in 1914 by the local chapter of the Socialist Party of America, according to the book The Nelson Brothers, which examines Finnish immigrant history in Northern California in the early 1900s. The building was designed by Arvid Nelson, who was active in the Finnish and Socialist communities in Fort Bragg at that time. Materials were paid for by “comrade loans” and constructed by volunteer labor. The Finns named it Toveri Tup (Comrades Hall). English speakers called it “the Labor Temple.” For more than 100 years the hall hosted plays, dances, concerts, speakers and special events. Most recently, it was the venue for the Gloriana Musical Theater company.
During World War II, it became the International Workers Order, Redwood Lodge No. 3893, and in 1946, the Fort Bragg Labor Temple for trade unions. In 1960 it was purchased by the Eagles organization. The local branch of the Eagles disbanded in early 2022, and the hall went back to the national Eagles organization, which put it up for sale. Longtime member Vi Holquist said the local chapter of the Eagles once had as many as 300 members but had fallen to half a dozen.
“Nobody wanted to be an Eagle anymore,” Holquist said.
Lee Edmundson was one of eight Eagles members at the meeting in January 2022 when the decision was made to dissolve the lodge. Wanting to get Gloriana theater members in as Eagles and expand the local ownership, Edmundson voted against dissolution. Only Eagles members were allowed to attend the meeting and vote, which he said was 4-4. Gloriana members who wanted to make a pitch could not enter by lodge rules. After the tie vote (4-4), the receiver had to make the decision as to whether to sell the building and send the money to the national chapter or keep it going. A receiver is a neutral trustee appointed by a court to make decisions in estate matters where there is a dispute.
“He could have gone either way based on what he had but he went with selling the building,” Edmundson said.
Edmundson said the city and others involved made a big mistake by not proactively protecting the structure.
“The city of Fort Bragg fumbled this a bit. This should have been on the National Registry of Historic Places 20-25 years ago.”
Edmundson was pleased to hear that a man who loved history was buying the building to fix up and someday offer for hall use again, but he’ll be watching.
“I hope he is telling the truth,” Edmunson said. He said he had seen too many deals start out with big promises only to end up with a demolition permit application.
Various county records showed a sale price of approximately $475,000.
The building had been used for the past 13 years by the Gloriana Musical Theater for performances. There was also the Fort Bragg Rotary Club’s annual beer festival and other community events. The news that the Eagles were selling the building devastated the theater company, which now has nowhere to play; the hall also contained their props and other material. The company removed most of their things but now are looking for storage. Gloriana attempted to buy the building with a community fundraiser, but the effort fell short.
After he took possession, Pappas found interesting items inside like VHS and reel-to-reel tapes of old shows; he says that he wants to get these to the right place.
The building is one of the largest in Fort Bragg at more than 7500 square feet. It was always an amazing site for newcomers and old Fort Braggers alike, a place unrivaled except by Federal FDR stimulus built Cotton Auditorium for large community gatherings. It was also clear to all those who used the building that it desperately needed renovation.
“I turned the corner and said this is huge! My goodness, what is this building?” Pappas said. “I saw a For Sale sign on it and started doing some research on it and got even more interested. At first, I thought this is a pipe dream. I’d never be able to pull something like this off. Then I talked to my realtor and I was like, `Well, what would it actually take?’ The answer started looking very reasonable. Then I thought why couldn’t we rehabilitate and preserve this important structure? That’s when the dream began.”
The purchase by Pappas was from Fort Bragg Eagles Aerie Number 833 and receiver Devere Dunham, county files show.
Pappas, 43, will now undertake the considerable job of fixing up the grand hall made of old growth redwood, with its famed madrone floors, luxurious stage and odd little basement. The rafters are made of old growth heartwood not available today. The Eagles had initially hoped to sell the historic hall about twice what they got for it but inspection reports detailing all the problems and repairs needed dropped the value. The hall has a caretaker house on its south side as living space and an upstairs apartment which once housed a dance studio.
“It will be an adventure, sure. You live your life and do things that matter in terms of your values. That hall has a unique history from the time of the Finnish Benevolent Association and on to the Eagles. All of that fits into my interest in history through archeology,” Pappas said.
“My heart goes out to these historical artifacts. Sometimes an artifact speaks to you and says I need help,” he said.
What was Fort Bragg like in that “Our Town” time?
In those early days, socialism had not become a bad word. Fishermen and loggers even participated in unions. The town was nearly self-sufficient, with prosperous merchants who sold shoes, lumber, furniture and more joining numerous lodges and community organizations that did everything from provide scholarships to supporting the elderly, sick, veterans, and sponsoring baseball teams. The town turned out more than 1000 people for baseball games between rival lumber mills, schools, churches and lodges. There were traveling teams, women’s teams and of course, the high school squad. In those days, the Skunk railroad could take people to Willits and on to San Francisco.
Pappas looks at a building like his new purchase and sees the mostly forgotten but important times that built the present and the future.
“In 1914 here they were putting up this major building and staking their role in this community with this building. These people played their roles and lived their lives with determination and seriousness, and you’re looking at a building like that and it really takes us back to a time most people don’t otherwise think much about,” he said.
“These are stories that perish once the artifacts are gone. The historical record is good, but you have to go looking for it. Here you turn the corner and see this building and it’s huge and it makes an impression nothing in writing ever can.”
There were rumors in town that the building was going to be demolished by out-of-town developers who would put three houses on it.
“I found it really amusing when people were saying L.A. investors were buying it for housing. Nothing could be further from the truth. I bought it for my family’s use. We will live there.”
Before coming to Fort Bragg, Pappas worked in places like Washington state and Colorado in management of railroads and railroad museums. Pappas earned his doctorate at the University of Nevada, Reno in Anthropology and Historic Archaeology. At Michigan Technological University he earned a Masters of Science in industrial archaeology. He said the university, located on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was surrounded by Finnish history and logging history, making the purchase seem like his world coming full-circle. He got his undergraduate degree in anthropology from UC Berkeley.
Pappas is the same man who about 15 years ago personally purchased and fixed up the steam train now operating on the Skunk Train Tracks, affectionately called the Chiggen. It is his personal property, not property of the railroad. The name Chiggen comes from the fact that the old steam train advertised a roadside chicken stand in the Stockton area for three decades. Pappas played on the chicken locomotive as a kid in the Stockton area and returned home to fix it up. He said it would have been a million-dollar job had they not fixed it up themselves, machining most of the parts. Built in 1909 by H. K. Porter, the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Co. #2, the Chiggen may be on loan next summer in Fort Bragg. It can also be rented for special events.
And to answer the question that most Fort Bragg residents want to answer about the new steam train — What about that weird whistle?
He said that he restored the train and whistle back to how it was when delivered in 1909. He said the more familiar chime whistles only came later. The train has been on loan to The Skunk.
There has been a major effort to keep the Eagles and the Hall going for more than two decades. In 1997 the hall was transferred into private hands, transferred to Nick Lopedota Sr. and Patty Lopedota, with no sale price indicated. A year later it returned to Eagles ownership, county files show. The saving of Eagles Hall comes at the same time a new mural is being created celebrating the Finnish community in the heart of Fort Bragg’s downtown. Lauren Sinnott, a noted local artist and former mayor of Point Arena, is including the building in her mural, which is on the wall across the alley from the Music Merchant on the south side of Franklin in the heart of downtown.
Fort Bragg was famously founded by three ethnic groups that once had their own sections of town — the Portuguese (often from the Azores), the Italians and the Finns.
“The mural will depict one strand of Fort Bragg’s interwoven history: Finnish immigration during the late 1800s and early 1900s,” Sinnott wrote in an email.. “These immigrants brought a strong tradition of cooperation for the common good. Along with providing basic necessities for their families and community, they wove a social network with plays, presentations, music and dance, organizing for causes, and enjoying refreshments together after a cleansing sauna,” Sinnott wrote. The mural will also depict the Finnish cooperative grocery store, which is now fittingly an ethnic Hispanic food market The Fort Bragg Consumer Cooperative was founded in 1923 by a group of Finnish sawmill workers and woodsmen, lasting almost 60 years before closing. Kalevala Hall built in 1895, originally the Finnish Temperance Hall, is still in use at 430 E. Redwood — now as Lion’s Hall.
The Lions and Rotary clubs are two of the remaining active clubs from the glory days of the lodges. At one time, the Redmen, the Moose, the Eagles, the Grange and many more played major roles in local sustainability, life and keeping money and charity local.
A mistake often made by those without knowledge of the Mendocino past is crediting the eccentricities of the Finns to the hippies, who came nearly a century later. The language Boontling came from 19th century Anderson Valley settlers, many who were Finns, not 1970s stoners, as tourists may say. (The origins are debated, and it may have originated from children of the early Boonville residents trying to keep secrets from parents.) Oddball housing in Albion originated as often with Finnish and other freewheeling loggers as much as back-to-the-landers of the 20th century. Communes were established by the Finns and were the model for the later hippie communes. Sinnott’s mural also depicts Sointula Commune, which means “Place of Harmony” and was a 636-acre piece of logged, extremely hilly land 8 miles SE of Fort Bragg, jointly purchased by four Finnish families, who each had their own home, but shared barns, buildings, livestock, saunas and celebration. The mural also depicts a sauna, with friends and families enjoying refreshments after their traditional steam bath.
The now defunct Eagles lodge, Fort Bragg Aerie No. 833, was organized on November 10, 1904, according to an article from the Fort Bragg Historical Society published in the Advocate-News. However, without a hall of its own, meetings and social events were held in other meeting places. A 40th anniversary dance was held in the I.O.O.F. Hall on Main Street (now the Masons Hall). In 1959, they began using the building, officially recording ownership in 1960.
“We had dart tournaments, conventions, dinners and dances,” Holquist said. The Eagles had more than 300 members: “until the Georgia Pacific went out of business, we lost a bunch down to 38 on the roster. There were six of us that tried to keep it open,” she said.
She and fellow Eagles supporter Lyle Koski remember donations to the cancer society, senior center, food bank, library, toys for tots, the Children’s Fund and Eagles specific causes like diabetes prevention and treatment.
More pictures can be found here.
The Fraternal Order of Eagles started 1898 in Seattle. Within 10 years there were more than 1,800 Aeries in the United States, Canada and Mexico with a membership exceeding 350,000. Free health insurance and paid leave from work injuries was once their effort.
Gloriana is still looking for a performance hall but is planning on opening a place for classes, karaoke, open mike events and such in the Boatyard shopping center.