All photos are courtesy of Pete Forsyth.
According to Ray Oldenburg, author of The Great Good Place each of us needs three places: The first is our home, the second is work or school, and the third a local hangout where individuals from the community can connect and share ideas on a neutral ground. For some it’s church, while others head to their neighborhood pub. In some cultures, the barber shop draws the community, or it may be the tennis club or local chapter of a fraternal organization like the Eagles.
In a 1996 piece from the Planning Commissioners Journal, Oldenburg wrote of the demise of the third place. “Most residential areas built since World War II have been designed to protect people from community rather than connect them to it,” he wrote. “Virtually all means of meeting and getting to know one’s neighbors have been eliminated. An electronically-operated garage door out front and a privacy fence out back afford near-total protection from those who, in former days, would have been neighbors.”
A supporter of fraternal organizations like the Eagles, when I learned of the potential sale of the East Portland Eagles Lodge to Portland developers drooling over the primo location in the Hawthorne District, I knew I had to raise awareness of the threats to our communities.
I established the Emerson Street House with the hope that the space would serve as a third place to my community in NE Portland, akin to what fraternal clubs like the Eagles mean to their members. If we continue to allow developers to buy out our third places, then we will contribute to the growing distance between us and our neighbors.
History of the Eagles
The Fraternal Order of Eagles (F.O.E.) formed in 1898 by six theater owners gathered in a Seattle shipyard to discuss a musician’s strike. Once they decided how to address the strike and bury the hatchet, they formed an organization called “The Order of Good Things,” later changed to the Fraternal Order of the Eagles.
Meetings would take place on theater stages and attendees would remain afterward to enjoy social time over beers. Traditionally, an organization hosted touring troupes, with which the Eagles credit much of their rapid growth, as most early members consisted of actors, stagehands, and playwrights.
The organization founded both Mother’s Day and Social Security, and pushed to end ageism discrimination in the workplace. Further, the Eagles notably provide support for medical centers in the US and Canada, and raise millions to tackle heart disease and cancer, aid disabled children, and support the elderly.
Lodge 3256: East Portland Chapter
Founded in 1965, the East Portland Eagles Lodge is one of 1,500 chapters across the United States and Canada. Lodge 3256 hosts regular community events like bingo every Tuesday evening, the hugely successful Twilight Rummage sale, and an R&B dance night with DJ Cooky Parker to draw a younger crowd. The chapter also holds regular fundraising events to support local charities—entry fee to an event might be $2 and a donation of two canned goods for the local food bank.
Most recently, the chapter hosted Rigsketball, a music fest meets basketball tournament. Founded by Bim Ditson in 2011, the event has exploded to become a popular event whose 32 band spots fill within a 24-hour period.
The East Portland Chapter also assists the community in a number of ways that go unnoticed, like when they permit families forced to live out of RVs to reside in their parking lot temporarily when they have nowhere else to park.
The Portlandia Problem
With the influx of new residents streaming to Portland at a rate of 80 per day, resulting in a net gain of 29,000 residents annually, coupled with the city’s urban growth boundary developers are running out of space to accommodate all of these new people.
The local East Portland Eagles Lodge sits on a prime piece of property located on 49th and Hawthorne. In recent years, neighboring businesses have gotten makeovers, become new businesses, or new apartment buildings stand where they once served the community. The fate of the lodge is uncertain as developers have long had their eye on the property, with the goal of building another mixed used apartment and retail space.
Within a ¼-mile radius of the lodge, all the new high-density apartment buildings have pushed the zoning area overcapacity. Aware of the amount of stress thousands of new people place on something like a delicate sewage system, not to mention the additional cars contributing to congestion, the members of the East Portland Lodge are sensitive to furthering the growth of the neighborhood and demise of third place spaces, despite rumors floating of a $6M profit from the sale of the property.
The Future of the East Portland Eagles Lodge
Members are concerned that the chapter won’t survive a move. It’s prime location on Hawthorne means members don’t need a car to visit, many bike or walk to the lodge for events or to volunteer. One member believes that if the lodge were to relocate to somewhere past 82nd or even to somewhere like Gresham, membership would drop considerably, as the distance and inaccessibility would deter members from traveling.
According to Will Stone, who represents the owners, the property is currently under contract and in the due diligence phase, which typically lasts 45 to 90 days. A meeting between developers, architects and the city is scheduled for August 10.
A current proposal from a developer interested in the property calls for a five-story, mixed-used building with 210 residential units and ground floor retail.
Karl Keefer, a longtime Trustee, member and a bartender at the East Portland Chapter, says that few places exist where you can really go regularly and truly get to know the others who frequent the location. Yes, you can have a pub or coffee shop you consider your third place, but in an ever-expanding city like Portland, how often do you actually strike up a conversation with the other regulars. Places like fraternal clubs provide stability and long term friendships. Another added benefit is the variety of ages of the members. Rarely do 20 and 30-year-old mingle with retirees.
Inexpensive events like Karaoke and open mic night provide an inexpensive alternative to drinking all evening in a bar, paying for expensive drinks. No one is kicked out or given the stink eye if they just one one beer, but wish to remain and socialize for hours after they take the last sip. The East Portland Eagles Lodge is simply a space where people can gather outside of their home and develop community.