Sometimes a building you’ve passed a thousand times in New York suddenly stops you in your tracks.
That’s what happened on a walk to Grand and Centre Streets, when I took a hard look at the curious fortress-like rectangle on the southeast corner.
The building came off like a visitor from another New York. And in a way, it was.
It was constructed way back in 1848 as the New York headquarters of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization that aided the poor.
[Why the term “odd fellows”? When the group first formed in 17th century Europe before spreading to various cities in America, it was considered odd that people would come together to help the disadvantaged in their community, according to the Odd Fellows website.]
Designed by Trench and Snook, the architects behind retail king A.T. Stewart’s Marble Palace at Broadway and Chambers Street and many of New York’s cast iron edifices, this “Corinthian pilastered palace,” as the AIA Guide to New York City described it, originally had just four stories and a domed roof.
Still, it was celebrated for its beauty and uniqueness. At a dedication of the building in 1849, a large procession marched down Broadway, blocking all omnibus traffic, until it reached Grand Street amid cheering and music, according to The Evening Post on June 5.
Inside was just as lovely, according to Miller’s New York as It Is, from 1866. “It contains a series of highly ornamented lodge-rooms, richly furnished and in different styles of architecture,” the guide noted.
Odd Fellows’ Hall only served as the organization’s home base in Manhattan until the 1880s.
The group moved uptown, and an extensive renovation—two more stories, the mansard roof—was done to make it more appealing to new commercial and industrial tenants.
Photos from the 1970s show the building to be rundown and vacant. Today, this odd reminder of a pre–Civil War architectural loveliness seems to have been restored.
[Second and third images: Odd Fellows’ Hall in the 19th century; fourth image: the building in 1975, MCNY 2013.3.1.32]