10th Anniversary of Rainforest Arts Center Fire

It was with sadness that I wrote obituaries for a couple of old friends ten years ago this week. At the time one was getting up in maturity, eighty-seven, and the other was just seventy-eight years old. Over the years both had seen changes and at that time the older of the two had seen some improvements. Although they were both getting older they had a lot of life left in them, but Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, they both ceased to exist.

Forks has had three Oddfellow’s halls. The organization was granted a charter in 1893 and the first hall was built in 1903, surprisingly the builder, John Iverson, had a problem finding milled lumber. A larger structure was built in 1920. It was two stories with a dance floor upstairs and a storefront on the bottom.

On January 9, 1925, a fire started in Kirby’s Pool Hall, located just south of Chinook Pharmacy, where the Hoh Tribe has offices today, most of the east side of mainstreet was a total loss. All that was left of the five-year-old Oddfellow’s Hall was the cement foundation.

Within months, with insurance proceeds and loans from members, a new hall was constructed with clear grain lumber from the mill of R. O. Wahlgren at the cost of $10,241.25. The dedication took place on October 3, 1925, and most of the town turned out.

Over the years the lodge was used for meetings, Rainbow Girls, the annual Rebekah rummage sale, dances and dance recitals, plays, and many other community get-togethers. The Forks Community Orchestra held practice there.

With Lodge member numbers dwindling in the 1990s the City of Forks was approached about taking over the historic property. In May 1997 the building was signed over to the City, the last Noble Grand Master of the Lodge was Robert Tuttle Sr.

Since that time the old hall had seen new paint, siding, roof, and other upgrades, and all the while it provided the community a place to be entertained and used by many local citizens and organizations.

In 1934 Ray Goss built a beautiful brick building at the corner of Division and Main Street he called his business Olympic Pharmacy. Goss operated the business until 1950 when he sold to Bill Willingham; my aunt, Betty Bernier worked a few months for Goss and then nine years for Willingham. When Vern Campbell took over Bernier was not sure she was going to stay but she worked there another thirty years.

During the 1960s Bernier remembered the brick was looking shabby and so it was boxed in and covered with wood. The building was remodeled twice with a ramp up to a section that was actually in the Oddfellow’s building, and a cinder block addition was added on the back.

When the pharmacy closed in 1989 Bernier divided the building in half and operated a coin shop on one side and the other side was a store I operated with my mother, June Olson, and my sister Shelli Leons, called Rain Country Apparel and Gifts, we closed our store in June of 1994.

Bernier sold to Randy and Jo Ann Allen in August 1994 and Jo Ann opened a store called The Fern Gallery. Soon Allen began exposing some of the brick that had been covered with siding. In what must have been a huge undertaking she restored much of the brick and windows and once again the community was able to see the beauty that had been covered for over thirty years.

When the Fern Gallery closed the building was sold to Dazzled by Twilight.

On Oct. 29, 2012, the old friends, the buildings, that had seen so much history, were gone. The Forks Fire Department did an incredible job keeping the fire contained and saving other nearby buildings.

For the 1925 fire, there was no organized fire department. That event inspired the community to create a better water system and to organize a volunteer fire department.

On October 6, 1945, George Groffman read a speech at the burning of the mortgage for the 1925 Oddfellow’s Hall, when referring to the fire of 1925 Groffman said “It was a stiff punch to the jaw, but not a knockout, while discouraged it helped to put heart into our new endeavor.”

And once again in 2010 Forks put its heart into a new endeavor, rebuilding what was lost, and we now have the beautiful Rainforest Arts Center, which was dedicated in April 2015. We still have our old memories, but many new memories have been created in the past 10 years.

The short-lived 1920 IOOF Hall burned in the 1925 fire.

The short-lived 1920 IOOF Hall burned in the 1925 fire.

The 1903 IOOF Hall also burned in the 1925 fire. It was Groffman’s store when it burned. The building was rebuilt and now is home to Forks Avenue Real Estate.

The 1903 IOOF Hall also burned in the 1925 fire. It was Groffman’s store when it burned. The building was rebuilt and now is home to Forks Avenue Real Estate.

A very sad day ….10 years ago. Photo Terry Breedlove

A very sad day ….10 years ago. Photo Terry Breedlove