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Century-old IOOF Hall at Mantecas heart
Steve Lewis, co-owner of the Manteca Bedquarters building, stands next to the 100-year-old structure that includes the now vacant 6,500-square-foot second floor of the historic Oddfellows Hall in the heart of downtown Manteca. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

History often hides in plain sight, and that’s true of Manteca’s downtown corridor and surrounding neighborhood. The Bulletin recently took a tour of the old Independent Order of Odd Fellows building, once widely considered the city’s social epicenter, unlocking memories of an older generation.

The mechanical chair creaks, whines, shakes and stalls as it travels the steep grade to the second floor.

“Still works,” says Steve Lewis, half-amazed at the stubborn performance of the old-world relic. “Hope it doesn’t catch fire.”

Lewis is a managing partner with Manteca Bedquarters, but today, as he climbs the stairwell of his two-story building, he’s showcasing history and forgotten space – not mattresses and furniture.

Inside the double doors, dust collects atop the bar and countertops and many of the bulbs in the meeting hall have burnt out.

There are push-button light switches and a stained-glass window that fills the hallway with color.

In the kitchen, a hard-cover ledger from the 1950s and 60s bridges time and space, whisking you back to an era of $3 water bills, $18 grocery tags and a “friend’s list” that believed in social gathering not social media.

There’s an eerie chill about this cavernous space at downtown Manteca’s busiest intersection, Yosemite Avenue and Main Street.

While the world outside shops for mattresses and bed frames and visits Santa’s Hut, the space above goes largely unnoticed. In many respects, a large slice of Manteca city history hides in plain sight.

It’s been about two years since the Independent Order of Odd Fellows returned its near-century old charter to the Grand Lodge of California, citing a fast-dwindling membership and failed attempts at recruiting.

Their initials still grace the crown of the brick-front building, but those are about the only remnants that remain.

The furniture and baby grand piano have been removed, while pictures and other keepsakes have been stowed away or donated to the Manteca Historical Museum.

“It’s hard to have activities when you don’t have a lot of people. We struggled for so many years to gain members,” said Kathleen Nacimento, 66, a 50-plus-year member of the Odd Fellows and a descendant of the renowned Keppel family.

“There are some very, very good memories. I grew up in there. It was sad to see it closed, but we hung on as long as we could. It was sad to say. ‘We just can’t keep it up,’ but it was time.”

Manteca Bedquarters has occupied the first floor of the IOOF building since 1988, but only recently took ownership of the site.

The purchase, Lewis said, was completed in May. They have ideas of how they’d like to use the space overhead – renovate and rent or expand Bedquarters? – but have spent the months following the purchase sifting through the Odd Fellows’ leftovers.

For nearly 100 years, one of Manteca’s oldest buildings was owned and operated by an organization equally as antiquated.

The Manteca chapter of Odd Fellows was recognized by the Grand Lodge of California in 1913, according to documents and testimony.

Nacimento’s grandparents, Ezera and May Keppel, were charter members.

At its height, Nacimento said the Odd Fellows were the heartbeat of Manteca’s social scene. Membership thrived and the hall bustled with activity, ranging from holiday parties to dances to various church services.

“At one time, it was the organization of the town. All dentists, doctors and barbers belonged to it,” said Nacimento, now a member of Stockton’s lodge. “It was the social place to be. It was a family thing.”

Lewis grew up in Manteca, and though he never joined the Odd Fellows, he can speak to its magnetism and pull.

“This is where everything happened for decades,” said Lewis, who painted the walls in the front stairwell as a teenager. “Geographically, this is the center of town, but this was where everything happened.”

If they had it their way, the triumvirate at Manteca Bedquarters would revitalize the space.

Standing in the hall, amid stunning hardwood floors and 6,500 square feet of possibility, Lewis elaborated on their vision, painting a picture with his index finger.

There would be tables and music over here. There would be the sound of children playing in the back room and chatter flowing out of the bar and kitchen areas.

Lewis believes the second-floor space could reprise its roles as an event center or a meeting place only after pricy renovations to make the space ADA compliant.

“I’d like to see a church or group use it as event center,” he said, “where people can have get-togethers, meetings or wedding receptions.”

Nacimento hopes Lewis’ vision gains traction. She believes the old IOOF lodge has another 100 years left in its walls and floors.

“I would love to see it continue. It’s got beautiful hardwood floors and we just remodeled the kitchen about 10 years ago. They have a game room,” she said. “There was a lot there and it has a lot to offer.”