Home for Humanities
Alberta lodge renovated as cultural sanctuary
Christa McIntyre | 5/16/2017, 5:02 p.m.
The big bulky building at 5131 N.E. 23rd Ave. just north of Alberta Street is a site familiar to many long time Portlanders. But for too long the structure had been left empty and a cold, dusty exterior gave off the feel of a ghost living on the block.
Today, architects, plumbers and electricians are among the scores of workers who have taken a hand to restore the 93 year old space into a community resource, a multicultural sanctuary for the neighborhood and beyond. Named the Cerimon House, it is the new public event space for a homegrown humanities and culture non-profit organization.
Founder Randall Stuart said he saw the good bones of the building and the potential for a community center to foster conversations through performance, art and education.
Built in 1924 as the Masonic Fellowship Hall, the building served as the Alberta Lodge until the mid 1980’s when it was sold to the International Fellowship Family. For a few years it served as a church and then the hall lay bare for 5 years.
“It needed a 100 percent renovation, 100 percent new electrical, 100 percent new plumbing, an entire new roof, entirely new HVAC heating and cooling ADA compliant bathrooms, this was the full meal deal,” Stuart told the Portland Observer.
An actor, teacher and director who has worked up and down the West Coast for the last 30 years, Stuart led the charge in buying and restoring the building. He won support for the effort by developing trust with the neighborhood.
“One of the key things the city was helpful with was in directing our efforts to appeal to the neighborhood associations, most particularly the Concordia Neighborhood Association. We started to attend those meetings to get input and advocacy. We learned there that there were groups who had hoped to acquire the building, but ultimately neighbors said “no” to those particular uses.”
After a successful two year capital campaign to raise funds for renovations, the hard work of updating the building while keeping the 1920’s charm of the space took shape.
Multicultural events have cemented activities at the center ever since its opening 18 months ago.
The Cerimon House was one of the first spaces to host Portland African American playwright and director Kevin Jones’ sold out production of ‘Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments,’ which has gone on to tour nationally.
On the 10th anniversary of the death of James Chasse Jr., the Portland man suffering mental health issues who was killed by police in a confrontation on a downtown sidewalk, the Cerimon House served as a public venue for the screening of local filmmaker Brian Lindstrom’s documentary ‘Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse.’
One distinct feature of the Cerimon House is Ephesus Hall, a large central meeting space built in a traditional Masonic design. Surrounded by multiple rooms with different layouts, the possibilities for community use of the space are endless.
Stuart says the goal is to have the humanities center buzzing with activities, a violin lesson, a therapist session, therapeutic massage, a lecture, a documentary shown on the new projection wall, art exhibit, a kid’s clown class, a 50th birthday party, a wedding, a memorial or a chorus event.
You can learn more about the Cerimon House and the center’s upcoming events on their website cerimonhouse.org.