Obscure F.O.E. building to become colorful beacon of York, Pa.’s renaissance

York, Pa.’s West Philadelphia Street F.O.E. – Fraternal Order of Eagles – Lodge, seen in this rendering, will be transformed into an art gallery under a $4 million state grant brought to York as part of the Governor’s Awards for the Arts event last week. The grant will also fund renovations to the nearby Central Market. Also of interest: More than 5,000 crowded York’s Central Market for revival services in 19th century and Start Your Engines: World-renowned artist Jeff Koons drives into center of York’s art community and Temporary river art collection may find permanent home along Susquehanna.

The concept of converting the relatively obscure F.O.E building into a very public art gallery carries more meaning than many other projects on a long list of promising downtown improvements.
It represents a more realistic approach to promoting and providing for the arts than the costly YOMA building proposed before the Great Recession just down the street.
That’s pretty obvious.
But here are some more subtle points:

Consider that a mural depicting Bob Hoffman and his York Barbell company is painted on its side. That brings together an arts-oriented tourism/economic development idea of the past, the Murals of York, with the current promotional idea, an arts district.
And arts/mural combo illustrates consultant Roger Brooks’ notion of combining York’s industrial arts and design prowess into a theme, “Creativity Unleashed.” What could signify this admittedly hard-to-grasp theme more than a mural touting York’s “heavy” industrial past on the side of an arts studio, its service-oriented future?
And here’s something else.
That the F.O.E. building is available suggests a change taking place in York County and elsewhere across America.
Social, service, fraternal and other community organizations, many fighting membership declines, no longer need large buildings.
Members of venerable organizations – the Grange, Lions Clubs and Fraternal Order of Eagles (F.O.E.) – often are aging. Echo Boomers and their younger brothers and sisters are gravitating to more individual, more personal, pursuits.
The F.O.E. building, a gathering place for that group’s private membership, is available to make space to highlight the work of some of the community’s most noted individualists – artists.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
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