History of the Hall & Lodge

Berkeley Lodge 21 was founded by nine men on May 14, 1911 as a mutual aid society for its members.  It was originally named the Brotherhood Lodge; similar Sisterhood Lodges were also available to Finns at that time. In those days, many lodges existed throughout California and to the north into Canada, as many Finns sought to start new lives in America. Several Berkeley Finnish women founded the Otava Sisterhood Lodge #2 in early 1913, and the two lodges merged to form the current Lodge 21 on Sept. 21, 1915, under the parent organization The United Finnish Kaleva Brothers and Sisters. UFKB&S was created to help  newly emigrated Finns orient to American culture. Berkeley was the 21st lodge to join this umbrella organization, and is the second largest in the organization.

The cornerstone of our Finnish Hall at 1970 Chestnut Street in Berkeley was laid on October 9, 1932, on land donated by Berkeley Finnish-American manufacturer Walter Mork. The building of the hall was commissioned by the UFKB&S Lodge 21 as its meeting, cultural and recreational facility. The building of the hall was completed by the end of 1932, mostly by the labor of its members. Its grand opening was marked by a three-day festival on Dec. 30 and 31 and Jan 1, 1933. The festivities included an inaugural program, an all-night New Year’s Eve dance organized by its younger members, and a stage play in Finnish on New Year’s Day.

Lodge membership flourished at the time, as Berkeley was home to a large Finnish immigrant population. The hall was a busy place. As a mutual benefit society, the Lodge provided sickness and burial benefits for its members, and its social and cultural life was phenomenal for decades. Activities included stage plays, concerts, dances, an orchestra, choruses, a lending library, movies, and benefits.  In more recent years, as the immigrant population has dwindled, Finnish cultural events are more sporadic. Nevertheless, the goal of maintaining a close connection with Finnish heritage and cultural practices still remain strong.

Berkeley Lodge 21 has hosted many Finnish and Finnish-American performance groups, and put on dramatized readings of Finnish stage plays in English translation, arts shows and poetry readings. It has also coordinated voting in Finnish National Elections and registering expatriates.  Current mainstay programs of the Lodge include the Bay Area’s Finnish Independence Day Celebration on the first Sunday of December and the annual May Day (Vappu) dances. 

Lodge 21 welcomes new members and proposals for Finnish cultural activities.