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Olivenhain’s historical hall to mark 120th year with celebration

In 1895, German immigrants in Olivenhain completed construction of a meeting hall. It’s still the center of the community, 120 years later.

“The colonists would have been so proud to know this building is being used so much, probably more than it was even in the past,” said Richard Bumann, 71, who wrote “Colony Olivenhain,” a history of Olivenhain published in 1981.

Today, everything from Girl Scout meetings to candidate forums is held at the meeting hall.

To pay tribute, a 120th anniversary celebration will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. March 22 at the meeting hall. Count on 1890s attire, period music, docent-led tours, pony rides for kids and more.

The hall’s origins can be traced to 1884, when German immigrants living in Denver boarded a train heading west. They were drawn to Olivenhain by a newspaper ad, but arrived only to find that food, shelter and water were scarce.

The early Olivenhain colony peaked at around 300 people, yet declined to 60 by 1894 because of ongoing water shortages. Not to mention that colonists balked when they realized the $15 per acre they paid for land was considered an outrageous price.

But those who remained decided to build a meeting hall in late 1894, possibly in honor of the colony’s 10-year anniversary, historians believe. It’s unknown exactly when construction wrapped up. However, the first documented use of the space is found in the minutes of a March 22, 1895, colony meeting, Bumann said.

Adeline “Twink” Bumann, Richard’s wife and the Olivenhain Town Council’s vice president, said it’s surprising that only 60 people would want to build a meeting hall, adding she’s thankful they did.

To that point, Richard said, “The Germans were very meeting-oriented. And they recorded everything — every 10 cents that was spent.”

Soon, community life revolved around the meeting hall. With a stage for musicians to cut loose on guitar and violin, dances were particularly popular.

For a time, Olivenhain had two meeting halls.

In 1903, younger community members formed the Encinitas Owl Club and a year later built a spot to host gatherings. Yet the building was close to collapse in 1911, so they abandoned it. Four years later, they took some of the salvaged lumber and built a small addition to the original meeting hall, bringing its dimensions to 28 feet wide and 36 feet long.

Dances were common in the 1920s, though they tapered off in the 1930s. This trend reversed course in 1942, as wartime dances attracted a lot of people, including World War II veterans from a nearby convalescent hospital, Bumann said.

He pointed to one of the framed photographs in the meeting hall showing his uncle, Herman Bumann, playing saxophone in 1943 to a packed house.

By 1954, though, dances ceased to exist with new nightclubs overshadowing the spot.

“After that, the meeting hall fell into a state of disrepair and pretty much everyone had forgotten about it, except for the tax collector,” he said.

For years, people voluntarily kicked in funds to pay the annual tax bill. Yet the tax fee quadrupled in the mid-1960s.

To deal with the growing tax burden and to preserve the meeting hall, a group called the Olivenhain Community Steering Committee formed.

The committee held fundraisers for the meeting hall. The events not only brought in money, but also galvanized community support for protecting the meeting hall, Bumann said.

The desire to keep the property in Olivenhain’s hands sparked the creation of the Olivenhain Town Council, which incorporated in 1967. The group’s mission has since branched out to encompass other community aspects.

For instance, the town council also puts on the annual Bratwurst and Beer Festival in April and Oktoberfest event. Needless to say, the group is always looking for volunteers.

“What’s unique about the meeting hall and surrounding area is that it’s not a county or city park,” Bumann said. “This has belonged to the community. And it’s been run by the community.”

On the 2-acre grounds surrounding the hall, there’s also the Shanty — an old schoolhouse built in 1885 — and the Germania Hotel.

From the 1970s on, the meeting hall grew in popularity. Events included Olivenhain Municipal Water District meetings and church services.

“I remember when I was younger, the place was bat-infested,” Bumann said. “So when everyone started singing during church, the bats would start flying.”

But by 1989, the Olivenhain Town Meeting Hall needed a serious facelift. Many of the foundation boards were rotted. And the bats had gotten out of hand.

Thanks to the persistence of resident Bonnie Kleffel, the town council received a $136,000 grant from the California Office of Historic Preservation for renovation.

“The renovation was done in such a way that they didn’t lose the character of the building,” Bumann said.

And in 1993, the meeting hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It’s amazing the community has had the will to keep it in our hands for so long,” said Dave Perryman, president of the Olivenhain Town Council.

After looking at a calendar earlier this year, he realized the 120th anniversary was approaching and came up with the idea for the celebration.

“Now let’s shoot for 150 years and beyond,” Perryman said.


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