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 United Finnish Kaleva Brothers and Sisters Berkeley Lodge 21 as its meeting, cultural and recreational facility. The lodge itself was founded by nine men on May 14, 1911 as the Brotherhood Lodge, a mutual aid society for its members.
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. 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.
Through most of its subsequent existence the earlier large Finnish immigrant membership of the Lodge and its progeny the hall was a busy place. As a mutual benefit society, the Lodge provided sickness and burial benefits for its members, but its social and cultural life was phenomenal for decades. Activities included stage plays, dances, orchestra, choruses, folk dancing, lending library, public dances, concerts, movies and benefits. In more recent years, with the large immigrant generation gone, and fewer members, the activities have been more infrequent and modest.
The United Finnish Kaleva Brothers and Sisters was created to help orient newly emigrated Finns orient themselves with American Culture. Berkeley was the 21st lodge to join this umbrella organization. As years continue, and as kids growing up in Finland are taught English from an early age, needs of the organization and newly emigrated members have changed. Overall, goals about maintaining a close connection with Finnish heritage and cultural practices, however, still remain strong. Lodge number 21 is the second largest in the organization.
Berkeley Lodge 21 has sponsored many dramatized readings of Finnish stage plays in English translation, arts shows and poetry readings, voting for Finnish Nationals and Registered Ex Patriots, plus, the lodge has hosted many performance groups from Finland and Finnish-America. The Finland School for young children of newer members (Suomi Koulu) also meet bi-monthly at the hall. The current mainstay programs of the Lodge now, however, include the Bay Area’s Finnish Independence Day Celebration on the first Sunday of December and the annual May Day (Vappu) dances. The hall mostly maintains itself financially today through rental income from its meeting rooms and auditorium.
For years the Lodge was called the Veljeysseura or Brotherhood with the Hall itself called “Brotherhood Hall.” More recently, due to social awareness of gender equality, it’s become known more popularly as “Kaleva Hall” or "Berkeley Finnish Hall."