Oddfellows fosters creativity for eclectic Hyde Park bunch

The collective brings together entrepreneurs in a shared workplace in Boise

zkyle@idahostatesman.comJuly 9, 2013 

Unseen on the upper floor of a two-story red brick building at 13th and Eastman streets, around unmarked stairs reachable through the Shandro Group Benefits office, live the Oddfellows.

Oddfellows the Collective is a group of 10 small businesses and a nonprofit operating in tight quarters in Hyde Park's 110-year-old Odd Fellows Hall. The collective includes two video producers, a get-out-the-vote group, an alternative-energy public relations firm and the folks who dreamed up Treefort Music Fest. Their offices are filled with young entrepreneurs who like their working arrangement.

Their offices are small, some with room only for a desk or two. Each is a glorified cubicle with plaster walls that don't reach the vaulted ceiling, making conference calls and film editing sessions everybody's business.

There's a conference room with a disco ball, a communal lounge with foosball table and a shared kitchen with a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon in the refrigerator. There's a money can in the fridge door. Take a can or two and leave a couple of bucks.

"I like that we have a front with (Shandro) downstairs," said Eric Gilbert, a partner of the music promotion agency Duck Club Presents. "We have a professional side - health insurance - but upstairs is where all the crazy kids are."

The 1903 building was one of Boise's three lodges for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal society that started in England in the late 1700s, according to the Masonic Papers of the contemporary Freemasons. The group focused on charity and functioned as a welfare system for members.

The papers say the fraternal society accepted members from a plethora of occupations as opposed to forming trade guilds, making for an "odd" assortment - sort of like the building's current tenants.

The Odd Fellows Hall in Hyde Park closed sometime between 1946 and 1950, said John Bertram, president of Preservation Idaho. It's been home to several tenants since, including Bodily TV, a repair shop, in the 1970s.

Lori Shandro owns and operates the insurance office as her day job. She spends the rest of her time working upstairs as Gilbert's business partner. She's also the Oddfellows pseudolandlord: She rents the upstairs and subleases space to the tenants for $50 to $350 a month, depending on their office space, windows and how many employees use the office.

Duck Club also puts on the Treefort Music Fest. The second annual indie music festival in March attracted about 6,000 music fans to see more than 280 acts on 14 Boise stages. A third Treefort is planned in 2014.

Planning requires meetings - lots of them. Shandro met with a roster of Boise professionals who handled aspects of the festival planning: Restroscope Media created the Road to Treefort, a short film series. Red House Media assisted on the films. Megan Stoll handled marketing. Credenda Studios was one of the festival artists and screen printers.

None had offices appropriate for the undertaking. The person or people from each company either crowded in Shandro's old Downtown office, which was small and full of Treefort merchandise, or they met at coffeehouses.

Shandro said the drive to and from coffee shops doubled the time required for meetings.

"A group of us drank way too much coffee, because every time we got together it was at a coffee shop," she said. "Not only is it inefficient - it gets old."

So she found the Odd Fellows space in Hyde Park, which had been vacant for several years, and pitched the Oddfellows idea to the others. Two months after the first Treefort in 2012, all of the businesses moved in. So did a few others.

One of the current tenants is Zach Voss, who owns a one-man film studio, Retroscope. Voss inhabits one of the bigger offices. It's tidy. A short bike with a tall seat and handlebar stem rests against the front of his desk. An orange Treefort banner hangs on the wall, commemorating the "Road to Treefort" promotional series that won first place in the Idaho Advertising Federation's 2012 Rockies Awards.

A second maroon banner is emblazoned with a decorative M for Voss' short film, "Mandrake Estate," which premiered at the 2013 Sun Valley Film Festival.

Voss said his business attracts clients looking for nontraditional films or advertisements. Those customers typically like the off-kilter office. "That's kind of the appeal (of Oddfellows)," Voss said. "Everybody is going for their own vein of creativity."

Another tenant, Cody Gittings, co-owns film production studio Red House Media, which also worked on Treefort promotion projects.

Gittings sat in a dark office with a huge monitor. Stacks of receipts collected on the table. Lists sprawled on white boards. A Starbucks cup and brown lunch sack perched by his workspace. He wore shorts, flip-flops and a shaggy mop of hair.

Gittings said the place was a little chaotic because he'd just finished producing "Smoke," a 30-minute Western film based on a short story by Boise author Alan Heathcock.

The office is tidier when he's not knee-deep in a project, he said. Like other tenants, Gittings said the office has given him legitimacy he was missing when he was working out of his home.

"I needed a meeting place that looks professional, where I can take people and they'll take me a little more seriously," Gittings said. "Coffee shops aren't necessarily the best. That's when you start thinking about having an office space."

The downside, Gilbert says, is that he's a social and easily distractible guy, especially by all of the creative tenants he can hear throughout the building. But Gilbert, who plays keyboard in the Boise indie rock band Finn Riggins, said the others are more of a help than a hindrance.

"It's pushed by self-starters here," Gilbert said. "Nobody's telling them to get to work. I think we all inspire each other. A lot of ideas get thrown around."

Zach Kyle: 377-6464

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