The most prominent and enduring landmark in Olivenhain is the Olivenhain Meeting Hall. The Meeting Hall may have been built in honor of the colonists 10th anniversary, since the decision to build a meeting hall was made in November 1894, ten years after the first arrivals. The hall was built by Bill Dommes, a carpenter, and community volunteers. Bill Dommes was paid $6. The exact date the hall was completed is unknown, but the first recorded use is found in the minutes of a colony meeting held March 22, 1895.
The completed hall was one room, measuring twenty-eight feet wide by thirty-six feet long, and was built on stilts, forming a basement. The siding was redwood board and bat with eight built-in glass windows and two front entry doors. The interior included a musician’s stage on the southeast corner, a pot belly stove on the north wall and a bar counter extending halfway across the east wall.
The hall became the nerve center of Olivenhain. Community gatherings including dances, picnics, business meetings and 4th of July celebrations which started in the morning and continued to the following morning. All the local residents were represented, as well as many people from neighboring communities.
Probably the most frequent event at the hall were the Saturday night dances. These early dances attracted people from miles around. The colonists held most of their dances between 1895 and 1910. The exact number of dances at the hall is unknown, but there were enough to wear out two dance floors.
In May of 1903, the Olivenhain youth and their friends formed the Olivenhain Owl Club. The primary purpose of the Owl Club was simply “For the mutual and social amusements of its members.” Business meetings and activities were managed by a board of directors and officers. Monthly business meetings were short and usually ended with some sort of entertainment.
The Owl Club rented the colonists’ meeting hall and had a club meeting and a dance each month for about a year and a half. Then the members decided to build their own hall. The Owl Club Hall was completed in 1904, but by 1911 the Owl Club Hall was abandoned from fear of total collapse.
Without a hall, the Owl Club went dormant for about four years. Then some of the members approached the colonists and asked if they could use the Meeting Hall and in exchange the Owl Club would contribute some major improvements. The request was granted and the Owl Club Hall was dismantled. Some of the salvaged lumber was used to build two dressing rooms and a hallway on the east side of the Meeting Hall.
The improvements were completed by February of 1916 and the Owl Club dances resumed. Dances were regularly held all through the 1920′s, but declined during the 1930′s. In 1944 and 1945 the Owl Club was very active again. These war-time dances attracted a large number of people including many service men.
During the 1940′s the kerosene lanterns were replaced by electric lights. Other alterations included a galvanized roof and cement entry steps. These improvements were the last major contributions made by the Owl Club. After World War II, the Owl Club dances became very irregular. Though they continued through 1954, the dances at the Olivenhain Meeting Hall were simply outdated by the modern night clubs and dance halls in San Diego County.
After the Owl Club dissolved, the meeting hall stood silent and practically abandoned for about 18 years. During this idle period vandals broke the glass windows, and wood shutters had to be installed.
Colony of Olivenhain Town Council
After 1954, the Olivenhain Meeting Hall was all but forgotten by everyone except the County Tax Collector. The hall and property were held in trust by Harley L. Denk and Bob C. Wiro. Taxes were paid by volunteer contributions which were easily obtained when the annual premium was less than a hundred dollars, but when the taxes quadrupled during the mid 1960′s , the meeting hall became a growing burden. Finally, on the afternoon of May 22, 1965, a small group of concerned residents assembled for a decisive meeting to answer the question “What are we, the community, going to do with the Olivenhain Hall and property?”
The following month this group formed the Olivenhain Community Steering Committee which would be active for more than two years. It was this committee’s job to put the Meeting Hall and related property on a self-paying basis. Probably its most prosperous endeavors were fund raising campaigns such as rummage sales and picnics. These campaigns paid the taxes but more importantly exposed an overwhelming enthusiasm of the Olivenhain residents to retain and preserve their Meeting Hall.
During a Steering Committee meeting in 1967 it was suggested that residents form a non-profit corporation whose elected directors could manage the property and raise money for the Meeting Hall. Four months later, the suggestion became a reality and they named their non-profit corporation the “Colony of Olivenhain Town Council.” The original members of the Board of Directors were Harley L. Denk, Betty Couser, Jeannette L. Teten, Albert H. Acosta, Harvey A. Miller, Wayne E. Tarvin, and Milburn R. Hutchison.
For the first two and one-half years the directors of the Town Council concentrated on maintenance and improvements to the Meeting Hall. They transformed the two dressing rooms in the hall into a kitchen and two indoor restrooms, complete with running water. The rummage sales, pot lucks and other Town Council sponsored activities continued as they had in the past but were designed more for the social enjoyment of the community than fund raising events.
In 1971, the Colony of Olivenhain Town Council began a gradual expansion of its efforts to include community improvements and community involvement. The Olivenhain Meeting Hall was designated a State of California Point of Historical Interest in 1971.
By 1989, the Olivenhain Town Meeting Hall needed a lot of work. Many of the foundation boards had become rotten, and bats had inhabited the Hall, many with rabies which posed a serious health risk. Thanks to the efforts of Bonnie Kleffel, the Olivenhain Town Council received a $136,000 grant from the California Office of Historic Preservation, Department of Parks and Recreation for renovation and restoration of the Meeting Hall. The renovation was completed within budget and ahead of schedule. On November 4, 1990, a rededication ceremony was held to officially mark the end of the latest restoration project.
In June, 1993, the Olivenhain Town Council submitted an application for the Olivenhain Town Meeting Hall to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. On December 10, 1993, the application was approved and the Olivenhain Town Meeting Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.