Today’s Wonder Ballroom was built by The Ancient Order of Hibernians, a group committed to immigration reform, civil rights for those of Irish descent and the preservation of the old Irish culture. Designed by the architecture firm of Jacobberger & Smith, the hall was completed on schedule and the first meeting was held in the new building on September 10, 1914.
By 1916 membership in the organization reached its peak at 490 members. Although membership tapered off during the next decade, the building remained an active meeting place. During the 1920s when the KKK backed efforts to ban all private and parochial schools in the state, the Hibernians came to the rescue and helped defeat the efforts.
By 1935 Hibernian membership dwindled to only 30 members and in 1936 the building was turned over to the Catholic Church, which used the building to operate the Catholic Youth Organization. Sporting events were the main attractions for the building and the Portland Boxing School also used the facility until about 1941.
In 1938 building ownership was transferred to the American Legion Organization and the American Legion Navy Post No. 101 operated in the space. The building was full of activity during World War II, with many events and war updates taking place in the hall. During 1948, some remodeling was done in the auditorium and the ceiling was lowered.
In 1956 the building was sold to Evelyn Collins, who envisioned a community center and day care facility. In 1957 major remodeling was conducted to update to new building codes, with windows added to the east side of the hall. The Community Center Nursery was established here after the renovation was completed. By 1960 the facility was known as the Christian Community Center and the hall hosted numerous sporting events. In 1975 the name of the facility was changed to honor Grace Collins, Evelyn’s late mother who was a strong community activist. The daycare also operated under her name for twenty-five plus years.
On June 1, 1997 the All-Ireland Cultural Society of Oregon sponsored a day of activities at the Collins Center. The event was held to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the potato famine in Ireland. 1,500 people of Irish descent attended, making it the first Irish event at the hall in 60 years.
By 2002 the building was shuttered due to deterioration and lack of funds by the Collins estate. In June of 2004 the building was purchased and remodeling was started for the new Wonder Ballroom. In November of 2004 a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places was passed by the State Historic Preservation Office.
With the newly renovated Wonder Ballroom, Portlanders can now enjoy a restored piece of history and a great new venue for performance and events.
Not to mention delicious food and outstanding visual arts.
Thanks to Roy Roos for his historic research.