Within a few decades of the formation of Washington Street, residents began to create places to congregate with likeminded fellows (and, until the 20th century, they were fellows, with most 19th-century organizations limiting their membership to men.) Among the groups that did not was the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F), a non-political and non-sectarian fraternal order founded in the early 1800s, and, by 1851, one of the first such organizations to accept both men and women. It soon grew to become the largest fraternal organization in America, with an emphasis on charity and friendship.
Beginning in the 19th century, as wave after wave of settlers arrived in Hoboken, each new group developed clubs and halls to socialize and provide mutual aid. German immigrants, who arrived in Hoboken in such numbers from the mid-19th century until the First World War that the city became known as “Little Bremen,” established multiple locations for the celebration of German culture, theatre, and sport. One of the finest halls they created was the short-lived Quartett Club, a German cultural and music society, established in 1892 at 1013-1019 Washington Street. Only in operation through the early years of the 20th century, the building was turned into the Gayety Theatre in 1907, and was then replaced in 1931 by the apartment building still at that address.
But the tradition of Washington Street social clubs catering to new Hobokenites continued well into the twentieth century, with the arrival, from the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s, of Puerto Rican families drawn to the promise of work on the city’s docks, in garment factories, and at various manufacturing plants, including the companies that produced Maxwell House Coffee and Tootsie Rolls. By 1970, approximately one-quarter of Hoboken’s population were either born in Puerto Rico or first-generation mainland born. The Spanish American Catholic Center was affiliated with St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church on the west side, but “El Centro” was located on the city’s main street, at 227 Washington Street. The center assisted Spanish-speaking newcomers with their search for jobs and apartments, and, like all the meeting halls of settlers that preceded them, allowed them to join together for celebrations of their culture and community.
I.O.O.F. erected its Hoboken lodge in 1852, at 414 Washington Street. In addition to Odd Fellows’ meetings, many of the city’s celebratory events and club gatherings were held at the hall, which was regularly decorated by United Decorating Company, a purveyor of flags and decorations established by German emigrant Robert Kirchgessner across the street.
A more traditional, and restrictive, fraternal organization was the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, represented in Hoboken by Lodge 74, which was inaugurated in 1888 at 1005 Washington Street. The national BPOE, which borrowed rites and practices from the Masons, was established in 1868 as an all-male, whites-only institution, and did not alter its lodge policies for more than a century. Today the Elks are open to men and women of all backgrounds. The Hoboken Lodge appointed its first female exalted ruler in 2006.