The former Elks Lodge has an exciting life ahead of it as the Portland-based McMenamins brothers are setting out to renovate it into a destination brewpub and hotel. But the landmark building at Tacoma’s 565 Broadway has already had an exciting life of parties, laughter and sorrow.
The building opened in 1916. It was designed by Edouard Frere Champney and built under the watchful eyes of Cornell Brothers Co. as the general contractor. The interior was originally outfitted with furniture, carpets and drapes, hand selected by Percival Collins, the interior designer at the Peoples Store of Tacoma. The price tag was $160,000, which was a whopping sum at the time and called “handsomest in U.S.” when it formally opened.
Champney was an A-list architect in the region, especially after serving as the lead designer of Seattle’s 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. His design of the Elks Lodge only added to his fame, with his use of the new-for-the-time method of construction with poured concrete and use of Neo-Classical design features.
The lodge immediately became an entertainment focal point for members of the Elks Lodge #174 and the greater community, with its ballroom, swimming pool and performance stage. Back in the day, the lodge membership included the “who’s who” of Tacoma’s business and government elite because it was a social hub where members could dine, relax, mix and mingle all under one roof in the days before Facebook or even television.
Lodge members held concerts and plays in the performance hall or sponsored traveling shows. The lodge held fundraisers and community events for decades.
The Elks Lodge membership then moved to a new facility on Union Avenue in 1967, after years of talks to turn the Broadway building into a Servicemen’s Center and then a community center. Those plans largely fizzled and the historic building began decades of decline. It was used as a banquet hall and rental space, and was event featured in a few scenes of the 1989 movie “I Love You To Death.” Later, there were plans to renovate it into a Chinese emporium and then a year-round farmers market, which would have largely meant the lodge would have been demolished.
But city leaders would have none of it, so a decade of legal filings between the city and the building’s owner, Ron Zimmerman, ensued. His death in 2005 ended the court battle and started the steps for developers to start talks about restoring the facility.
The sale of the Elks building to the McMenamins closed in 2009. The 32-year-old, Portland-based company has renovated and restored 54 historic properties around the Pacific Northwest, including the Spar Cafe in Olympia, the Crystal Ballroom in downtown Portland and most recently the Anderson School-turned destination brewpub and hotel in Bothell.
Renovations were originally slated to begin in 2012, but they were delayed by the company’s restoration project in Bothell. The hands-on development duo are well known for taking on large projects one at a time. With the Bothell site now open, Brian and Mike McMenamin are hip deep into the renovations at the Tacoma lodge.
And none of the work comes cheap. Originally expected to cost $25 million, repairs are now likely to cost $32 million.
But the renovations of the Renaissance Revival Beaux-Arts styled landmark will make the lodge a community hub once again, once it opens in late 2017.
Renovation plans for the Elks Lodge will create a 45-room hotel with a brewpub and three restaurants as well as a South Pacific-themed bar that will be surrounded by flowing water, a music venue with exclusive balcony spaces, and a “secret bar” that would seat about 40 people — if they can find it. A former banquet room will have hotel rooms clustered into “cabins” that will be surrounded by hanging plants and herbs, some of which will be used in the restaurants. Local artists will paint murals around the building depicting local landmarks and notables while key graffiti drawings that vandals had spray-painted over the years will be preserved since the lodge’s role as a canvas for taggers was part of its life just as much as its role as a clubhouse.
Work won’t end when the renovated building opens, however, since McMenamins has an option in the works to take over Old City Hall right across the street, a project that could see the building converted into a hotel and music venue.
But that is a story for another time.
For more information about Tacoma’s Elks Lodge and McMenamins’ restoration efforts, visit McMenamins’ website here.