My favorite quip from Mark Twain, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes” seems appropriate for this image that blends now with the late 1940’s.

977757_10200642993733234_2077760562_o

After the second world war in early 1947, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks repainted their Beaux Arts style Tacoma Lodge building and Spanish Steps. They also completely remodeled the upper Broadway level to add a dark, moody, and no doubt smoky bar in the Northwest corner adding a drop ceiling in the main dining room to conceal some very nicely detailed plaster and ornamentation.  The late 40’s were a boom time for membership in the fraternal organization and the unchangeable features of the 1916 building were beginning to get in the way of mid century modern mind sets.

Richards_Studio_D415844
“Big John” Anderson, right, accepts the gavel as Exalted Ruler of the Tacoma Elks Lodge on April 5, 1949

“Big John” Anderson, a building contractor, was elected Exalted Ruler of the Tacoma lodge in April 1949 and he would go on to serve as Tacoma’s Mayor for most of the 1950’s ( Ist term 1950-54, 2nd term 1956-58). He found both the Elks lodge and City Hall architecturally out of date and used his considerable influence to support the construction of the a sleek new County City Building (and the demolition of the Romanesque Pierce County Courthouse) on Tacoma Avenue. It took the Elks a bit longer to purchase 20

Richards_Studio_D1456882
New Elks Dedication September 3, 1965

acres between Cedar and Union at 19th Street and complete a new 76,000 square foot building that included a 1000 seat theater, sprawling dining room and cocktail bar and athletic facilities. When the new Elks Building, surrounded by mall like parking lots, was dedicated in 1965, the downtown temple was stripped of its pinset entablature, cast bronze door ecsutchutons and interior jewelry and even the whistling bull elk from the main lodge room on the top floor. Combined with the opening of the Tacoma Mall in 1962-3, the moving of Municipal Government and the city’s largest social club from the head of Pacific Avenue was a staggering blow to Tacoma’s urban design and self image. The days when Pacific Avenue was Tacoma’s Grand Boulevard carrying people from Union Station on a line toward a harbor overlook framed by City Hall, the Northern Pacific Railway Building and the Elks/Spanish Steps ensemble were over. The mind and heart of Tacoma were scattered and soon the true north compass needle of Pacific Avenue would begin to erode. Whole blocks of five and six story Commercial Buildings were demolished with government funds and brutal cavernous garages took their place. Tacoma’s history was in the cross hairs of hair brained schemes about how every city should look the same.

Unlike many other American cities that were infected with Urban Renewal programs however, Tacoma stopped short of biting into its most architecturally important buildings and structures. Remarkably, the group of landmarks around Old City Hall, including the Elks Lodge, Spanish Steps, Northern Pacific Railroad Headquarters Building, and the surrounding commercial district were designated as Tacoma’s first protected historic district in 1978. Led by Architect Alan Liddle, Tacoma’s recognized historic preservation ethic was born in the civic debate over not erasing Tacoma’s proudest cluster of building from the late 19th and early 20th Century. The Elks Lodge was an integral part of the fight.

The story of the grand 1916 Lodge Building, designed by the flamboyant Ecole de Beaux Arts trained architect Edouard Frère Champney, gets very hazy after the Elks leave in 1965. That story is being collected right now so if you attended a concert there or stole in to tag the walls get in touch. You might be just in time to help with the next rhyme.

1925
Main Lodge Room, 1925
1925.pool
Billiard Room, 1925
1925.dinner
Dining Room, 1925
Marvin_D_Boland_Collection_BOLANDB14949.June 1926
1926

 

 

 

 

Written by tacomahistory

This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s