continues on fate
of fire-ravaged Elks building
(October 2010) With the controversial decision
concerning the former Elks Lodge building to be decided, the debate
continues over restoration versus demolition. The City of Madison has
instructed its building inspector to apply for a demolition permit,
citing public safety concerns. Carolyn Barr, owner of the building and
its restoration specialist, is continuing to lobby to restore the structure.
by Don Ward
Madison Elks Lodge building
was destroyed by fire in August 2006.
Only the outer walls remain.
Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong has stated he is reluctant
to push for demolition and would like to see the building saved. But
time is running out. Armstrong has said he wants to see some action
taken soon by the owner toward renovating the building because of the
structural dangers it poses in its current condition. It has endured
four winters without a roof.
Although it cannot be proved, it is believed to be the oldest and continuous
operating Elks Lodge in the country. The history of the building itself
is entwined in the club for which it was named. This history, pieced
together through local documents, shows a humble beginning. It was built
next to Madisons first City Hall, at 420 West St. Fire devastated
the building in August 2006, leaving a brick shell still standing.
The Elks minutes ledger book was salvaged from the fire. It had been
located in a filing cabinet in the buildings office.
According to Tony Steinhardt, an Elks leader, The cabinet had
fallen through the floor from the office in the mezzanine to the second
It was through Steinhardts efforts that the book was dried and
salvaged. In September 2006, the Elks gave the book to the Jefferson
County Historical Society Research Library and Archives on indefinite
loan. Efforts are being made by library volunteers to digitally
image the historical document, preserving it for future viewing.
The Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks started nationally in
1868, known at first as the Jolly Corks. It began as a drinking
club, opposed to New York Citys vision concerning the opening
hours of public taverns. Madisons chapter first met on Nov. 1,
1899, according to the Elks minutes book, for the purpose of organizing
a lodge. Their charter was granted on Nov. 8., with the original
meeting location at the Madison Cycle and Athletic Club.
It was not until 1902 that the clubs minutes reveal their intentions
of finding a new home.
A committee to locate real estate was appointed at the same meeting.
A later meeting reported that the Sanxay (house) being very favorably
spoken of. This house was possibly located on Elm St., according
to Ron Grimes, archivist for the JCHS Research Library.
In early 1903, the club decided that the committee be given authority
to purchase for any sum near $6,000, concerning the Sanxay. It
was proposed that $3,000 of these monies be raised by selling stock
to its own membership. However, Mr. F.O. Suise was not willing to budge
on his asking price of $8,000. In April of that year, the minutes reported
that membership voted that club trustees close a deal with
a Mrs. Lund for her property on West Street. It was moved that $300
of treasury money be used to secure a $1,000 loan, with $100 cash payable
to Mrs. Lund, obtaining a bond for a deed.
The clubs building committee of 1904 secured additional property
from City Hall and was instructed to proceed, at once, with the new
The building later made headlines in The Madison Courier on a less desirable
note. On June 11, 1910, the story detailed that the sheriff and
police searched the Elks Club, removing 14 barrels of beer and nine
quarts of whiskey. Help was needed to roll out the beer and take it
next door to the City Hall.
The confiscated alcohol was later returned, off the record.
Link Ludington, local architectural historian for the Indiana State
Museum, reported, The correct name of the architectural style
of the Elks building is Beaux-Arts Neoclassical. This
refers to a classical antiquities preservation style taught
at LEcoles des Beaux-Arts, a series of French architectural schools
most prominent in Paris. The style became popular in America in the
late 19th century. The architect of the Elks Building could have very
well been French trained, although his name is unknown.
The lodge is listed as a contributing building, according
to Camille Fife of the Westerly Group Inc. Fife compiled, wrote and
submitted the 2005 application for Madisons National Historic
Landmark District. Most structures in the application are listed only
by name, address, architectural style and approximate year constructed.
The distinct contributing buildings, however, do further
describe their architecture in great detail. While the Elks Lodge is
inaccurately listed as circa 1920, it does go on to distinctly describe
the buildings physical characteristics, including the windows,
arches, doorways, roof and other prominent structures. The description
finishes with the phrase that it is adorned with an Elk head statue.
Michele Curan of the National Historic Landmarks Programs Midwest
Regional Office emphasized that restoring the Elks Lodge would be vital
to maintaining Madisons historical status. It is important
to, at least, restore the facade of the Elks building in order to preserve
the historic streetscape, she said. In a National Historic
Landmark District that includes most of Historic Madison, the views
up and down the streets, or the streetscape, contribute to the integrity
of the NHL. Incremental changes to and the destruction of historic buildings
and streetscapes add up, over time, and will compromise the integrity
Historic Madison to the point where its NHL status and other historic
recognitions will be considered for de-designation.
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