Guest Editorial by Link Ludington
Elks Club building
is too important to lose to demolition
(June 2012) It has now been more than five
years since the Madison Elks Lodge No. 524 Building was severely damaged
by fire, and a little more than three years since the Elks deeded the
property to the Cornerstone Society, which in turn deeded it over to
the current owner, ReBarr Restoration LLC, along with funds earmarked
for stabilization of the building.
The Cornerstone Society retained a reversionary interest in the property
that is recorded with the deed to ReBarr. Although ReBarr Restoration
has made substantial progress in stabilizing the structure so it can
be rehabilitated, the progress has been painfully slow, and much work
remains to be done. The City of Madison continues with litigation to
obtain a court opinion validating their demolition order, despite the
additional progress that has been made since the order was put in place.
Residents and owners of neighboring properties are justifiably upset
and frustrated with the lack of improvement. So why, in the face of
all this, has the Cornerstone Society continued to oppose all efforts
to destroy the building?
The answer is that the Elks Building, like the Jefferson County Courthouse
and all the other outstanding examples of period architecture in Madisons
National Historic Landmark District, cannot be replaced, and is too
important to lose. The elegant Beaux-Arts Neoclassical style of architecture,
a style that became popular especially in more advanced urban centers
in the United States, originated in the French art schools known as
lEcole des Beaux-Arts in the late nineteenth century.
Although larger cites were blessed with many examples of this ornate
style, there are only two in Madisons National Historic Landmark
District, namely the Elks Club Building (built in 1904) and the commercial
building at 101 E. Main St. (popularly known in modern days as Rogers
courtesy Jefferson Co.
Historical Society Reserach Archive
photo shows what the Madison
Elks Club No. 524 building
looked like in 1905.
The demolition of the Elks Club (designated as an outstanding
structure in the 1988 Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory
and Contributing resource in the 2005 National Historic
Landmark nomination) would be detrimental to the overall historical
integrity of the district, leaving Madison with only one surviving example
of this under-represented style. Beyond the loss of a significant individual
structure, the demolition of the Elks Club Building would leave a gap
in a significant streetscape. This gap could not possibly be filled
with any kind of structure that would equal the scale, presence, and
detailing of what is there now.
Other major public buildings along West Street include the Second Presbyterian
Church, the Old City Hall (also damaged in the Elks fire), and the present
City Hall. Another major public building in the same block, the Romanesque
Revival Post Office, was torn down many years ago for a park and parking
lot a tragic loss still lamented by many people who remember
that important landmark.
After the fire, engineers evaluated the Elks Building and determined
that it could be stabilized and rehabilitated. In addition to hauling
away tons of debris that had remained in the building in the aftermath
of the fire, the current owner has stabilized and braced the walls and
constructed a new roof.
Work was halted for several weeks recently because the City of Madison
issued a stop work order on the rehabilitation. The order
was later lifted, and the owner has resumed the work, concentrating
on the ornamental sheet metal cornice and other work on the façade.
Despite damage caused by the fire, the decorative elements of the façade
can be conserved and restored with materials available on the market
today designed and proven for such applications. Elements that were
completely destroyed in the fire could be reconstructed, using appropriate
substitute materials, if necessary, in much the same way the Jefferson
County Courthouse has been reconstructed.
After the façade has been stabilized, the fence can be removed
and the sidewalk can be re-opened to pedestrians while work on the remainder
of the building continues. There is a valid State Plan Release from
the Department of Fire and Building Services, and a valid Building Permit
from the Madison Plan Commission. The work is being conducted under
the supervision of a licensed Professional Engineer.
All in all, the Elks Building is now in better condition than it has
ever been since the fire. Because the fire did not completely destroy
the character-defining historical features of the building, there is
a good chance that it can still be certified as a Contributing
Historic Structure for the purpose of rehabilitation for a 20
percent tax credit under the provisions of the Tax Reform Act of 1986.
The process of obtaining that determination has already been started.
If it is determined that it is not eligible for that designation, then
it is still potentially eligible for a 10 percent tax credit for rehabilitation
of a non-residential building placed in service before 1936.
If the current owner proves to be unable to continue with the work to
complete the stabilization and subsequent rehabilitation, other mechanisms
are already in place that would make it possible for the work to be
completed by others and the building placed in the hands of a new owner
with sufficient resources to complete its rehabilitation.
After the Jefferson County Courthouse was nearly destroyed by fire in
2009, the Jefferson County Commissioners immediately made the commitment
to reconstruct it, and this has been accomplished. Right next door to
the Elks Club, the Old City Hall was similarly rescued after it was
damaged by fire, and it, too, has been beautifully rehabilitated.
The Elks Building has not been so fortunate, but it is still standing
after all. Everyones patience is understandably wearing thin,
but many nevertheless believe that now is the worst time of all to give
up on this grand old edifice.
Link Ludington is a Madison, Ind., resident
and Vice-President of the Cornerstone Society Inc., a nonprofit preservation
group based in Madison. The Cornerstone Society, was founded in 1988
as a local preservation advocacy and education 501(c)(3) non-profit
organization, and is an Indiana Landmarks Affiliate Organization.
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