Preservation Initiative

Cornerstone Society takes back Elks building, seeks developer

After a decade in limbo, the building has a bright future

(November 2016) – Madison, Ind., treasures its historic landmarks and relishes the fact that its entire downtown is listed as a National Historic Landmark. Among its jewels, however, Madison had only two Beaux-Arts buildings, a neoclassical style of architecture found only in the Rogers’ Drug Store and the Madison Elks Club buildings.
A decade ago, the home of the Madison Elks Club #524 burned in a devastating fire that later was ruled arson. The club, preservationists, city officials and the community faced terrible choices. The club lost its home of 102 years. Would it try to rebuild or move? Would someone with deep pockets save the building and restore it to its former glory? Or would Madison lose another historic site and gain another parking lot?
The Elks Club answered the first question in 2008 when it decided to find a new home. First the club moved to quarters on Jefferson Street and then to 1251 W. Main St., in downtown Madison.

Photo by Alice Jane Smith

Cornerstone Society President Link Ludington of Madison, Ind., poses in front of the Elks Club building on West Street.

The other questions lingered, however. The Elks Building hovered in limbo, charred, fenced, topless and humbled. It was an eyesore – of that, there was no question. People argued the land could be put to better use. Building permits ran out. Ultimatums were issued. The city threatened to demolish the building. The property was listed for sale, but there were no buyers.
Since September, the future of the Elks Building has looked brighter than ever, according to officials of Cornerstone Society, a preservationist advocacy group since 1988. However, it has been a long fight in both public and private arenas.
Recently, the Cornerstone Society regained control of the building, releasing it from its uncertain status and propelling it toward a more positive future. In September, Cornerstone Society regained ownership of the Elks Building as a result of an agreement negotiated with ReBarr Restoration, which had taken over ownership of the property in 2009.
“We decided to exercise our prerogative to take the building back,” said Link Ludington, president of Cornerstone and director of historic preservation for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. Cornerstone is doing what it can to find a new developer with adequate resources and to make the property attractive, with tax credits, he said.

Photo by Alice Jane Smith

The Elks Club facade was saved from destruction following the 2006 fire that destroyed most of it.

“We want to make sure the developer has the background and track record to do a successful project,” Ludington said. He stressed the importance of finding a developer with resources and experience to “do this kind of rehabilitation.”
Meanwhile, Cornerstone will fix problems with gutters, downspouts and flashing on the building because they were causing problems for the neighbors. “We are trying to address the neighbors’ concerns,” Ludington said. He had written them about the matter. In 2014, the building was spruced up with a fresh coat of paint from Cornerstone and city volunteers.
Cornerstone wants to see the building back as part of the “streetscape” of Madison, according to Jan Vetrhus, former Corner-stone president and current member of its board. “It is a big project, and it is going to take funds. Anyone who has done restoration knows that.”
She sees the Elks Building as a “blank canvas” for restoration or development. “The possibilities are really exciting. It could be a showcase.”
Ludington said he hopes for a developer with “a lot of vision.”
Vetrhus also talked about transforming the building into apartments mixed with offices or restaurants, a large single-family dwelling or an indoor recreation facility for children. “It could be anything,” she said. “I’m excited about it and think the right time has come. We need to make sure that a speculator doesn’t buy it.”
Ludington outlined Cornerstone’s vision for the Elks Building.
The Society plans to:                  
• Clean up the premise;
• Solicit quotes from contractors to secure the exterior and make plans to continue with some of the other remaining exterior rehabilitation work; rework gutters and downspouts to alleviate drainage problems affecting neighboring properties;
• Apply to the Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology to get the building certified for the investment tax credit for rehabilitation;
• Seek potential developers who have proper experience and resources to take over and complete rehabilitation;
• Work with City of Madison, Madison Area Chamber of Commerce, Madison Main Street Program and Indiana Landmarks to develop marketing plan;
• Prepare prospectuses for several possible development scenarios that could be used to attract potential developers, draft a Request for Proposals for future sale or lease of the property.
In 2009, Indiana Landmarks found a possible new owner who was willing to take over and rehabilitate the building. The Elks Lodge turned the property over to Cornerstone, an affiliate of Indiana Land-marks. It served as a pass-through entity.
In turn, Cornerstone deeded the property over to Carolyn Barr of ReBarr Restoration LLC, along with $38,000 in insurance settlement funds and donations made to a rescue fund started by the Madison Main Street Program.

Photo by Don Ward

The Elks Club building, pictured here in 2009, burned in August 2006. The case was determined to be arson, however, no one has ever been charged.

Along the way, some progress was made, but it was limited. Vetrhus described the challenges. When the floors were destroyed by fire, the walls did not collapse, according to Vetrhus. When the winds of Hurricane Ike hit the building in 2008, the walls did not collapse, even though the structure had no roof. Thus, she said she is excited about possibilities for the kinds of structures that could be built within the walls of this facility.
Vetrhus thinks Barr’s efforts have been overshadowed by controversy and overall inaction on the property. Barr put a $75,000 roof on the building – one that Vetrhus describes as a “Cadillac of roofs.” Her crew hauled many dumpster loads of fire debris from the building, easing the job for developers to come. 
The letters “B.P.O.E.” are carved in relief over the arched doorway to the hollowed out building on West Street. These initials stand for “Benevolent Protective Order of Elks.” Built in 1904, the building served as the home for Elks Lodge 524 until 2006.
Cornerstone was founded in 1988 in order to oppose plans to demolish the Wilson Building at 315 Second St. The group has a long history of accomplishment. Its mission is to promote, advocate for and foster appreciation for the Madison area’s historic and cultural resources; provide education, advice and technical assistance and protect endangered buildings, streetscapes and cultural and natural resources.
The Elks Building stands across West Street from Lytle Park, site of the former Madison Post Office. A handsome Romanesque structure, it was torn down in the 1960s in order to build a standard-issue post office on Jefferson Street. Many still mourn its loss to the fabric of the community.

The homes and neighboring buildings damaged by the Elks’ fire have been restored, according to Ludington. One of the damaged homes, the McClean House at 106 E. Third St., was the home of the first Mayor of Madison, Moody Park, according to Ludington. Its back wing was added about 1850. After World War II, the back wing and back yard were sold to the Elks Club. Ludington said Cornerstone plans to take down the back wing, connected underground to the old kitchen in the Elks Club.

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