Elks Lodge #174 began a new chapter in its storied history in Tacoma last week with the groundbreaking of its new lodge and restaurant complex on the Allenmore Golf Course property it owns.
The former lodge along nearby Union Avenue is set to be reduced to rubble later this month following its sale this spring to a developer set to build a WalMart on the site.
The Elks sold the five-parcel Union Avenue property for $12.2 million in May to Jeffrey Oliphant and his Allenmore Medical Investors, LLC. The 18-acre sale allows the Elks to downsize from an aging facility that once housed 10,000 members to fit the needs of its current, 2,200-member roster as well as provide more public facilities.
“Everything will be pretty much open to the public,” said Elks Chief Operating Officer Ron Forest, noting that there will be some members-only spaces for lodge meetings, activities and bar gatherings.
The new $8 million facility at the Allenmore Golf Course will span 39,000 square feet and contain a magnet restaurant, pro shop, lodge facilities, courts for handball and racquetball and an exercise room. It is expected that construction will finish by April. But the first phase is already done. A 2,940-square-foot pavilion on the site opened last month and is booking weddings and events rapidly. The pavilion allows the public a glimpse of things to come.
“This is going to be a first-class facility,” Forest said. “This is already the nicest golf course around. Period. The new facility will add to that.”
The non-profit Elks Lodge will be a tenant of the for-profit Elks Allenmore, Inc., which operates the 120-acre golf course and clubhouse.
John Juvinall, the lodge’s exalted ruler in 1999 and 2000 and its current secretary, said the groundbreaking was a long time in coming. Several potential sales of the former lodge came and went as the years passed as membership dropped and expenses grew.
The property taxes alone were $208,000 a year, for example.
“We were land rich and cash poor,” he said. “This new facility was a long time in coming.”
The sale allows the lodge to control costs and provide more modern services, amenities and programs for members and the public. Remodeling the former lodge was not an option, since asbestos abatement alone would have cost $700,000 on top of any renovation costs and upgrades.
“We could no longer remodel that building without doing all of that,” said Elks representative Gary Giambrone, who has shepherded the details of this new chapter in the lodge’s history for the last five years. “It has been an amazing five and a half years.”
While it was certainly sad to leave the Union Avenue lodge, Exalted Ruler Bob Van Hagen said, the possibilities at the new facility soften that drive for nostalgia.
“It really is exciting to have this new beginning,” he said, noting that if the construction schedule holds true, he will be the last exalted ruler of the old building and the first in the new one. His term ends in April. “It will be a close one.”
Built in 1967, the 100,000-square-foot lodge on Union Avenue had an Olympic-size swimming pool, an eight-lane bowling alley, a 1,000-seat theater and a 400-seat music venue. The pool had been drained years ago to save the $6,000 a month required to maintain it. The bowling alley was converted into a bocce ball court. The lodge, like many fraternal organizations around the world, has been losing members for decades. At its peak in the 1960s, the lodge had 12,000 members, making it one of the largest in the world. That membership fell to about 9,500 by the early 1990s. Membership at the new facility will be capped at 3,500. The move is expected to boost membership since golfers could get unlimited golf for a year for $1,200 if they are Elks members once the new facility opens. Updated gym, restaurant and other amenities could also draw people who visit the pro shop or restaurant but then see the benefits of Elks membership such as use of the gym, billiards room and racquetball courts.
The Elks supports children’s and veterans efforts through donations by members, direct programs and volunteer efforts. Total charitable spending and volunteer time totals about $1 million a year in the greater Tacoma area.