The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks

by Gerry Weir

The Elks Lodge located at 565 Broadway was constructed in Tacoma in 1916. The building was opened up to the Elks Temple members and their families for the first time on February 19th 1916. This 44,361 square foot building was constructed with seven different floors, many kinds of rooms, several banquet halls, and ballroom with a performance stage that included balcony seating. The original use of this the Elks Temple was solely for the Elks Temple members. Approximately forty-eight years prior to the Tacoma Elks Lodge construction the Elks organization was created in New York. The man that started the organization was called Charles Algernon Sidney Vivan. Vivian was a singer, dancer and performer from London who migrated to New York in 1867. Vivan and some of his colleagues began meeting on the weekends and they originally called their casual fellowship the Jolly Corks. After one of the members of the Jolly Corks gatherings passed away leaving his family behind to care for themselves, the group chose to take their casual meetings more seriously and decided that they would establish financial resources to be able help people who may have fallen on hard times.  On February 16,1868 the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was created. From there the order of the Elks spread throughout the country, eventually finding its place in Tacoma. According to McMenamin’s historian Tim Hill “the Elks Lodge in Tacoma had the highest membership of any lodge in the country.”

From its conception, the Elks Lodge was built with the primary use to service and facilitate the needs of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and its members. The Elks held meetings, banquets, shows for its members and their families. They also hosted community involved programs such as parades, dances, and various types of performances. From charity events to community outreach programs, the Elks Temple had a plethora of events that happened at the building. In the photo to with the headline “Talent Lines Up for First Jazz Concert,” the article outlines a list of local Jazz musicians that played at a concert being held at the Elks Temple, with the first group headlining the event called The Wayne Simon Dixie Land Sextet. Another photo shows members of the 84th street Jazz Band preparing for the concert to be Held at the Elks Lodge, Hosted by the Allied Jazz Forum.

In more recent years, one local musician performed at the Elks Lodge to honor a very popular local artist, Bing Crosby. Red Kelly and his Roadhouse Band performed a tribute to Crosby. Born Thomas Raymond Kelly in August of 1927, Red grew up in orphanages in Montana from a very young age, but eventually moved to the northwest. He developed his skills as a jazz bassist and was involved with recording over 100 albums. Red operated a jazz/comedy club/ restaurant in Tacoma called Kelly’s.

Red Kelly (left). Photograph courtesy Tacoma Public Library.

The Elks used the building through the Mid 60’s and eventually found another location in Tacoma. After the Elks vacated the building, it was used for many different events within the community. Hosting school dances, civic meetings, or memorials, the owner allowed the building to be used by many different organizations in the community. The Elks Lodge was used in this manner until 1986 when the owner passed away. At this time the events would stop, and the building would eventually sit vacant and not be used for over 30 years.  It wasn’t until 2007 that the McMenamins Brothers purchased the property with the intention to remodel it into the restaurant, hotel, and local music venue that it is today. After a lot of waiting, almost two years of remodeling and over $30 million dollars spent, McMenamin’s Elks Temple was opened to the public in April 2019. The new venue now features three different restaurants with different menus, 45 hotel rooms, several different bars with various cocktails, a full brewery, and a live music venue with a 700-person capacity.

At left, a graffiti-covered wall in the long-disused Elks Temple. Photograph courtesy McMenamins.
At right, a historic photograph of the Elks Temple Ballroom, courtesy Washington State Historical Society.

McMenamins Elk Temple is a local destination for travelers, locals, and music enthusiasts of the Puget sound. As you have a drink and wander around the massive facility it’s impossible not to feel the history that the building offers. Being a part of the Tacoma landscape for over oner hundred years is where this buildings story begins, but the amount of outreach the building has done for the community in the past and the impact it has had is how the legacy of this building will continue.

In a South Sound Magazine news article about McMenamins, the Entertainment director for McMenamins Jimi Biron shared his vision for the music scene in Tacoma, “The goal is to bring nationally touring acts here, acts that play the Crystal Ballroom and the Showbox,” said Biron. “Tacoma deserves a vibrant music scene, and we’re essentially trying to create an entirely new market. Tacoma isn’t really on (bands’) radars right now. The goal is to change that.”   The Elks Lodge has been a longstanding building that has served its community for a majority of its existence, and with the new renovations that have been done and the vision the owners have for McMenamins Elks Temple, the building will continue to do be in place for the community and the local music scene in Tacoma.

Before and after renovation photos courtesy Anderson Construction. Learn more about the project and view more photographs of the Elks Temple transformation on their website.

About the Author

Gerry Weir prepared this article as his final project for TARTS 225: Musical History of Tacoma, at the University of Washington, Tacoma. At the time he took the class in Autumn Quarter 2022, he was a junior majoring in Psychology.

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