Elks Temple tells the story of Tacoma’s past and future

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TACOMA, Wash. — In 1916, with America on the verge of entering the great war, the nation banded together. Fraternal organizations like the Elks Club were booming. And so was Tacoma.

“A time when Tacoma was truly the city of destiny,” notes former Tacoma mayor and historian Bill Baarsma.

Literally steps from City Hall, a gleaming, grand Elks Lodge opened for the first time. Flanked by the Spanish Steps — inspired by the original in Rome — it was a symbol of Tacoma’s growing prosperity.

The Tacoma Elks Club would grow to 15,000 members, the largest in the entire nation. In the 50s, the Club outgrew the lodge, and the Elks moved out. Over the decades, the building became a site for weddings, special events and concerts.

But by the 1980s the building — and much of the neighborhood — was a mess:  Abandoned. Neglected. Vandalized.

“Vagrants in the building. Wreaking havoc inside. Taking everything of value from inside,” Baarsma says.

By 2001, Baarsma was the mayor of Tacoma and fought hard to keep the building from being demolished. He saw a faded gem here.

Then he met Brian McMenamin, owner of the McMenamins restaurant and hotel empire, who shared that vision — and spent $30 million to polish up this dusty jewel.

“It’s been 17 years of planning, dreaming, starting, stopping, but now we are here,” McMenamin says.

And here she is again! Grand. Gleaming. Inside the McMenamins Elks Temple are 43 hotel rooms, along with restaurants and nightclubs. Once again, it’s the crown jewel of the neighborhood. And in McMenamins’ signature style, they hired historians and artists to capture and honor the history of the building and Tacoma as a whole.

“We actually found some of the artists that put in some of the original graffiti, so we had them come in and put some new stuff up,” McMenamin says. “It’s fabulous.”

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