By SARA ARTHURS
After three years of planning and three more years of building, Findlay’s Elks lodge will hold its grand opening Saturday.
The new lodge building is at 900 W. Melrose Ave., the site of the former Northridge Club. The property includes more than just the one building, including a banquet hall and an outdoor area including a swimming pool and tennis court. But the “crown jewel” is the new building, for which the lodge broke ground in 2016, said Vaun Wickerham, president of the Elks Home Association trustees.
The Elks previously had a lodge at Hardin and Main streets, across from Wilson’s Hamburgers.
The group is known as B.P.O.E. 75, as Findlay’s was the 75th Elks lodge formed nationwide. (There are now more than 2,000.) Its charter was granted in 1888. The downtown building which had served as a lodge was built in 1915, after fundraising including a massive street carnival in 1913.
It was a “splendid old building,” Wickerham said. But the Elks sold it to Marathon Petroleum Corp. when the company was looking to expand its downtown campus. Wickerham pointed out that the Elks and Marathon have a long history, and the Elks was a “getaway spot” for Marathon employees, who at one time were required to be Elks members.
After the Elks bought the Northridge Club, they set out to complete a significant amount of work to bring the building up to code. After these improvements were made, the club worked with an architect to plan a new lodge, then spent a year of intense fundraising toward the $1 million building. E.L. Stacy Construction of Findlay was the builder.
Wickerham said when he first walked in to the upper floor of the old Elks lodge, he thought he had walked into the Supreme Court. “It was absolutely jaw-dropping,” and those involved wanted to extend that same beauty to the new building, he said.
They brought over much of the beauty of the old building, including wooden columns and furniture. There are ornate desks, and columns made of black cherry wood.
“The craftsmanship from 1915 that we moved over here is unparalleled,” Wickerham said.
A fireplace mantel was brought over, and a fireplace will be built underneath it, Wickerham said. He characterized the building and the grounds as a work in progress.
There’s a “treasure chest of grand old things,” some of them more than 100 years old, that the Elks have collected over the years.
The Elks lodge features pool tables and poker tables, as well as a bar and dining tables. The Elks also own a swimming pool, space to play cornhole or horseshoes, and a lighted clay tennis court. The LaRiche family of dealerships gave the Elks a grant to build a kids’ room with space to color, watch TV and play games.
Wickerham said the Elks has “morphed into more of a family organization,” noting that a lot of their new members are women. It was important for the new lodge to be family-friendly, and having a window into the kids’ room allows parents to keep an eye on their children from the bar area.
Also on the property is a banquet hall that seats 250 people. It has been refurbished and repainted since it belonged to the Northridge Club, and the Elks put down a new dance floor. The hall is available for the public to rent for weddings and other events, not just Elks members.
There are currently about 440 members, and Wickerham said they are all ages.
While a lot of organizations have struggled to attract younger adults, he said the Elks have been getting people in their 30s joining, and families with children. He attributes this to the property’s multiple amenities, like the pool and tennis court. It’s one of the reasons the Elks thought “this location was perfect for us,” he said.
Wickerham said “the heart and soul of the Elks” is charitable work — that’s why the organization’s official name is the “Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks.” Locally, the Elks have contributed to scholarships.
The grand opening celebration begins at 3 p.m. Saturday. A ribbon cutting will be at 5 p.m., with dinner and music by Scott Shaull immediately following. Admission is free.
The Elks is also offering a $1 application fee for new members this month, available at the event.
Wickerham acknowledged a grand opening is in a sense designed to drum up excitement — but that this is fitting as the Elks have “a lot to be excited about.”
The Elks are also holding a euchre tournament at 7 p.m. Nov. 16, with visitors welcome.