A 102-year-old life-size elk statue was hoisted back on top of the Elks Lodge roof. In 1990 the statue was removed from the roof after vandals damaged it. Repairs were made to the elk by the Walla Walla Foundry and a set of real elk antlers were added.
Photo by Alfred Diaz.
WALLA WALLA — The Elks are staying put at their current Rose Street lodge location, where they’ve been since 1972.
To affirm that resolve, on Friday the 102-year-old Walla Walla Elks Lodge stag statue was returned to the roof where it once stood in its heyday. It was removed from the roof in 1990 after vandals damaged it.
On Saturday, the statue and the 22,000-square-foot building it sits on at 351 E. Rose St. were celebrated at the Elks’ annual open house.
“We had it in the lobby, but you know only the members got to see and enjoy it,” said Walla Walla Elks Exalted Ruler Timothy Stewart.
There was a time in the 1970s when the stag statue welcomed some 4,000 Elks members. But times have changed for service clubs.
Today, the Walla Walla Elks have fewer than 700 members.
The Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions are also facing declining numbers and having to come up with creative ways to boost membership.
According to a 2007 USA Today article, many service clubs have had to reduce their required meetings from weekly to monthly, some have created cyber-clubs and others are forgoing breakfasts or spaghetti dinners, instead meeting at Starbucks or a local pub.
Faced with its own decline, a couple years ago Walla Walla Elks leaders questioned if they still needed so large a building.
So they put it on the market. Then last year when the listing contract ran out, the Elks leaders decided the building was actually an asset that could draw members and increase income. And it was paid for.
“We were operating in the black and we owned the building. So why sell?” Stewart said.
Still, a few changes had to be made to keep the group solvent.
The daily dinner was reduced to a weekly dinner on Fridays.
Parts of the building were leased; current tenants include Weight Watchers, Sung’s Barber Shop and a few caterers who operate out of the facility’s commercial kitchen.
Finally, more emphasis was put on creating an entertainment venue.
“At the Guitar Fest last March we made $3,800 in alcohol sales that day,” Stewart said.
While the Elks have had to find more ways to pay the bills — like an $1,800 electric bill last month — Stewart said their service club still donates thousands each year for local scholarships, youth activities, veterans support and patriot programs. They also continue to support the Elks National Foundation, which will distribute $23.6 million in 2012-2013 for community programs.
In Washington state, the Elks also sponsor 17 occupational and physical therapists who provide in-home therapy visits for children.
Finally, there is the member support of friendship and camaraderie, as well as a few perks like a full-service bar and restaurant, two snooker and two standard pool tables, plenty of parking and one big stag statue on the roof.
“We are also a social organization. We do a lot for our members,” Steward said.
While many of the Walla Walla Elks Lodge events are for members only, the club does hold several public events, including the annual Elks Halloween Party on Oct. 27. Cost is $5 for members and $7 for nonmembers.