Giving an iconic building a second chance

On a Positive Note ...

Too often in this day and age, it’s sometimes easier to tear down and demolish rather than repair and renovate. Many times, history is sacrificed for sleek, modern and new.

That’s why it was so exciting to see the City Council of Webster City agree to purchase the former Elks Club Building in the 700 block of Second Street.

The iconic, two-story brick structure was built in 1906 and was home to The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. The American fraternal order was founded in 1868 originally as a social club in New York City before spreading across the nation.

Judging by the comments on the DFJ Facebook page, it looks like there are many people happy to see this building get a second chance in life. Many shared memories of class reunions, wedding receptions and other gatherings held at the Elks Club. There were lots of thumbs up and hearts on this story.

I attended a reception in the upstairs ballroom when a friend was married. That room was transformed by tulle, twinkle lights and decorations. It was a beautiful space back then.

The ballroom was also the site of several community theatre productions. Back when the troupe was a nomadic group — before the current performing arts center was purchased — the ballroom provided a large open space with ample seating for the audience. There again, with lights and scenery, we were able to create a tropical island for a production of “South Pacific,” and a castle in England for “Camelot.”

The building originally had a canopy over the front steps, with a balcony on the second floor. Above the balcony lived a large elk head, a nod to the building’s original occupants. I think the antlers had light bulbs in the tips, if I remember correctly. Being the creative types that we were, the elk head was adorned with a large lei when “South Pacific” was in production. A jaunty cardboard crown graced his head as “Camelot” was presented. The Elk had became the unofficial ambassador for the traveling theater troupe.

When I first moved to Webster City back in the 1980s, there was a beautiful hair salon on the first floor. The large fireplace, warm tones on the walls and the suspended chandeliers really made patrons feel pampered.

Master gardeners from around Webster City have done a tremendous job of sprucing up the Downtown Garden next door to the Elks Club. The lovely green space is a wonderful complement to the 112-year-old building. With some work, the inside of the building could be returned to its former glory with tin ceilings, original dark woodwork and high ceilings. Just imagine the possibilities that building could hold. And people are talking. There are ideas being considered — fun and interesting ideas.

And that’s what we need to continue to do here in Webster City — build possibilities (coining a phrase from my friend Deb Brown) and opportunities. Sometimes moving forward means taking a leap of faith, like saving an historic building.

Thank goodness there are people who recognize that.