Elks Tower, Sacramento
This historic Sacramento building became the tallest in the city when it was completed in 1926 at a cost of $1.5 million. The 242-foot structure was designed by local architect Leonard F. Starks who complied with the request of Elks Club members that their building surpass the height of the California State Capitol by five feet. With the completion of Elks Tower, several states and municipalities passed laws which stipulated that private construction projects could not exceed the height of government buildings. The structure’s Italian Renaissance styling makes Elks Tower a recognizable feature of the downtown skyline, even though the Order of Elks was forced to sell the iconic structure in the 1970s as their membership and influence declined. Some of the building's interior underwent a hasty remodel in that era, but current owners and tenants such as restaurants, offices, and lofts have supported a gradual restoration of the building's historic interiors. In addition to its architectural significance, Elks Tower reflects the influence of leading fraternal organizations and the construction boom of the late 1920s.
Backstory and Context
Sacramento’s Elks Lodge No. 6, was founded in 1877 but saw its charter rescinded two years later for “illegal and immoral activity.” The group reclaimed their charter three decades later in 1908. By 1922, booming membership made the Lodge’s facilities untenable, and it was determined that a new home would be built. In 1925, California-born architect Leonard F. Starks was commissioned to design the Elks Tower (often referred to as the Elks Temple), destined to be one of Sacramento’s first skyscrapers.
The fourteen-story building, whose architectural motifs echo those of the Italian Renaissance, required 150 men to build. Ground was broken by the Order of Elks Exalted Ruler, John G. Price, using a golden shovel to turn the first spadeful of earth in January 1925. 5,000 yards of concrete and 165,250 bricks later, the elegant structure was completed in June 1926. Aside from a number of restaurants on the ground floor, the rest of the building was originally intended for use by the Elks Lodge No. 6. The distinctive skyscraper’s architect, Leonard F. Starks, later designed a number of important Sacramento structures, including its downtown post office and the Alhambra Theatre. The beloved Alhambra’s demolition in the early 1970s touched off a wave of preservation efforts whose success can be seen today in the large number of historic buildings still present in Sacramento’s downtown.
Additional businesses slowly made their way into the building. In the late 1940s, the Top Of The Town Restaurant opened on the Tower’s fourteenth floor, where it would remain until the early 1970s. During the 1960s, KXRQ 98.5 radio had its station on the thirteenth floor, moving out when the Tower changed hands in 1973. The incorporation of these businesses may have been due to dwindling Lodge membership into the 1960s--and the corresponding loss of revenue that eventually forced the Elks to sell the building. Lacking the funds to comply with new city building codes in 1972, the Lodge sold the Tower to a real estate developer, who proceeded with a rapid renovation of the interior that erased much of the original decor.
The building was purchased by steel magnate and real estate developer Steve Ayers in 2003, after three decades of neglect. Employing full-time “architect in residence” Peter Dannenfelser (whose offices also reside in the building), Ayers began to restore much of the Tower’s original interior flourishes. Since then, a number of businesses have flocked to the refurbished tower, including notable public relations firm Edelman and renowned seafood chain McCormick and Schmick’s. Most of the Elks Tower’s new tenants have cited its historic character as a decisive factor in their choice of venue.
The top floor is now used as a rentable venue, known as the Elks Tower Event Center. As of 2017, developers hope to obtain permits to host a cardroom and casino within the historic building.
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