Elks Tower, Sacramento
The Elks Tower under construction in 1925-26. 150 laborers took roughly 18 months to complete the structure (Center for Sacramento History).
Completed earlier that year, the Elks Tower stands at far right, opposite the State Capitol (far left). The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is at center (CA State Library).
A view up J Street in 1930. The Elks Tower is at right (CA State Library).
A group of architects and dignitaries in 1932. Elks Tower architect Leonard Starks is third from left (Center for Sacramento History).
A dance at Elks Tower on October 26, 1929--only a week before the great stock market crash that triggered the Great Depression. (Sacramento Public Library).
The Top Of The Town Restaurant inhabited the Tower's top floor from the late 1940s to the early 1970s, providing diners with substantial views of the city (Sacramento Public Library).
A 1955 photo of one of the meeting rooms shows off the Tower's ornately coffered ceilings, many of which were covered with acoustic tiles after a hasty 1970s "modernization." (Center for Sacramento History).
An underground floor has recently served as a venue for events, using the original pools and spas as sunken lounge spaces (Alison Kranz, Sacramento365).
Booklet for the 1926 dedication ceremony.
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Sacramento’s Elks Lodge No. 6, was founded in 1877 but saw its charter rescinded two years later for “illegal and immoral activity.”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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Elks Building. [192-]. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://catalog.library.ca.gov/F/?func=find-b&request=001389934&find_code=SYS. (Accessed April 11, 2018.)
Elks Lodge Number 6. 1930. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://cdm15248.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15248coll1/id/1477. (Accessed April 11, 2018.)
J Street. [ca. 1930]. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://catalog.library.ca.gov/F/?func=find-b&request=001390154&find_code=SYS. (Accessed April 11, 2018.)
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Top of the Town. 1950. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://cdm15248.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15248coll2/id/1422. (Accessed April 11, 2018.)
Frederick-Burkett Photographers. Order of AHEPA Dance. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://cdm15248.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15248coll1/id/2738. (Accessed April 11, 2018.)
[California State Capitol]. [ca. 1926]. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://catalog.library.ca.gov/F/?func=find-b&request=001471264&find_code=SYS. (Accessed April 11, 2018.)
Chang, Richard. "Could Elks Tower casino face licensing hurdle after owner’s recent offense?." Sacramento Bee(Sacramento)July 25, 2017. , Business sec. http://www.sacbee.com/news/business/article163414143.html