Port Townsend Elks celebrate second century with mortgage burning

PORT TOWNSEND — In 1967, a member of the local Elks lodge convinced the old guard to take a bold step — start a fund drive to build a new home for the lodge, which had met in a historic downtown building since the turn of the century.

On Saturday, James DeLeo will take part in a mortgage-burning ceremony for the “new” lodge, which opened in 1997.

Built by a generation of Elks who inherited a century of tradition, they are handing it down to future generations, free and clear, to continue those traditions for another 100 years.

“When I joined the lodge in 1943, there was no mortgage over our heads,” DeLeo said.

“I dreamed that maybe some day my kids would join the lodge and there would be no mortgage over their heads.”

DeLeo (known as Bonzo, the way his older brother pronounced “brother”) was 21 when he joined the lodge, founded in 1895.

For half a century, it had met in a three-story brick building on the corner of Taylor and Washington streets, purchased in 1904.

The building was remodeled in 1950, but by the mid-1960s, the lodge faced putting more money into the aging structure, known as the Elks building.

Voicing what other members felt, DeLeo convinced the board to donate $1,000 to start a building fund. But two decades passed before members committed to giving up their downtown location, DeLeo said.

Tradition finally gives up

Circumstances finally won out over tradition, according to Mel Mefford, a longtime member.

“We found ourselves with a building with a lot of stairs,” Mefford said.

“Then the (Rose) theater opened next door and took four parking spaces. Our membership was getting older, downtown was getting more active — sometimes you had to park five or six blocks from the lodge.”

All Elks are invited to the mortgage-burning party at 3 p.m. Saturday, with the program starting at 4 p.m. at Elks Lodge No. 317, 555 Otto St., in Glen Cove on the outskirts of Port Townsend.

The public is invited to an open house to celebrate the lodge’s 110th anniversary from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Cake and ice cream will be served. For more information, call 360-385-0317.

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