Arcadia, CA 2025

The History of the Arcadia Elks


The United States Balloon School at Ross Field (presently County Park across the street) was built on 184 acres donated by Anita Baldwin on land she inherited from her father, Elias Jackson "Lucky" Baldwin. It was named in honor of Lt. Cleo J. Ross who was the only soldier in the Balloon Corps to die due to aerial activity. Although short-lived, the balloon school became the premiere training grounds for the Balloon Signal Corps. Colonel W.N. Hensley, Jr. and three lieutenants arrived in Arcadia in March of 1918 to prepare for the building of the balloon school. Authorization came two months later, in May and by the June phase, stables that had once housed Lucky Baldwin's racehorses were used as Barracks and deflated balloons were stored under the grandstands of Baldwin's racetrack. The onsite plant generated hydrogen that was operating by July, producing enough hydrogen for six balloons for the more than 100 cadets enrolled at the post. The students were trucked up to the top of Mount Wilson for observation training because the view of the valley was similar to the view from a balloon. The 95 foot grey balloons, built by B.F. Goodrich, filled with 37,000 cubic feet of hydrogen were often referred to as "elephants" and "gasbags". The school trained 60 man ground crews responsible for getting the balloons up and down, and two man observation crews who were trained to observe ground fire and look for aircraft. The school was closed in 1919 with the end of WWI. It saw limited post WWI use as a small civilian air field and was where famed aviatrix Pancho Barnes learned to fly. In 1930 one of the old blimp barns was used for a Zeppelin sequence in Howard Hughes' famous movie, "Hells Angels". The old field was also used in the 1931 motion picture "Dirigible". The land is now used for various commercial purposes including the Methodist Hospital and the largest area is now the Santa Anita Golf Course. The only remaining parts of Ross Field U.S. Army Balloon School are the Base Operations Center (BOC), which is now the Elks Lodge, and a stone wall next to the BOC which was part of the old camp swimming pool.


One evening in the late fall of 1956 a few men from Arcadia and Temple City met to discuss the possibility of establishing an Elks lodge in Arcadia. The attitudes expressed were all positive and a second meeting was scheduled. These meetings were held under the auspices of the Past Grand Exalted Ruler of the Elks. Brother L.A. Lewis who lived in Whittier. An organizing committee was formed and meetings were held in the Arcadia Tribune Offices at the corner of Campus Drive and Santa Anita Ave. in Arcadia. That building is now an office building. Dr. Harry Mitchell and Marion F. McCartney. both Past Exalted Rulers of the Pasadena Elks lodge, served as mentors for the committee. The goal given to the committee was to obtain 400 applications before the Lodge would be given the right to charter. Weekly meetings were held, and at each meeting more and more applications were received. Soon the meetings became too large for the space available at the Tribune building. The California National Guard Armory in Arcadia was secured for future meetings. That building was eventually demolished to make way for the new Arcadia Police Headquarters. The prime movers of the formation committee were the chairman Jim Helms, Louis K. Randall, Paul Isberg, and John Hurley. All of the men who were the first officers of the Lodge participated in the formation committee. By March of 1957 the goal of 400 applications was reached and the Grand Lodge of Elks scheduled the institution of the lodge for March 23, 1957. The only facility available for such a large group was the Arcadia High School gymnasium. The day arrived and the sight of 400 men lined up to enter the gymnasium was impressive. The list of Charter Members constituted a Who’s Who of Arcadia and Temple City. The Grand Lodge officers first instituted the lodge, and then installed the first officers of the lodge. They were: James R. Helms, Jr. Exalted Ruler; Syril A. Lawrence, Esteemed Leading Knight; William C. McIntosh, Esteemed Lecturing Knight; Louis K. Randall, Esteemed Loyal Knight; Ben Brown, Secretary; T. Donald Buchan, Treasurer; George Ondrako, Tiler; James P. Frazer. Esquire; Ross E. Cayer, Inner Guard; William Black, Assistant Inner Guard; Vincent Giambalvo, Chaplain. The Board of Trustees consisted of Lee Stuckv, John Hurley, Claude Flail, and Paul L. Isberg. The Lodge held its first meeting in the Shrine Club building at 27 W. Huntington Drive, Arcadia. A rental agreement was made between the two clubs for this sharing of space. The building itself is of historic interest in Arcadia. It was erected during World War I as part of the army balloon school in what is now Arcadia Park and golf course. There was a large swimming pool on the East side of the building which is now covered over and used as a parking lot. Many stories tell the history of that building before it became the home of the Shrine Club. It is said that it once was the headquarters of the Valley Hunt Club, and later a jam factory, and later a brothel. The Arcadia Elks Lodge bought the building from the Shrine Club in 1960. The funds used for the purchase came from the sale of bonds by the Lodge to members of the Lodge. The reason given for the need for the Shriners to sell the building was that it contained a bar. The Back Bar of the Lodge has a history of its own. It is said that the Back Bar came around the Horn in a sailing vessel. The Arcadia Elks Lodge has existed for over 50 years and has become a valuable resource and asset for the City of Arcadia; both for its many and varied charitable activities as well as for its fraternal and community programs. When the Lodge was instituted, the rules of the Grand Lodge were that only men could become members. That of course changed in the 80s when the Supreme Court of the United States decided the Duarte Rotary Club case. Ladies now form a significant core of the lodge membership and have served as the Exalted Ruler of the Lodge, a Chairman of the Board of Trustees and other Officers.

Submitted by James R. Helms. Jr., Charter Exalted Ruler.