Whittier Elks Lodge #1258 A Brief Look Back Researched and Written by: Eric Boteilho, Lodge Inner Guard
It was a dark and stormy night. No, it really was! A torrential downpour that brought greater Los Angeles to a complete standstill. It was December, 1911 and the newly formed Whittier Elks Lodge #1258 was preparing to initiate its very first class of candidates. Roads were impassable. Our Lodge sure had a problem on its hands!
But we should back up a little. The town of Whittier was little more than a village when twenty-four citizens petitioned the Grand Lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks requesting an official Charter; a document granting a town an Elks Lodge and a specific Lodge number. The Grand Lodge had so much doubt about whether Whittier even had enough of a population to support a Lodge, they required a census to be taken. After proving sufficient population, the Grand Lodge granted a dispensation, which was the first step to obtaining that all-important Lodge number. The dispensation allowed officers to be chosen from the ranks of the existing Elks then living in the Whittier area. The first officers were installed at the Whittier Women’s Club by the officers from the Long Beach Elks Lodge #888. Wednesday evenings were chosen as meeting nights (a tradition that carries through to this day) and the new officers rented a hall from the Knights of Pithias at 124 Greenleaf Avenue to hold their meetings in. It was in this hall that Whittier Lodge #1258 was instituted in a special ceremony on November 11, 1911. District Deputy to the Grand Exalted Ruler D.F. Hunt of Santa Barbara presided over the evening. Approximately two hundred and fifty Elks were present, representing Lodges in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Santa Ana and Pasadena. By the accounts of all who attended, it was truly a grand evening.
So we had an official dispensation and had been granted a Lodge number. We even had a corps of officers. There was just one problem; the Lodge didn’t have any members yet. This brings us back to December, 1911, and that terrible storm. The new officers of Whittier Lodge had thought it would be fitting to have the same group who installed them, the officers of Long Beach Lodge, perform the initiation ritual for the first class of new members. Whittier’s officers had made great preparations and planned a truly memorable evening. But the rain was unrelenting. Roads were little more than dirt in 1911, and automobiles were of questionable reliability in that much rain. The weather was so bad that the Long Beach officers and delegates from other Lodges were unable to attend. Undeterred, the new officers of Whittier Lodge took their stations and performed the ritual. Amidst the deluge, our inaugural members were initiated. As a parting bonus, since so many of the invited guests were unable to attend, and food wouldn’t keep, each new member was sent home that evening with half a dozen lobsters for their families!
The original Elks members wanted a place of their own. So after about a year in the Knights of Pithias hall, Brother Truman Berry made a proposition to build a new Lodge. In 1913, the Elks leased a newer property for $100 per month. Since the Lodge was very short on funds to buy furnishings, several members paid their dues 5 years in advance to finance the added expense. The new building was known as the Emporium Building and provided facilities for the Lodge room, club rooms, pool room, reading room and office. In this location Whittier Lodge began to acquire its reputation as “Ye Friendly Lodge” and as such it grew and prospered.
The “Roaring Twenties” saw the Elks Lodge growing steadily, and they soon outgrew their quarters at the Emporium Building. The Lodge purchased land on the corner of Philadelphia and Painter and began construction of a new Lodge. On April 17, 1929, the cornerstone for the new Lodge was laid. For the event, the officers of Whittier Lodge met at the William Penn Hotel and led a drill team from Huntington Park Lodge #1415 and the members of Whittier Lodge on a procession to the construction site. On October 9, 1929, members, dignitaries and officers were led by the new Whittier Drill Team on a parade from the old building to the new Lodge where dedication ceremonies took place. Everyone had very high hopes for the new Lodge building, and though the early 1930’s saw some growth and success (the Whittier Elks Bowling Team even won first place in the state bowling tournament on October 10, 1931), the Great Depression hit the Whittier area hard.
Unemployment was high in 1932, and financial troubles for our Lodge began to mount. In 1935, after being unable to overcome the losses in membership and income, the Whittier Elks had to give up their building and move back to where they began – 124 Greenleaf Avenue.
But the same spirit of resiliency that led the original corps of officers to take matters into their own hands that stormy night in 1911 prevailed, and the Whittier Lodge again began to right itself.
As the 1940’s began and war efforts were ramping up nationwide, Whittier members passed a motion to present identification bracelets with an Elks logo emblazoned upon it to all Brothers entering the service. Our Esteemed Leading Knight, Conrad V. Lewis was presented with such a bracelet when he resigned his office to enter the United States Navy. In July of 1943, the Whittier Elks “Buy A Bomber” campaign raised a total of $248,000 worth of war bonds in just 15 days.
In 1947 the Whittier Elks and Exalted Ruler Mac Pace sponsored a radio broadcast by comedian Bob Hope. It was held in the Whittier High School Auditorium and drew a crowd of approximately 2,500.
As momentum and membership began to grow after the war, the members of Whittier Lodge again yearned for a place to call their own. In 1949 a cornerstone ceremony was held for the present Lodge building with Exalted Ruler Ivan Hooker presiding. On March 8, 1950 the official dedication was held with the keynote address being presented by Fay Lewis, Grand Exalted Ruler. The new Lodge building was truly impressive, and on March 22, 1950, 174 new members were initiated in our present Lodge room. These were truly great times for our Lodge. On November 9, 1951, “Tennessee” Ernie Ford, then a member of our Lodge, entertained at a special “Hillbilly Breakfast” that was so much of a success, people had to be turned away at the door due to a lack of room!
Our Lodge continued to grow and prosper through the 1950’s as our GI’s returned home. On June 20-24, 1962, we celebrated our 50th Anniversary under the chairmanship of Brothers Roy Griggs and Bud Booth. The five day program culminated on Sunday with an outstanding variety show at the Whittier High School Auditorium. The show was headlined by Marilyn Maxwell. You all are familiar with Marilyn Maxwell aren’t you? She starred in the “Lemon Drop Kid” with Bob Hope in 1951. The classic song, “Silver Bells” made its debut in the film, sung by Hope and Maxwell. But also appearing on the bill that night of our 50th anniversary was the show stopper Gene Sheldon with his “fantastique” banjo! Go ahead and laugh – three days later we initiated 44 new members, so it must have made a good impression! Now how many of you know who Gene Sheldon was? Someone must remember his other job besides playing that “fantastique” banjo. He played Bernardo, faithful sidekick to that masked man, Zorro!
These were truly the golden years of our Lodge. In 1962 the membership voted to sponsor the award winning Cavaliers Youth Band. The Cavaliers were composed of 108 musicians, a 50 member drill team and a 17 member dance band. That same year we also had a very successful Charity Ball, with entertainment provided by George Liberace. No, not that Liberace. His older brother George. Really.
The remainder of the 1960s saw continued growth for our Lodge. The annual pit barbeque served over 1,500 guests. Los Angeles Laker Jerry West entertained at a special “Sports Night.” George Allen also spoke of his time coaching at Whittier College, then with the Chicago Bears and of course with the Los Angeles Rams.
Some sadness came to our Lodge, when on August 7, 1967, Oliver J Crook died at the age of 84. Brother Crook was the sole remaining Charter Member of the Whittier Elks Lodge.
In 1969, Brother Billy Barty put on an All-Star Stage Show along with the Cavaliers Youth Band and donated all the proceeds to local charities.
During the 1970’s our little Lodge wasn’t so little anymore! Our Cavaliers Youth Band had played in the Inaugural Parade for President Richard M. Nixon in Washington DC and for the City of Whittier’s ’76 Bicentennial Community Picnic. That celebration saw our Cavaliers Youth Band marching up Michigan Avenue and giving a concert at Michigan Park, sharing the bill with the United States Marine Corps Band. They were even invited to perform for the National Bicentennial Celebrations and our Lodge funded their trip to Philadelphia and New York to perform.
As with the 1970’s, the 1980’s saw the Lodge membership swell, at one point reaching 2,000 members. We honored our 75th Anniversary with a three day celebration from November 12-14, 1986. Consisting of a “Fraternal Day,” a “Civic Day,” and a “Whittier Elks Day” the Lodge members and officers welcomed guests, dignitaries and civic leaders to our Lodge.
Many of you might remember the very successful Oktoberfests, chili cookoff’s, Boy Scout Christmas parties, Mother’s Day Ceremonies, Luau’s and dances we’ve had over the years. The Elks has always been a great place to get involved and have fun through clubs within our Lodge like the Kamper Klub, the Gun Club, the Social Club, golfing, bowling and Retired Elks. Our members have fun participating in these clubs while also contributing to the Lodge’s charitable endeavors and promoting the cardinal principles of our Order: Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity. It was this successful social aspect of the Lodge, after all, that earned us our nickname, “Ye Friendly Lodge.” One of my favorite things about the Lodge is that if there’s something you’re interested in you can pursue it here. We’ve even had a motorcycle club in the past. See, we’re even almost cool!
Membership began to taper off in the 1990’s, and we’ve found ourselves with a lot more room than we once had around here. But it is of the utmost importance to note that the same resolve our inaugural corps of officers showed in 1911 is still with us today. You see, the Order of Elks is first and foremost a charitable organization. While I’ve regaled you with stories of celebrities and entertainers coming to or even from our Lodge, what’s been present through all those years has been Charity. Our Lodge has always been active in our community and still is to this very day, 100 years later. We participate in youth activities like the Elks Hoop Shoot. We host fundraisers and dinners for handicapped children. We have a scholarship program that helps students get the best education they can. We’ve volunteered at the Boys & Girls Club of Whittier, the Whittier Public Library, and at community events for the City of Whittier. We do outstanding work for our veterans, putting on bar-b-ques at the West Los Angeles VA Hospital and welcoming home our soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. We host an annual Flag Day program that teaches the young boy and girl scouts the history of our most cherished national emblem. Because we believe, as do all Elks, that the future of this country is bright, but only if there are those who, like us, take the time to help those less fortunate, lend a hand to those in need, and ensure that our children understand how important our freedoms are.
We as Elks, and as members of this 100 year old Lodge truly have a lot to be proud of.
Please take a moment to view our slideshow of pictures from our first 100 years. It's a little long (about half an hour) but you just can't rush a century!