History of the Elks National Memorial

The Elks National Memorial is a tribute to the bravery, loyalty and dedication of the thousands of Elks who have fought and died for our country. It has been described as one of the most magnificent war memorials in the world, but with its monumental architecture and priceless art, the Memorial is more a symbol of peace and of the patriotism of the members of the Elks fraternity.


Workers have framed half of the building's magnificent dome in this photo from January 17, 1924

Framing the dome
January 17, 1924

Following World War I, there was a strong desire throughout the Elks organization to erect a fitting memorial to those brothers who had laid down their lives in the name of loyal patriotism and devotion to country which they had assumed at their fraternal altars. At the Grand Lodge session convened in Chicago in 1920, a special committee was created and assigned with the task of planning the design and construction of this new memorial. The Commission invited seven of the country's most distinguished architects to participate in a competition that would determine the design of the new building.

After careful consideration the Commission unanimously decided on a design created by New York architect Egerton Swarthout. Swarthout's design was selected over the competition because it was the most beautifully distinctive, while still fulfilling its practical purpose as both a memorial to fallen Elks and a national headquarters for the organization. After an exhaustive search for the most qualified builder, the Commission entrusted New York's Hegeman-Harris Company with the task of building a monument that would inspire Elks and captivate the public.


A large crowd gathered at the then-under construction Memorial on June 7, 1924 for the laying of the cornerstone.

Cornerstone laying ceremony
June 7, 1924

Construction of the Elks National Memorial began in 1923, after the Order unanimously agreed on a spacious site for the building, looking out over Chicago's Lincoln Park and within a stone's throw of Lake Michigan. The Elks War Relief Commission, which was put in charge of finding the site and supervising the building's construction, wrote in its 1921 recommendation to the Grand Lodge that:

“The suggested building be made definitely monumental and memorial in character; that the architectural design be so stately and beautiful, the material of its construction so enduring, its site and setting so appropriate...that the attention of all beholders will be arrested, and the heart of every Elk who contemplates it will be thrilled with pride, and that it will for generations to come prove an inspiration to that loyalty and patriotism which the Order so earnestly teaches and has so worthily exemplified.”

Workers laid the memorial's cornerstone on June 7, 1924 amid impressive ceremonies conducted by officers from the Grand Lodge. Two years later, on July 14, 1926, the Annual Convention of the Order was held in Chicago and the building was officially dedicated to the memory of the more than one thousand Elks lost in World War I in front of a massive crowd of Elks and their families that stretched across the street and into the park.

Historical Photographs

Click on any picture to see a larger version.