Elks Hall, home to Elks Lodge #324, sits proudly on Livingston Avenue adjacent to the newly revitalized Cultural Arts District in downtown New Brunswick. Dedicated in 1926, Elks Hall is an example of classical revival architecture designed by local Highland Park architect Alexander Merchant. The three-story brick Elks Hall sits atop a rusticated basement with prominent arched windows, and a decorative metal entry canopy. The façade of the building exhibits a monumental Ionic colonnade with Doric corner pilasters and alternating arched and pedimented second floor windows that sit below a row of square decorative brick panels. The site also boasts a historic “Elk Sculpture” created by Laura Gardin Fraser, a prominent early 20th-Century female sculptor, to memorialize former members of the Lodge who died in World War I.
Elks Hall has played an important role in the civic and community life of New Brunswick for nearly a century. When the building was dedicated in October 1926, the front-page headline in the local Sunday newspaper read, “Elks Take Over City, Four Days.” The city-wide celebration attracted thousands and included a parade, bowling tournament, concerts and dedication ceremony. An editorial the same day opined that, “A city is judged largely by its buildings, and the place where the Elks now spend their leisure time adds attractiveness to the city’s appearance and solidness to its make-up.” This organization has been part of New Brunswick’s history since this chapter was founded on November 21, 1895. Many prominent citizens are counted among its members including William S. Strong, Harry Ross, and George A. Viehmann.
The Elks Lodge #324 has recently signaled plans to demolish this historic landmark before the end of the year to make way for a new building. The Elks have required the developers to preserve the elk statue that is in front of the current structure, and that the sculpture will be re-installed in its same location in front of the new structure.
This nearly century-old building may well be in need of repairs and infrastructure upgrades, but as the editorial of long ago noted, its “appearance and solidness” make it worthy of preservation. Local history groups are working to preserve Elks Hall, and are calling for the expansion of the nearby Livingston Avenue Historic District to include Elks Hall, which would provide a degree of protection. The close proximity of the newly revitalized Cultural Arts District offers a timely opportunity to find a new compatible reuse for Elks Hall as part of the arts and cultural community of the city. There is also some discussion about saving and integrating only the front facade of the structure into a new building – Preservation New Jersey hopes this is an option of last resort, as the entire structure is certainly worthy of saving. A positive resolution would be a fitting tribute to the history of the Elks Lodge #324 commitment to the New Brunswick community for the last 125 years.
New Brunswick Historical Society