Elks Fight Foreclosure
by Thomas MacMillan | Jan 4, 2013 12:56 pm
Posted to: Black History, Dixwell
In December, the Elks celebrated 105 years in New Haven and hosted dozens of kids at its annual Christmas party. That same month, an ominous sign appeared on the lawn of the Dixwell African-American fraternal organization’s home.
“Foreclosure sale by public auction on these premises,” the sign reads, outside the brick Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World lodge at 87 Webster St.
The group has fallen on hard times. The Elks owe over $22,000 in property taxes to the city, which filed suit against the organization in May 2011.
One year later, in May 2012, a judge issued an order for a foreclosure by sale. An auction date has been set for Jan. 19.
Jorge Lopes, the lodge’s “Exalted Ruler,” said he remains optimistic that the lodge will stay off the auction block. He said the Elks are looking to take out a loan to pay their tax debt.
If they escape the foreclosure, the Elks’ next challenge will be to rebuild the fraternal organization, which has dwindled from 500 members in its heyday to fewer than 100 today, Lopes said. The Elks, and their women’s auxiliary, the Daughters of Elks, will have to change to survive.
Lopes (pictured) acknowledged that fact while sitting at a table in the lodge’s darkened basement bar Thursday morning. The bar is open to Elks and Daughters and their guests. It’s a source of revenue, along with membership dues and rentals of the first-floor function hall.
Lopes, who’s 57, wore the standard Elks uniform—black suit, black tie, white shirt—but not the fez or ceremonial regalia that are reserved for special occasions.
He said the financial trouble started with the 2008 economic downturn. Fewer people came to the club. Membership dwindled. It became harder and harder to pay the lodge’s debts.
The Elks are aging; today’s average Elk is about 65. As members pass away, younger Elks are not taking their places. “It’s been a struggle,” Lopes said.
The shift, which is affecting all fraternal organizations, is a marked difference from when Lopes joined 20 years ago: “When I first came in, it was very busy, always packed.”
Lopes said when he was growing up, people his parents’ age all used to go to the Elks’ annual ball at the Goffe Street armory. From the 1940s to the ‘70s, the ball was a not-to-be-missed “who’s who” affair, he said.
“At one point we had close to 500 members,” Lopes said. That was in the ‘60s.
Despite today’s diminished membership, the Elks have continued to do what they’ve always done. The lodge is a gathering place and social outlet for members who work to organize volunteer activities of various kinds. The Elks are dedicated to “brotherly love” and “sisterly love” and helping their community, Lopes said.
At Christmastime, with no advertising other than word of mouth, the Elks hosted a holiday party with a line of kids out the door. They gave out presents and served food. At Thanksgiving the Elks make food baskets and deliver them to people who are sick or shut in. Each year the Elks host an oratory contest for high school students.
The Lodge Will Live On
Lopes said he believes New Haven’s Elks, know formally as East Rock Lodge No. 141, form the oldest fraternal organization in town. He said Lodge 141 formed 105 years ago, less than 10 years after the IBPOEW was established in 1899 in Ohio.
“The minority community was looking for a place to call their own,” Lopes said. Borrowing from the existing, all-white, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE), the founders of the IBPOEW added “Improved” to the front of the name and “of the World” to the end, and started their own fraternal organization.
In March, 2012, Lopes was elected “Exalted Ruler,” aka lodge president. A new crop of officers came in with him, filling the positions of Leading Knight, Loyal Knight, Lecturing Knight, Esquire, and Tyler. Each has a special role to play in Elks activities, which Lopes declined to speak about on the record.
The Elks also share a secret handshake and other customs known only to members. But Lopes said secrecy is not what defines the organization. Even the building itself doesn’t define the group, he said.
“The lodge is not the building,” Lopes said. “The lodge is the members. We will continue to be the lodge if we have to meet in our basements.”
But it won’t come to that, Lopes vowed. “I’m not going to accept that. We are going to be here.”
The Elks’ longevity depends on adjusting to new realities, Lopes said. “We obviously have to change what we’ve done in the past.”
The lodge will have to bring in new members. It will have to rent the hall out more often. “We realize that we have to pick up the activities,” he said.
And the lodge will have to ask for more help from members and from the community, which goes against the old way of doing things, Lopes said.
“We will survive,” he said. “I refuse to think any other way.” The lodge will probably not go back to where it was in its heyday in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but Lopes said he feels good about the direction in which it’s headed.
“I’m not going to be the last Exalted Ruler.”
Tags: Elks, Jorge Lopes, secret handshake, lodge, BPOE, IBPOEW, foreclosure
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Point of clarification- the Court ordered a Foreclosure by Sale, not a Strict Foreclosure. There is no public sale or signage if it were by Strict Foreclosure.
[Thanks. I made a correction. -TM]
If Black folks can put money up for Pastor Appreciation Day,Then what is the problem in geting up 22,000
Black people should not look to whites for charity forever. What we lack is self help and self reliance. We are always wanting somebody to do something for us. As a race we are too envious, malicious and superficial, and because of this we keep ourselves back———MARCUS GARVEY (from his lecture at Collegiate Hall in Kingston Jamaica , given in 1915)
Too often many of us live above our means. Do you ever see people buy cars that they can’t even began to afford based on their income. You’ve seen people riding around in Cadillac’s and Chryslers, who don’t earn enough money to have a good T-Model Ford, but it feeds a repressed ego. Your automobile shouldn’t cost any more than half of your annual income. So if you make 5000 dollars a year, your car shouldn’t cost anymore than 2500, so often you see people making 5000 dollars a year, and driving a car that cost 6000 dollars, and they wonder why their ends never meet. You see people living their lives trying to live like the Joneses. They got to get this coat because it’s a little better looking than Mary’s coat, and they feel they got to drive this car because it’s a little better than their neighbors car. If not controlled this kind of behavior can become destructive——DR. KING (from his speech called, The Drum Major Instinct)
Too bad I hope they can pull through this slow time.
An unfortunate sign of the times.
Well quoted, Threefiths. What a shame it would be to lose this community asset.
The heyday of these race based organization’s has come and gone. These antiquated organizations hold little interest to men of my generation. As a 40 year old man who happens to be Black these “lodges” are the type of things my father and grandfather belonged too. They suffer from the same problem “Country Clubs” do. Insufficient numbers of the current generation who can afford the dues and such have any use for them. If men of my generation have to choose between a lodge membership and bumping up your cable package I think the cable package is going to win most of the time.
Edward H- actually, many of the “race-based” clubs still do well. There are many private clubs (Greek, Italian,Irish, Jewish) which are white, along with Rotaries, Chambers, Knights, etc which are mainly white. They are doing fine.
Networking, comraderie, friendships are all lost when an institution like is goes under. Many can increase their business bottom line by belonging to these clubs. It still works even in this computer age - I know, i have benefited greatly as an “old” small business man. One good handshake can lead to a whole lot of “cable bump-ups”. Black folke need to “turn the dollar” in the community like white folks do (eg- Jews, Italians, Irish). It works.
I can remember dancing the night away at my aunt and uncle’s wedding reception at the Elks Club when I was five years old. This space has truly meant so much to so many over many decades. It is unfortunate that they are in financially dire straits.
The commentary had been great on this article. There is so much truth here form you gents. There is also something that has gone unsaid. Traditionally African-American social clubs and fraternal organizations that have experienced financial hardship have also failed in recruiting next generation members who could assist in modernizing their approach to fundraising. Sadly, I am with Edward_H as far as cable being a more relevant investment in personal quality of life.
The Caucasian counterparts have also been failing at reaching out for younger members. They are more financially stable because they have a much larger pockets from which they dip for financial assistance, and folks who pass away tend to leave a substantial sum to go toward the future of their respective organizations. This practice has led to the financial stability of organizations over time, regardless of their dwindling membership numbers.
The SPACE needs to be modernized. Gone are the days of the smoked filled dungeonesque bars where old men drink and tell stories of the war.
People want carpet. Color on the walls. Internet. Comfy chairs. Multi-use space. Hell, a pinball machine. Large screen projection for video gaming.
“Edward H- actually, many of the “race-based” clubs still do well. There are many private clubs (Greek, Italian,Irish, Jewish) which are white, along with Rotaries, Chambers, Knights, etc which are mainly white. They are doing fine. “
The above article contradicts your statement:
” As members pass away, younger Elks are not taking their places. “It’s been a struggle,” Lopes said.
The shift, which IS AFFECTING ALL FRATERNAL ORGANIZATIONS”
I have never read any poorly researched article written by Thomas MacMillan. If you believe the article to be incorrect perhaps you should contact him with your evidence?
FYI Greek, Italian, Irish are ethnicities or nationalities, Jews can be and are of any race and “mainly white” does not mean all white or white only.
“Networking, comraderie, friendships are all lost when an institution like is goes under.”
I understand you point on networking. However I have personally not been involved in any race based organization. I will take your word for it that the friendships and camaraderie cannot last through the dissolution of the organization. I never knew the members of these organizations were so fickle concerning friendships. As someone who still has friendships with some of the guys I played sports with in college I am genuinely shocked to read this.
“Many can increase their business bottom line by belonging to these clubs”.
I have no doubt some businessmen can increase their profits through these organizations but to clarify my earlier post: The percentage of men who find the investment of time and financial resources in these “lodges” worthwhile is dropping each generation. I predict this trend will continue as men continue to find no real connection or use for these organizations. As a business owner who moved to New Haven in 2004 I have no memories of grand balls or families members getting married at The Elks lodge. What sort of appeal are The Elks supposed to have for someone like me? While I certainly respect my elder’s I am not going to pay membership dues to an organization of men who are 25 plus my senior. Even if more members closer to my age I don’t see any appeal in running around in a Fez and frilly collar giving out secret handshakes and calling someone “Exalted Ruler”.
posted by: Jones Gore on January 7, 2013 4:18am
This is a good thing. Now that they need the whole community to survive now they can reach out offer access to the building for a fee.
This can actually be a great benefit. Meet the challange.
Edward H: Just a couple of points. Perhaps I shouldnt have used your phrase “race-based”- the Elks Club is not Black only, but mostly Black.
Greeks, Jews, Italians, Irish, etc are indeed ethnicities and they have 1 thing in common- they are all considered white here in America. Many of these clubs are doing well- just read the news online or in the paper for their meetings, elections and public invites to see.
If you can so readily discount the benefits of a 105 yr old institution here in New Haven, so be it.
But like Mr. Lopes said- it’s not going down without a fight, so it’s not over.