Bellingham’s first members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks’ held their meetings in private homes, then began renting various rooms available in the city and finally built this two-story brick clubhouse in 1912. Built in the second major real estate boom, along with the Federal Building and Citizen’s Dock, the Elks club is one of downtown Bellingham’s finest formal street fronts. The Elks Club is also significant as a monument to the importance of fraternal clubs in the early 20th century.
The architect, William Cox, was praised for designing the most handsome fraternal lodge in the state. The vivid street front facade is composed of blond brick framed with a light stone arch, uncommon in the usually dark Romanesque style, with sandstone steps leading up to it. Originally, the offices were located on the first floor and a large meeting room and a kitchen were on the second. In the basement, a member could play card games, pool, or even bowl.
The BPOE building had its interior extensively remodeled in 1938 adding a marquee with an Art Moderne flair. The bowling alley was removed in the late 1940’s and in 1960 the kitchen was moved to the first floor. In 1971 the Elks sold this lodge and relocated to a clubhouse along Samish Way. Within a year the building sat empty, continuing for five years. Beginning in 1976 the BPOE building has housed a variety of different uses, including a dance studio.
Surprisingly, the changes made to the interior of the Elks club did not significantly effect the exterior. The ornate cornice still bears the building’s name and the construction date, the second floor windows have retained their unusual arches and the white columns and trim still accentuate the light brick facade.
For more information see the BPOE Building National Register of Historic Places Nomination.