Opening the door to what they hope will be a new era for their 88-year-old organization, members of the Palo Alto Elks unveiled their 40,000- square-foot lodge at 4249 El Camino Real Saturday afternoon.
The beige and gray structure south of Charleston Road -- dominated by an open grid-like design with corrugated-metal features and tinted windows -- stands in sharp contrast to the former, hulking, wood-paneled lodge, which dated back to 1942.
State Sen. Joe Simitian and Palo Alto Mayor Sid Espinosa participated in Saturday's ribbon-cutting ceremony, along with dozens of Elks.
"This is a place that both has been part of Palo Alto's history and will be part of Palo Alto's future. This is a lodge that has reinvented itself for the 21st century," Simitian said. "It will help to build community over the coming years. We often take that for granted."
Like many fraternal and service organizations across the nation, the Palo Alto Elks saw its membership decline late in the last century. Where membership once topped 3,500 members 40 years ago, the club now includes about 900 members, according to the group. That decline prompted a new focus in the early 2000s on attracting younger members.
Today, the lodge features an "Antler room" for children, an outdoor pool and patio, Jacuzzis, racquetball/handball courts, a fitness center, restaurant, a billiards room, and library and card room.
"Our new lodge is designed for families who want to participate in recreation, cultural and philanthropic activities," Chet Hayes, chairman of the Elks' board of trustees and also chair of the construction committee, said in a statement.
In order to finance the project, the Elks sold about 5 acres of land to the rear of the new lodge, which itself sits on 2.8 acres. The project cost "between $10 million and $20 million," according to Hayes. It was designed by Hoover Associates: Architecture-Planning-Interiors and built by Vance Brown Builders, both of Palo Alto.
Despite the new construction, the Elks members were able to bring along some of their old lodge's fixtures, notably a 1942 mural of local attractions and former Elks members that had been glued to a wall. Getting it off the wall proved a challenge and damaged the art in the process, said Lorrain Brookman, an Elks officer. But the group enlisted the help of a local artist and a Menlo Park framing shop, and the mural, now a diptych, hangs on the lodge's second floor.
As members discussed the new facility with visitors Saturday, several already had favorite aspects.
Don Brookman, the Elks' treasurer and Lorrain's husband, praised the Palo Alto room, a second-floor ballroom with hardwood floors and floor-to-ceiling windows along two sides.
"Because of the view and the lighting, it's our favorite," said Brookman, who enjoys dancing.
Members Bette and Fred Michaud said they are looking forward to bringing their eight grandchildren to use the new swimming pool once it opens in the summer.
"It's a great facility for children" because of the long, wide steps, said Fred Michaud, himself a former swim teacher.
Though the lodge is new, the Elks' mission as a philanthropic as well as a social organization remains the same, members said.
The Elks raise money for projects that support children with disabilities, scholarships for youth and the welfare of veterans. The group has participated in the Soap Box Derby and hosts BBQs for patients at the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health Care System and events such as a veterans' Christmas party, according to Don Brookman.
"Our big hope is to give back to the community. That's what it's all about," Brookman said.