One man’s vision: Turn Elks building into arts center
By Marissa Amoni For The Beacon-News January 25, 2012 6:22PM
These are architectural detail photos of the second floor interior of the former Elks Club building in downtown Aurora. One is a cornice along the ceiling and a sconce with a missing shade below, and the other is a detail of the Mayan-revival fireplace -- both on the 2nd floor
Rare Mayan Revival
Built in 1926 by Zimmerman, Saxe and Zimmerman designs, the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks building in downtown Aurora is one of the few examples of the use of Mayan Revival in the United States. The architects altered their original, more traditional design when they were inspired by the recently discovered Mayan temples in Central America.
The local Elks Chapter #705 formed in 1901, and the building at Stolp Avenue and Benton Street was their second home, dedicated on Nov. 17, 1926. The Elks operated a 40-room hotel in the building, which included bowling lanes in the basement.
The city of Aurora purchased the building in 1999. The building served as the offices of the Aurora Election Commission for several years, until 2009.
Updated: February 27, 2012 8:26AM
AURORA — A well-known local Realtor and lawyer is proposing turning the historic downtown Elks Club building into an arts and cultural center.
Attorney Judd Lofchie arranged a tour of the vacant building at Stolp Avenue and Benton Street for about 60 people.
The tour began in the building’s foyer with a varied group of locals including architects, artists, developers, a filmmaker, community leaders and musicians. Lofchie briefly talked about his plans with Batavia architect Lane Allen and artist Maureen Gasek to turn the large Mayan Revival building into a mix of artist studios.
Lofchie warned the bundled-up crowd that the building is in need of a lot of work, but he, along with Gina Moga with the city of Aurora and David Dorgan with Seize the Future, pointed out the building’s “good bones.”
Peeling paint along the ceiling, and outdated decor are minor problems, they noted. They added that the building’s heat and water are turned off, along with the elevators shuttered due to the vacancy. Part of the building was most recently occupied by the Aurora Election Commission in 2010.
Dorgan provided a brief history of the 1926 building. He said he has shown the city-owned property about two dozen times during the last two years following a failed deal with former Restaurant Row developer Steve Arwady. Arwady planned a mixed-use condominium and restaurant development for the site, which included relocating Chef Amaury’s Epicurean Affair (now Chef Amaury at 33 West) to the first floor.
Dorgan said that the city is unlikely to “give away” the building since taxpayers have put hundreds of thousands of dollars into it, including repairing the leaky roof.
The once 40-room hotel has a first floor restaurant, kitchen and art deco bar.
On the tour, Dorgan pointed out original mosaic tile in a small corner room and original wallpaper underneath peeling paint in the large third-floor ballroom.
At one time, the building’s basement was a lively place with a bowling alley, but the lanes have been removed and it is now an empty concrete space that could accommodate musicians, Lofchie said.
Lofchie mentioned that locals like Benjie Hughes with Backthird Audio in Aurora, and Steve Warrenfeltz with Kiss the Sky records in Geneva have also shown interest in reviving the building. Lofchie compared the possibilities with downtown Batavia’s Water Street Studios, and said it only takes a few committed and passionate artists for it to become reality.
Dorgan said that the city is willing to work with anyone who is serious about the property, which is worth $800,000 on paper, according to the city. He noted that the property is historic, and could qualify for restoration grant.
Lofchie said the tour was intended to gather interest in the property, and to get an idea of whether there is enough collective interest for artists studios’ in Aurora.
“The tour was great. It showed that there is a lot of interest in creating an arts center. It wouldn’t take too much to get it going,” Lofchie said.
He added that they would need the city’s help to make it happen.
“It could really be exciting. It just takes a little momentum,” he said.
For more information on the possible project, call Lofchie at 630-215-7081 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.