The price of history: Charleroi Elks building sells for $27,250
Charleroi said goodbye to a part of its history Tuesday with the sale of the Charleroi Elks Club Lodge 494.
The ornate three-story, 115-year-old building on Fallowfield Avenue sold for $27,250 at a live auction conducted by the Rittenhouse Auction Co. The price is unofficial until the sale is approved by three trustees appointed by the Elks Club Grand Lodge in Chicago.
The winning bidder, who declined to give her name because the sale had not been finalized, said her husband was a bartender there and her son was a busboy there. “I have a lot of memories here,” she said.
The woman originally submitted an “honorary bid” of $1,100 but ended up in a bidding war with Bryan Downs, of Charleroi, a former Lodge 494 member and bartender who is now a pastor.
Downs said he bartended at the lodge on weekdays and for special events 24 years ago.
“At Christmas time, it was decorated so beautifully it looked like something out of a Charles Dickens novel,” he said. “The dance hall was filled with people back in the ’60s — back when people still went to dances.”
The auction comes at a time of declining membership for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, or BPOE, throughout the Mon Valley, said trustees Vincent Santarel and Stan Welsh.
Welsh was a trustee for the sale of the Mt. Pleasant Elks Lodge in 2009, while Santarel was a trustee for the closing of the Brownsville Elks Lodge about 10 years ago.
“It’s sad — some beautiful lodges have been closed,” Santarel said.
While the Southwest Pennsylvania District still has nine active lodges, some of which are doing well, lodges in the Mon Valley have suffered because of population losses in their host communities, Welsh said.
“It’s just that the mills closed and the cities went away,” he said.
Lodge membership dropped as small businesses left the downtowns and were replaced by big box stores on the outskirts of town, Welsh said.
Spokesman Rick Gathen said the BPOE closes fewer than 10 lodges a year and has seen a national membership increase in the past year. “Pennsylvania is also tracking for a state membership increase,” he said, noting that the Elks are known for their scholarship and charitable giving programs.
At one time, the Charleroi Lodge had 1,500 members — many of them doctors, lawyers and small businessmen who were the backbone of the community, Welsh said.
“This is where they came to socialize and network,” Welsh said. “Those 1,500 members were the people who made this town.”
Lodge 494 was founded in 1899, and the building opened in 1904. Its 17,500 square feet included a dance hall on the first floor, two bars, banquet rooms, a kitchen and an ornate meeting room on the third floor.
Joseph Walker of Charleroi was not a member, but both his daughters had their First Communion banquets at the Elks Lodge. He and his wife came to dances there.
“What memories,” he said.
Among the lodge’s members was former Pennsylvania Gov. John K. Tener, who served as grand exalted ruler for the national BPOE in 1907. In 1922, the Charleroi lodge saw another one of its members, J.E. Masters, become grand exalted ruler.
“This has been a long-standing tradition here in Charleroi and big part of its history,” said auctioneer Sandy Brittingham. “I’m sure, if walls could talk, we’d hear a lot of good stories.”
The auction for the building’s contents continues online through 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .