In 1922, twelve years after forming their official charter, members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks in Twin Falls, celebrated the completion of the Elks Building. Gone were the days of conducting lodge business in the second-floor rooms of the McCornick Building on Main Street, followed by a few years at the Idaho Theater on Shoshone Street. The late summer days of 1922 marked a long-awaited time as members began moving furniture into their new facility, a building that “… will afford one of the largest lodge rooms in the state, besides commodious reception rooms, billiard room and lounging room.” (Twin Falls Daily News, August 22, 1922)
The two-story Elks Building on the corner of 2nd Avenue North and Shoshone Street was built in 1920-1922, a solid, concrete-faced structure with brick and terra-cotta. It cost $170,000, according to the Polk Directory, and was a downsized version of their original plans to construct a five-story lodge. To earn money for the construction project, the members sold bonds and sponsored fundraisers. Also, rooms on the first floor of the building were leased to various businesses, such as the W.H. Wright Department Store and Hoosier Furniture. For ten years, even the Twin Falls Public Library was an occupant before getting their own building across from the City Park in 1938.
Many in the community welcomed the new building and were anxious to participate in functions that benefited such a grand addition to downtown. One of the first fundraisers was a four-day carnival and festival in October 1922. Local merchants helped promote the event, with hundreds of valley residents participating in the festivities that included a parade, a circus, a variety of displays, and even a livestock auction. The Twin Falls Daily News reported on October 15, just a few days before the start of the four-day event,
“Never before in the history of Twin Falls has there been gathered under one roof a wonderful, amazing, gratifying and breath-taking collection of entertaining features. The circus grounds and side shows will house displays and freaks, the like of which has never been seen.”
When all was said and done, the carnival had generated about $4000 in donations, money much-needed for the additional furniture in the lodge rooms and ballroom located on the second floor. In the decades that followed, the furnished Historic Ballroom hosted countless social events, dances, and meetings that benefitted the community in many ways.
Today, businesses still occupy the rooms of the Elks Building, but lodge members no longer ascend the marble steps to the second-floor ballroom for their meetings and ceremonies. The mixed-use facility needed some change that would protect its historic image yet attract new markets. In 2018, Boise’s Pivot North Architecture renovated the downtown landmark, completing exterior upgrades and interior restyling that refreshed the structure’s 1922 character and created an attractive, inviting space on the north half for Milner’s Gate, a popular brew pub and restaurant. Rental space for businesses is still available in other parts of the building, just as the Elks leadership had planned almost a century ago as Twin Falls was expanding its core.
Recognition of Pivot North Architecture’s project came recently when the Idaho chapter of the American Institute of Architects awarded the firm the prestigious 2021 AIA Idaho Renovation, Adaptive Reuse and Preservation Honor Award for their Elks Building Renovation. Not only were the architects mindful of the building’s historic importance in creating the needed upgrades, but they also strove to preserve the character of an early development structure that has enhanced the core of Twin Falls for almost a century. A win-win for the Historic Downtown Twin Falls!