In the summer of the 1890’s blue bloods from the South filled Waukesha’s resort hotels in great numbers. These people, familiar with the luxurious ease and service of the old South, as well as other parts of the nation, came to drink of the health-giving waters they freely bubbled up from the local springs.
Many of the men who gathered here were Elks in their native cities and the elite of Waukesha heard of the good work the order was achieving.
One of the frequent visitors at the Fountain House was Basil M. Allen, a Grand Lodge Office of the Benevolent and Protective order of Elks. Because of his enthusiasm he soon aroused interest among the men of our city to form a Lodge in Waukesha. Brother Allen was a Past Exalted Ruler of the Birmingham, Alabama Lodge and held in high esteem.
At the same time, another event was taking place that would alter their plans. The Wisconsin Central Railroad had its car shops and division office in Waukesha, and quite a number of the men employed there were also deeply interested in the Elks. The company announced the removal of the shops and offices to Fond Du Lac and scores of Waukesha residents were moved to that city. Fond Du Lac already had a Lodge – No. 57 – so these men joined that Lodge, but kept their contact with their old friends from Waukesha.
Our Waukesha men found that Lodges were being instituted all over the land, and that the number 400 would be available to some Lodge. Since the “400” of Mrs. Astor’s social register was prominent in the Sunday supplements of the larger newspapers, there was an appeal of that listing – No. “400.”
They made an application for a dispensation, requesting that the desired number be assigned to their lodge, and through Grand Lodge Secretary George A. Reynolds, that was accomplished. An interim charter was issued, and on December 8, 1897, the Lodge was instituted by District Deputy Grand Exalted Ruler William De Steese.
It was not until May 12th of the following year in New Orleans that the No. 400 was actually assigned to the Waukesha Lodge. That is why we celebrate May 12, 1898 as our anniversary date.
Allen F. Warden was chosen as our first Exalted Ruler, and he had a glorious career in Elkdom. Not only was he the first Exalted Ruler of the Waukesha Lodge, but when the Wisconsin Elks Association was formed in Oshkosh in 1902, largely because of his own organizational ability, he was chosen to fill the honorable position as the first President of the Association. He was elected to succeed himself the following year at the convention in Ashland.
The organizational meetings took place at the Fountain House which was owned by Chicago millionaire M. Laflin. From there the Elks obtained quarters on the third floor of the Putney building on Main street which was their meeting place from 1897 to 1906. It was then that the hall in the Columbia Block was rented which gave them more space. It wasn’t until December 24, 1913 that the Elks bought their first permanent home at the northeast corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Clinton Street which was purchased for $9,500, paid in cash made possible by donations from Elk members to the Building Fund.
On March 6, 1924, official action was taken for expansion of our quarters and the Building Repairs and Alterations Fund grew. This committee committed the Elks of Waukesha to the expenditure of $50,000 for this purpose. At 5:00 on Wednesday, September 17, 1924, the Cornerstone was laid.
The second 50 years produced many changes in Waukesha Lodge No. 400. Many community events and activities were still happening in the Lodge on the corner of Clinton Street and Wisconsin Avenue in the 50’s and 60’s. The Elks sponsored Youth Band continued to play marching music and frequently marched in the city parades. Our annual Family Picnics were held at Muskego Beach with John Pugh bringing the hospital tent for cover in case of bad weather. The Wonago Rodeo was a favorite sponsored event. The eight-lane bowling alley still was the center of much activity and the huge dance hall was used by many community groups as well as the Elks due to its convenience and size. New Year’s Eve parties and the Annual Charity Ball held in the dance hall were extremely popular and well attended. You could always tell when there was a large crowd by the way the dance floor would bounce or move from the weight of the people.
But as with anything when things start to age, changes have to be made. In the mid 60’s there was considerable discussions about remodeling. In 1967-68 it was decided to sell the old Lodge and build a new one. A deal was made with Waukesha Savings and Loan becuase they wanted to expand. As the old Lodge was being razed a fire accidentally started and the building was allowed to burn under a controlled situation. Property was purchased on the present site, 2301 Springdale Road and construction began. During construction, Lodge meetings were held at the VFW in Waukesha and at a bar named Pinochio’s on the corner of Bluemound and Brookfield Roads. Bob Villa was the architect and T.V. John, under careful leadership of Bob Lee, constructed the new Lodge. Building plans were also to include bowling alleys, an outdoor swimming pool, and tennis courts, but those dreams never materialized.
Today Waukesha Elks Lodge No. 400 on Springdale Road consists of two levels with the Lodge Hall, a dining room, and a bar and lounge on the upper level, and the “400 room”, formerly known as the “Gold Room” occupying the lower level along with the secretary’s office and plenty of storage space in the “old mud room”.