s traffic flows through downtown Franklin, the bronze bust of an elk peers down over the streetscape.

The sculpture is mounted on the exterior of the new headquarters of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge No. 1818, two stories above Jefferson Street. A classic brick façade with limestone caps, new lighting and signage has transformed the building into both a practical and aesthetically useful space.

Representative of the organization’s mission to the community, Elks members see the new structure as a cornerstone for Franklin.

“When we remodeled, it wasn’t just for us. It was kind of a gift for the entire community,” said Bob Swinehamer, who has been an Elk for 45 years and is a past leader of the group. “Next to the courthouse, we think it’s one of the most impressive buildings downtown.”

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After nearly two years of construction, the Elks Club has essentially remade an entire building. Inside what had been a historic structure in shambles, the club members have created a stylish, modern space that will serve their members while reaching out to the broader Franklin community.

Whether gathering in the handmade bar to socialize, organizing benefit fundraisers in an adjacent meeting or allowing groups to use the space for reunions, meetings or wedding receptions, the Elks Club sees the new headquarters as a cornerstone of the development of downtown Franklin.

“While we’ve spent a lot of money on this building, trying to improve it for our members, we also haven’t lost sight that we’re a benevolent organization,” Swinehamer said.

Visitors to the new Elks lodge would be excused if they did a double-take to ensure they’re in the right place. Stepping into the club’s bar area is more like stopping into a hip new pub.

A wraparound bar dominates the space, topped with sleek black wood on top of a stone base. Industrial lights hang from the ceiling, blending modern style with retro atmosphere. Flatscreen televisions are mounted on the walls all around.

On the wall, bright purple light spills from a unique sign that reads, “Elks Care, Elks Share.”

“People are surprised when they walk in and see it,” said Kim Demaree, the Exalted Ruler, or president, of the Franklin Elks Club. “They don’t expect this when they walk in.”

The Elks Club has been a part of American society since 1867, with more than 2,000 clubs now operating throughout the country. Anyone who is a U.S. citizen, is at least 21 years old and who believes in God can join.

In Franklin, the Elks Club has been active for more than 65 years. About 750 people are currently members, making it the largest Elks Club in Indiana.

Though members acknowledge that groups such as theirs have earned reputations as “drinking clubs,” the Elks Club instead point to their main mission of serving the community.

Members donate or help raise more than $100,000 each year to better the local community. Fundraisers support more than 50 different organizations and causes, from the St. Thomas Clinic to Little League to the Johnson County Humane Society. A veteran’s fund helps provide relief for men and women who served in the military.

Thousands of dollars also go to the Elks Club’s statewide organizational funds, such as a cancer fund that helps support cancer research in Indiana.

“We’re not about being a drinking club. That can be the image, but we’re about these things right here,” said Steve Barnett, a past Elks leader who was active in the remodeling. “We’re about charitable work for the community.”

Since 1971, the Elks Club had used a small space off of Water Street as their lodge. The building was cozy and familiar but couldn’t accommodate the growing membership of the club.

The solution to the problem turned out to be right next to the club. Around the corner from their current lodge, the historic former G.C. Murphy Building sat vacant. The building, which at one time had been the location of a bustling five-and-dime downtown, had fallen into disrepair.

The city of Franklin had acquired the structure from Johnson County in a land swap, and had been searching for a possible occupant to fill it.

Working with the Franklin Redevelopment Commission, the Elks Club worked out a deal to buy the building for $1.

When the club took control of the building, it was little more than a brick shell. The building was in shambles on the inside, Swinehamer said.

Members volunteered their time to gut the space, removing all of the old elements so that only a concrete floors and support beams remained before the renovation started.

“This building is essentially brand new,” Barnett said.

Elks Club members also donated or deeply discounted their work to do electrical, plumbing, painting and other interior work. One member built the entire bar, Barnett said.

From the redevelopment commission, the club received $200,000 to help pay for additional facade work, interior renovations, fire protection upgrades and building permits and legal expenses from the property transfer. The Elks also received a $100,000 grant from the Franklin Development Corp., a nonprofit agency created and funded by the city, to help renovate the building façade.

The rest of the renovation project, about $1 million, came from the Elks Club.

Architect Neil Dixon designed the exterior with brick and limestone caps to look like the original Murphy Building, before it had been burned in a fire and rebuilt in the 1950s.

The new space offers 21,000 square feet for the club to work with on three floors. While the basement level has been turned into storage space, the main floor has been transformed with the bar, meeting rooms and a kitchen where members can fix food for events.

The design is suitable for both members and their families, something the club was insistent on having, Swinehamer said.

“Benevolent organizations and fraternal organizations nationwide are in decline. This next generation has the thinking of, if you don’t have something that appeals to the entire family, they won’t be part of it,” he said. “We try to be very inclusive. One of the things that appeals to potential members is that we accept both men and women, and they can bring their kids in here.”

The upstairs area will be a wide open banquet hall, where the club can host large-scale events but also rent out the space to the community. Work is still ongoing and will ideally be done by October, Barnett said.

At a glance

Franklin Elks Lodge No. 1818

New headquarters

What: The new home of the Franklin Elks Club is the refurbished former G.C. Murphy Building.

Where: 56 E. Jefferson St., Franklin

Features: A modern bar room and gathering place; card rooms; a lounge area; kitchen; second-floor meeting hall for official Elks Club events and available to rent by the community.

Size: 21,000 square feet

Cost of project: $1.3 million, including $300,000 in grants from the Franklin Development Corporation and the Franklin Redevelopment Commission. The rest was generated by the club.

Club founded: 1951

Members: About 750

Upcoming community fundraisers:

  • Aug. 6: Night at the Races
  • Aug. 18: Annual golf outing for cancer research
  • Sept. 10: Reverse Cancer reverse raffle
  • Oct. 1: Beer garden at the Franklin Fall Festival
  • Oct. 15: Jammin’ for a Cure
  • Nov. 5: Charity Auction
  • Nov. 12 Annual Veteran’s Dinner
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.