BPOE 433, Part 4 – Pre-Depression Years, 1918-1930


La Grande Elks Lodge band, 1916

R. J. Green was elected Exalted Ruler for 1918-1919. Membership continued to grow toward 1000 members. Colon Eberhard became Exalted Ruler in 1919-1920. The membership reached a peak during this year at 1,128. Prohibition had become law in 1918 and its effect was being felt but our supply of white lightning was adequate! In early 1918 a movement was begun to establish a meeting place for members of La Grande Lodge No. 433 who lived in Wallowa County. They called themselves the Branch Line Elks Club after the nickname given to the railroad running from La Grande to Joseph. They purchased 120 acres of land at the head of Wallowa Lake that bordered the river and ran up the east slope toward Mt. Howard. Stock shares were to be sold to Brothers of Elks Lodges in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Each share entitled the purchaser to one lot on which he could build a summer cottage. The large club house would be 40 x 80 feet inside, with a 16 x 40 foot kitchen. This club house was completed in October of 1922. It had a large porch facing west, toward the river that fed Wallowa Lake. The Elks ’49 show was taken up from La Grande and staged in October along with the first dance for the opening of the Branch Line Elks Clubhouse. By 1925 the enthusiasm dropped for the project and the mortgage payment could not be paid. The land and club house were purchased from the mortgage holder by J. A. Hopkins, who named it “The White Elephant Chalet.” The building still stands today at the base of Mt. Howard and is the center of activities for the Annual Wallowa Lake Alpenfest celebration each fall.

Brother C. R. Harding was elected Exalted Ruler for 1920-1921. The Lodge membership was at 1,125. To slow down the growth and make it harder to join the initiation fee was doubled, from $12.50 to $25.00. The Oregon State Elks Association had been created and a drive was on to get all the Lodges to join. After much discussion a motion to join was barely passed. In 1921-1922 Nolan Skiff became Exalted Ruler. When our Lodge received a bill for per capita tax for 10 cents per member (or $112.50) from the Oregon State Elks Association, a motion was made to withdraw from the Association. The motion passed. In 1922-1923 S. D. Crowe was elected Exalted Ruler.

La Grande Circus Day Parade, 1920

After prohibition was made into law, our income and social activities began to slide. A motion was made to discontinue the Annual Washington’s Birthday Ball but was defeated. Even at this early date our Lodge Hall was being used by other organizations. The Oregon Dental Association held their convention here. It was in 1922 that the Lodge installed a telephone and bought a radio. A week later the Exalted Ruler appointed a committee of five to operate the radio, exclusively. In June of 1923 Exalted Ruler S. D. Crowe announced be would be unable to attend the Grand Lodge Session. The Lodge voted to send PER Henry Ritter, as Alternate Delegate to the Grand Lodge, in his place. This was one of very few instances that the Alternate Delegate was sent to the Grand Lodge Session. In November of 1923 Portland No. 142 built a new Temple. Because Portland No. 142 had sponsored La Grande Lodge our Lodge voted to send them a gift at their dedication ceremonies. A dictionary stand that cost $70.00 was our gift to them. In January of 1924 a resolution to increase the yearly dues from $12.00 to $15.00 was offered. There was so much opposition that the motion was withdrawn. Delile Green became Exalted Ruler in 1924. In October a resolution to raise the initiation fee to $50.00 passed.

On Armistice Day, November 11, an air show was held in La Grande and the hospitality of our Lodge was opened to the aviators who were here for the event. In December 1924 our ballroom was requested for a Christmas party for the Alumni of Oregon Agricultural College and students and prospective students. It was in January, 1925, that the president of the Oregon State Elks Association visited our Lodge and appealed to us to join with the association — tabled request. It was voted to renovate the bar in the club room in anticipation that prohibition would be repealed soon. The old antique bar from the old Foley Hotel was purchased for $6000.00 and installed. A motion was made to fill in or cover the pool in the basement and use the area for a banquet room. The motion was tabled for more study. In 1925, when Lester Bramwell became Exalted Ruler, La Grande was fortunate to have an excellent municipal band. They made a request to use the Lodge room for practice sessions. Permission was given with the stipulation that they put a canvas down on the hardwood floor and clean up after each practice. Brother Andrew Loney was the director. He had been injured in World War I and was paralyzed from the waist down. He got around on crutches and when he was directing he stood as straight as a rod.

The Grand Lodge met in Portland in 1925. La Grande Lodge No. 433 was opposed to marching in the parade, sending the band or making a float because of declining income and the debt we were carrying. The secretary of La Grande Lodge, Mood Eckley, resigned his position in order to go to Portland to college. W. R. Winters was appointed acting secretary. He was later elected to that position which he held until he passed away in 1966 after 41 years of service to La Grande Lodge. In 1926 C. G. Bolton was elected Exalted Ruler. Motion was made to buy larger spittoons for the lobby and reading room. Due to our financial position it was determined that any Brother who was in arrears one year in his dues could not receive aid from the Elks. The mattresses needed to be replaced in the third floor rental rooms. The price was $9.50 each for the first two and if they replaced the other rooms also the cost would be $2.50 each for the rest of the rooms.

In October of 1926 the opportunity arose that La Grande might be in line to have a National Guard Armory built here. A delegation of Brothers was appointed to attend a meeting at City Hall to speak in favor of an Armory. The Exalted Ruler appointed a committee to obtain the national election results from Western Union as soon as they became available and arrange for an election watch party for the election November 2, 1926. The Lodge received a request from Oregon Agriculture College Alumni and Students to use the Lodge Hall as a ballroom for their Christmas dance. After some discussion it was agreed to charge organizations $17.50 for the use of our hall. It could not be rented to an individual, and we would stop renting it as soon as another became available.  In January, 1927, the president of the Oregon State Elks Association was present and appealed to the Lodge to join the association again— the matter tabled. Henry Hess was elected Exalted Ruler in 1928. There were two Brothers who were brought before the Court of the Loyal Knight and the Subordinate Forum for conduct unbecoming an Elk. The Brothers were expelled. The year 1928 saw Hugh Brady become Exalted Ruler. The Sacajawea Hotel opened this year. Our ’49 show had grown so large that the event was moved from the Stewart Opera House into the ballroom of the newly opened hotel. A Brother complained his overcoat was stolen at the show—voted $20.00 for a new coat. The Esteemed Loyal Knight was absent for eight meetings. The office was declared vacant and an appointment was made to fill the chair.

The year 1929 saw Jesse Andrews elected Exalted Ruler. The fact that he was the proprietor of Andrews Clothing Store probably had nothing to do with it, but it was in his term as Exalted Ruler that the officers wore tuxedos on initiation nights. Victor Eckley began his long climb through the chairs in the Lodge as he was appointed Esquire in 1929. A plea and a motion was made again to join the Oregon State Elks Association. This was the third try at joining — motion tabled again. R. E. (Bob) Williamson became Esteemed Loyal Knight in 1930. He began his Elks career as Inner Guard and had worked his way to Loyal Knight. Politics in the Lodge during this period seemed to dictate that two or three members were nominated for the first elective office and sometimes the Esquire was not elected to the first office of Esteemed Lecturing Knight. Claude Berry was the Exalted Ruler for 1930. Every effort was being made to get a better attendance at Lodge. A committee was appointed to develop a boxing card after Lodge with a dutch lunch for the Brothers. There was good attendance at initiations because at this time two or three  of the new Brothers would be singled out to receive the Second Degree.

In December, 1930, the Lodge Kitty was started. It was similar to the “drawing” as we know it today. It wasn’t as large an amount of money for the winner, but in those days a dollar went a little further than it does today. In January, 1931, there were articles in the papers relating to the Oregon State Game Commission’s plan to open elk hunting in Eastern Oregon. The elk had been protected by law and the Oregon Legislature had to change the law before the game commission could open the season. Our Lodge still had strong feelings about these elk being killed, so a resolution was drawn and sent to our elected legislators protesting the slaughter of our elk. In 1931 Sherwood Williams was elected Exalted Ruler. The old original herd sire of the original band of elk named “Taft” had to be killed because he became so mean and dangerous after he had killed a son of his named “Tarazan.” La Grande No. 433 began proceedings to acquire the two heads of these bull elk for display in our Lodge room. The Oregon State Game Commission agreed to give them to our Lodge, but we had to pay the cost of having the heads mounted by a taxidermist.

The depression, following the stock market crash of 1929, was beginning to be felt by all our members, so when we held our ’49 show the year before we only had $300.00 for Christmas charities. The Lodge decided to put on a benefit football game instead of the `49 show. It was not very successful, either. One of our members, August J. Stange, who owned the Mt. Emily Lumber Co., donated a new Santa Claus suit to the Lodge with the stipulation that the Presbyterian Church could also use it for their Christmas program. Exalted Ruler Sherwood Williams was planning a gala celebration of George Washington’s birthday. He appointed a committee of 50 to work on the ball and each one was given the task of getting one new member for the George Washington initiation class of 1931. Again, discussion centered on what to do with the swimming pool in the basement. Investigation of the renovation proved too expensive at this time, because the Lodge was barely meeting interest payments. In February, when the Annual Washington`s Birthday Ball was held, members were allowed to bring prospective members as guests, but the member had to sign the guest ticket and assume all responsibility for his conduct.

In March two vice presidents of the Oregon State Elks Association talked to the Lodge and pleaded with No. 433 for the fourth time to join. Again, the opposition was so great that it was tabled. In May of 1932 the American Legion Drum and Bugle Corp was formed and permission was given to them to use our Lodge Hall for practice. In September a change in by-laws was made to reduce the reinstatement fee to $2.00 and pay pro-rated dues to April 1, because our Lodge had suffered a large loss of members. Unemployment was at a high level in the area. Exalted Ruler Williams made an urgent plea for Brothers to bring to the Lodge, all the fruit jars they could spare to give to the jobless, so they could can food for the winter. The Eastern Oregon Normal School had opened in La Grande and the music department was becoming well known. Our Lodge was enjoying musical numbers by the girls choir, male quartet, and dramatic presentations by one of the instructors, Miss Florence Day. ER Sherwood William’s daughters, Jean and Helen, also sang solos for Lodge entertainment. By March the depression began to hit the Lodge hard.