The almost life-size bronze elk that has stood for almost three-quarters of a century gazing majestically from the facade of Elks Lodge No. 758 in Old Town Alexandria may soon, to the annoyance of Mayor Charles E. Beatley Jr., be put out to pasture.
A spokesman for the lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks said the 200-member male fraternal group has outgrown its building at 318 Prince St. and is eager to sell the three-story building, which is surrounded by old homes and antique shops.
"We need parking space," said Harold Charron, chairman of the lodge's board of trustees. "And let's face it, the majority of our membership is in the suburbs."
So the Elks are trying to find a place on the suburban fringe of Alexandria. And when they do, said lodge Secretary Bill Murphy, "We're going to take the elk with us and probably put it in the lawn."
That kind of talk disturbs Beatley, who maintains that the Elks lodge, with its ornate facade that features the antlered beast jutting from a sort of alcove, is an Old Town fixture that should not be changed.
"I think it belongs to the architectural fabric of the city," Beatley says. "I don't want them to take it with them. The facade of the building is very distinctive and I would hate to see the elk disappear."
(Not all who live in the neighborhood agree. "It doesn't do anything for me," said Julie Markoski, who lives near the lodge. "I don't find it a great piece of architectural ingenuity.")
On Tuesday night, the City Council decided not to reopen discussion of a proposal to rezone the lodge property commerical to allow a local interior design firm to buy and convert the structure into its offices, with a plan to retain the elk. A spokesman for Hunter-Miller and Associates said the company was willing to spend about $1 million for the project. Neighborhood groups had opposed the rezoning.
Beatley, who has long supported retaining Old Town's historic character (some houses there date from the 18th century), says he will explore ways to have the building's facade declared historic. That would prevent it from being altered and prevent removal of the elk.
Charron says the lodge hall (built in 1909) is not old enough to be considered historic. Besides, he says, "The elk is the symbol of our order; that's the symbol of our lodge standing there. We intend to take it."