The Great Santa Ana Elks Lodge

Elks Care and Elks Share

Santa Ana Lodge

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These write-ups are the fine work of Frank Mickadeit of the OC Register who published a series of articles on the Elks Lodges.  There are repeated onto this site to make it easy for our friends to find.

Columnist The Orange County Register From Santa Ana – Lodge 794. Founded in 1902. The "mother lodge," they call it. Ground Zero for Elkdom in Orange County.

Along with my own newspaper and a very few other organizations, churches and businesses, Lodge 794 is an enduring legacy of turn-of-the-century Santa Ana. The Register and Lodge 794 were once across the street from each other in downtown Santa Ana, and our own R.C. Hoiles would play gin rummy for hours in one of the lodge's back rooms.

By the mid-60s, both had moved out of downtown, but remained just a few blocks away from each other, the newspaper at 6th and Grand, the lodge at 1st and Lyon.

Sounds corny, but the way I felt when I walked into the lodge Monday is the way I felt when I first walked into the Register's sprawling, humming newsroom 22 years ago. Ah, now this is a newspaper. As I entered the lodge, it was, Ah, now this is an Elks Lodge.

Built in 1962, its interior must be one of the best-preserved examples of mid-century American architecture in town. The dark woods, the aluminum casements, the pale greens of the upholstery, the sleek sans-serif font on signage. Its spacious Ladies Lounge is something right out of George Cukor's "The Women" – the kind of place a lady would go when she got "the vapors." The whole place could be a set from AMC's "Mad Men."

But as I said when I critiqued the Westminster lodge's wonderfully unplanned Indiana-roadhouse style, it's the style of the people inside that really matters. In this case, the persona of the lodge and the people happens to mirror that of its exalted ruler, Bob Gross.

Eighty-one years old and a retired city fire captain, Gross is the only person in the lodge's 107-year history to be asked to serve twice. Like Don Corleone, he doesn't bluster, he doesn't sweat. He does his diligence; he attended two previous Frank Shows to get a sense of it. You'll see him quietly ask one of his capable lieutenants for some small favor. Once. And it's quietly taken care of. Every incoming E.R. in the district should be required to shadow Bob for a week. Simple, gracious, genteel – classy as all hell.

But not all is well with the lodge. With seven acres of grounds, one acre of it under roof, it was designed to accommodate the 4,000 members it once had. With only about a third of that now, and the infrastructure showing its age, it is becoming too expensive to operate.

"We're hoping to sell it and get a place that better suits our membership," Bob told me late Monday night as we sat out outside on lawn chairs and unwound.

That's not to say this doesn't remain a fun, active lodge. Thirteen-hundred is still large by Elk standards. Its Monday-night bingo operation is the largest in Santa Ana, netting $125,000 annually and helping to support many charities. It has an institutional kitchen and catering business that does the same. Couples drive in from all over the Saturday-night dances in the huge ballroom. Its girls softball team just won a state championship.

We had a very pleasant low-key chat in the shade with members. Among them was Frank Hermansen, a former member of Merrill's Mauraders, the legendary U.S. Army unit that worked behind Japanese lines in WWII. Betty Tabor (I've now met every woman named Betty or Shirley in O.C.) presented me with a red-white-and-blue scarf that resembled nothing so much as a priest's stole. I wore it as I heard "confessions."

Like my newspaper, Lodge 794 is having to scale back. But I'm optimistic that if we don't lose sight of the values that made us flagship institutions we will each still serve the county for another century.

Santa Ana lodge profile: Founded: 1902. Members: 1,289. Total length of its (5) bars: 146 feet. Good works: Sends 30 care packages a month to U.S. personnel in Iraq; gave 6,000 dictionaries to third-graders in Santa Ana, Tustin and Irvine; takes disadvantaged kids fishing; sponsors a kids' Halloween party, "Boo at the Zoo." Also, the district wide basketball program for handicapped kids run by Santa Ana Elk Ed Repic is so successful, the Special Olympics put him in charge of theirs.