This column was originally published in The News Tribune on Oct. 1, 2006
Excuse me, please, while I sip Black Rabbit Red wine.
Mmm. A black peppery overtone, yet velvety smooth. Just as I remember it.
Now, where was I?
Oh, yes. The beginning.
I want to tell you a true tale with an ending not yet written. And to get into the storytelling spirit, I came here - 52 miles south of Tacoma - to The Olympic Club for a Communication Breakdown Burger, private-label red wine and Hogshead Whiskey Break Pudding. Why?
Three and a half years ago, when The News Tribune hired me for this column-writing gig, I set three primary goals:
- Be constructively insightful.
- If I can't be constructively insightful, be entertaining.
- Persuade the McMenamin brothers of Portland to bring one of their signature brewpub, theater, music venue, hotel establishments to Tacoma.
I'll start working on those first two soon. But the third has never gotten this close to coming true.
Do you know of the McMenamin brothers?
Their modus operandi involves finding discarded historic properties, restoring them with a sensitivity to their past lives and making them getaway destinations - mostly in Oregon. They did it with a 1911 poor farm in rural Troutdale. A 1915 elementary school in Northeast Portland. A 1936 Catholic school in Bend. They did it with this 1913 men's club - The Olympic Club - in downtown Centralia.
What about the 1916 Elks Temple in Tacoma?
When Williams & Dame Development, another Portland institution, announced Sept. 19 its pending purchase of the Elks Temple, I asked company founder and chairman, Homer Williams, if he knows the McMenamin brothers.
"I know of them, " Williams said. "These guys have had great success down here" in Oregon.
Would you, I asked, consider partnering with the McMenamins on the redevelopment of the Tacoma historic landmark?
Williams & Dame has its own modus operandi. It listens to what a community wants. I can't speak for you, Dear Reader. As for me, I want a McMenamins in the old Elks Temple.
And so does Mike McMenamin.
How do I know?
In November 2003, I wrote a column published as "An Open Letter to the McMenamin Brothers." In it, I highlighted nine historic properties in Tacoma that I thought matched the McMenamin style.
Mike McMenamin responded . The brothers had their hands full and their finances committed to finishing Old St. Francis School in Bend.
A few months later, McMenamin sent word that he had to make a trip to Seattle. He had time for a tour of the Tacoma properties. Would I show him around?
Are you kidding?
I invited along Tacoma preservationist and historian Michael Sullivan of Artifacts Consulting. Sullivan can bring to life the structures' past lives in ways I couldn't.
Mike McMenamin got out of the car at only two stops - one of them the Elks Temple. He thanked us for the tour, assured us of his interest in Tacoma but said he still had that Old St. Francis School to finish turning into 19 guest rooms, four cottages, a Turkish-style soaking pool, a brewpub and theater.
I checked with McMenamin again in September 2004. "We are certainly still interested but we are just buried, " he wrote back.
After the death of the Elks Temple's owner, Ron Zimmerman last year, I heard about the heirs' push to sell it to someone who would restore it . I alerted Mike McMenamin. He wanted to tour the inside of the building.
Once inside, McMenamins' eyes lit up. He used a laser tape measure to learn the ceiling height in the old ballroom: 23 feet. We looked at the pool and locker rooms in the basement. The plaster cartouches in the theater. The two old bars. The kitchen.
To me it looked like a hurricane had ripped through it. Water had leaked in through the roof. Plaster had fallen. Squatters had left belongings behind.
"This is an amazing place, " McMenamin said.
Within days, the McMenamin brothers had made an offer. I don't know the details, but we all now know that Williams & Dame got it instead.
End of story? Not yet.
I sent Mike McMenamin an e-mail with news of the Elks Temple's sale to Williams & Dame. "I had no idea, " he said. "I've never worked with those guys before."
Are you still interested in it?
"Definitely. That's one of the most fun buildings I've ever come across, to tell you the truth. We'd be thrilled to work on it."
As the unofficial matchmaker, I relayed that news to Matt Brown, the appointed Elks project manager for Williams & Dame.
"I've heard from a number of people of the McMenamins' interest, " Brown replied. "The funny thing was that the first time I went through the (Elks) building, I immediately thought of them. I can't tell you how many of their burgers and beers I've consumed over the last decade.
"At the end of the day we're outsiders to Tacoma, and we want to make sure that our plans fit with what the community wants to see happen there."
Well, community, can you help write a happy ending? Send your words of encouragement to Brown at [redacted] and the McMenamin brothers at [redacted].
Send me a cc so I can keep track of whom to invite to the celebration when the McMenamins' Elks Temple opens.
The Black Rabbit Red is on me.