The last dance at the Tacoma Elks Lodge
Nearly all the tables were taken an hour before the music began at 8 p.m. on Saturday night at the Tacoma Elks Lodge.
This was The Last Dance, the final event to grace the lodge ballroom before the wrecking ball arrives in July.
And The Great Pretenders a Northwest rock-and-roll band born in 1971 and steadily employed for 41 years would play.
Built in 1965, the Tacoma lodge once housed the nations largest contingent within the whole of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks. Counting more than 10,000 members at the peak, today the Tacoma outpost still boasts the largest membership in the state, and with more than 2,000 members it ranks as one of the Top 10 in the country, according to general manager Ron Forest.
But a Walmart will soon rise in its place, and a new lodge will be built on the grounds of nearby Allenmore Golf Course.
The lodge that once contained 110,000 square feet will be gone by next year, and the new lodge, at 39,000 square feet, will replace it still offering handball courts, a workout gym, steam room and saunas, billiards, meeting rooms, a sports bar and public restaurant.
On Saturday night the line for drinks soon grew deep. Servers hurried from table to table as patrons called out their orders.
The band arrived.
The Andrews Sisters once played this room, and members recall other acts.
George Cobean, a Tacoma Elk, remembers a Hawaiian group that used to pack the house. There was a xylophone group from Las Vegas. They packed the house too.
Tonight it would be rock and roll.
Forest said Danny Kaye played here, as did Tacomas own Bing Crosby.
This is the way it used to be, he said, looking across the room. Every Friday and Saturday night, standing room only. If you didnt have a reservation, you didnt get in.
More than 400 people have come this night to listen, to dance, and remember.
In the time Ive been here, The Great Pretenders bring the biggest crowd, Forest said. They have a great following. When I got here, they used to have Lawrence Welk music. My wife and I used to go down to the Firwood.
Thats where the band once played, at the Firwood Tavern.
A disco ball spins, casting soft flashes of light across the ceiling. Long strands of silver tinsel shimmer at the back of the stage.
Heat rises throughout the room as lead singer and Great Pretenders founder Charlie Hollis begins the first set with Sea Cruise.
Baby let me take you on a - sea cruise.
Eighty couples, maybe more, take to the floor.
They walk hand-in-hand, and they dance. Some swing with long-practiced steps, others bop, or hop, while others simply sway.
Great Balls of Fire follows, with its keyboard glissando.
Three Tacoma Police officers are on duty out front to deter souvenir hunters who might seek a piece of history.
When the time comes, the old grandfather clock in the lobby will make the trek across the street. So will the Bluthner grand piano, built in Leipzig in 1910. The trophies and plaques will rest in storage until next year, as will all the fraternal regalia and the montage of photographs of stalwart past exalted rulers going back to William Reid, who served through 1891.
Some fixtures and equipment have been sold to other lodges, like Bremerton, Burien, Lake Sammamish, Lakewood.
The Tacoma lodge was chartered in 1890 and moved in 1915 from its early headquarters on Commerce Street to the iconic white lodge on Broadway. Some 48,000 men and women have been members over the past 122 years, Forest said.
And along with the Walmart, developers will use these 18 acres along South Union Avenue to house a medical building and retail shops.
Still in the first set, Hollis slows the music for Its You Alone, with its molten saxophone, and the couples are dancing cheek-to-cheek.
This is the prom without awkward expectations.
Brad Cyrier sings, Do you Wanna Dance?
And yes, they do.
The band plays three sets, 41 songs. By 9 p.m., women are fanning themselves with menus against the heat.
Im sad, but its going to be good (to move), said Russ Harr, an Elk of 47 years. I think its going to be a great thing.
One woman recalled, I used to come here when I was a kid. Wed go bowling, and my brothers would get their hair cut.
At the end of the second set, offstage, Hollis said, Normally by the second set therell only be 70 to 90 people left, but not tonight. Look at this, theres what, 200?
This has been the best crowd weve had in 10 months. Why did they wait until the end? asked Dawn Feller, a cocktail server.
She said the nights most popular drink was rum-and-Coke, and beer.
Two songs from the end of The Last Dance comes Sea of Love.
Out on the deck, where a cool breeze blows, one couple slowly dances in the dark, tightly embracing.
Do you remember the day we met...
And all but only a few people walk down to the floor at midnight for the last song at The Last Dance.
Gimme Some Lovin.
They looked like they could have danced all firstname.lastname@example.org