Tacoma Elks owners buy annex next door, tweak plans

Though an opening date for the downtown McMenamins Elks remains elusive, the Portland-based brew pub operators have doubled their investment in Tacoma by purchasing the property next door.

The land to the north was to be the site of an apartment-hotel complex, but financing for the deal collapsed this spring. McMenamins, which paid $1.2 million for the temple itself, subsequently exercised its option to buy the site for about $980,000.

Now, the temple’s annex building that was scheduled for demolition will be used for hotel rooms instead. The company also will stabilize the hillside and make other improvements, city staff member Elly Walkowiak said Monday.

Meanwhile, the behind-the-scenes work on McMenamins’ plans is in the final stretch.

Through the summer, architects have been revising plans for renovating the temple, built in 1916. Instead of counting on a 100-room hotel in the new building, architects added about half that many back to the temple. Those additions also led architects to recommend adding a skylight to the temple to provide light and air to some of the hotel rooms nestled in the interior of the building, as well as more windows to the annex, which was built in 1937.

Those changes come before Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission tonight. The revisions also have meant a new round of work on other permits, which city staff members said was continuing apace.

Since the deal to bring McMenamins to Tacoma was announced in 2009, the company has pushed the opening date several times. Most recently it had said it would open in the spring, but it’s clear that won’t happen. The company now lists Tacoma as opening in “late fall” of next year in its brochures.

“We don’t have anything official yet,” spokeswoman Renee Rank Ignacio said Tuesday, though she reiterated the general guideline of opening about a year after construction begins. Permitting is in the final stages, she confirmed, and the company still wants to begin construction before the end of the year.

The three-story annex once held a bowling alley and handball courts. It was built with a single row of windows on the third story, with one window in that row unevenly spaced. McMenamins’ new designs call for adding new windows to the second and first floors, as part of the hotel room conversion, and the proper spacing of the new windows ends up highlighting the oddness of the original window.

“We tried to stack the windows as close as we could,” said architect George Signori of Portland’s Ankrom Moisan. But if he followed the pattern of the original window, the new windows would end up opening on an exit stairwell instead of a hotel room.

Signori said moving the existing window into line is possible, though he would be surprised if landmarks commissioners ask for that.

“They like you to leave historic things in place,” he said. Anyway, Signori doesn’t think the odd window spacing is a big deal.

“Eventually there will be a building (on the current vacant lot), so eventually the annex wall will be a slot between two big buildings,” he said.

McMenamins also plans to install a skylight on the roof of the temple. Signori said the building’s original plans allowed for a skylight, even though one wasn’t ultimately built. Adding it now will allow natural light and air into the sixth floor, where 12 hotel rooms will encircle eight rooms that open only to an interior hallway – picture a bull’s eye with just two rings.

That space once was a large open room the Elks used for ceremonial functions, Signori said. A large, more traditional concert venue will be maintained on a lower floor.

Last month the commission rejected plans for the skylight that would have had part of the structure visible on the roof in a asymmetrical, lean-to fashion. Commission members asked for something symmetrical, in line with the building’s design, as well as something with less height. It got both, said city historic preservation officer Reuben McKnight. Rough sketches show it will be barely visible.