Nevada City Elks and their Pine Street building |

Nevada City Elks and their Pine Street building

Last time, we featured the Pine Street building whose upstairs formerly housed the Nevada City Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks’ lodge hall, and its destruction by the disastrous fire of March 2002. After the fire, the structure, portions of which dated to the 19th century, was leveled “unto the bare earth.” We remember the building before the fire as being two stories with a facade of buff brick (see photo). Through the years various commercial tenants have occupied street level stores. At one time in the 1960s, an off-set weekly newspaper was printed on premises. Let’s go back to mid-19th century and the structure’s beginning.

The building

The first floor base of this structure dated to the 1860s. It consisted of three separate, single-story buildings with 3-plus foot thick brick walls. The buildings shared common walls, a practice in general use at that time.

During the last half of the 19th century, Nevada City survived fires which destroyed much of the downtown. By the time of the last major fire in 1863, most commercial buildings had been or were in the process of being constructed of brick. Many boasted iron shutters that covered windows as well as entrances. A few of those shutters are in place today. During World War II, some shutters were donated to scrap drives and melted down as part of the “war effort.”

At the time of their installation, it as thought that they would serve as fireproofing for the building and that a merchant’s stock in trade would escape fire damage. Additionally, it was supposed that anyone remaining within a structure so protected would be safe from the fire. That was not so. The heat generated by the fire caused the combustion of flammable material and the oxygen within a building was soon depleted. There are recorded incidents of people suffocating who had sought shelter with the supposed protection offered by the shutters.

Founding of the Elks

Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian came to the United States in 1867, from Devonshire County, England, landing in New York. His deceased father had been an Anglican clergyman, and had provided well for his early education. The boy was an excellent student but an even more accomplished actor. While still in his teens, he took to the stage and it was mutual.

Vivian entertained groups of friends and loved the fellowship these gatherings produced. He was only 21 years old when he organized a society to “promote, protect, and enhance the welfare and happiness of each other.” The group became known as the Jolly Corks and counted many fellow thespians in its ranks.

Vivian joined a theatrical troupe touring the United States. In cities across the country, he found kindred spirits willing to join him in establishing additional groups. On Feb. 16, 1868, the Jolly Corks became the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. The order was an instant hit and lodges were established in many of the towns Vivian’s troupe visited.

While playing in a Colorado mining town, Charles Vivian contracted pneumonia and died. He was 34.

Nevada City lodge is born

Some 30 years were to elapse after the Jolly Corks became the Elks before the local lodge was instituted. On Oct. 14, 1899, Nevada City #518 B.P.O.E. became part of the national fraternity. The locals first held Friday night meetings in the Odd Fellows lodge rooms in that building, which still stands on Broad Street.

Membership increased and by 1912, the Elks had acquired the three shops on Pine Street which were to become the base of their new quarters. Construction of a second floor over the existing structures began. Reinforced concrete walls with brick above and a wooden floor and flat roof were built. In March 1913, the upstairs was occupied and became the new home of the Nevada City Elks.

A year later in July 1914, the first of the building’s three fires gutted the place. Rebuilding was rapid and meetings resumed in January 1915. A second fire did extensive damage in 1961. A picture of the smoke-stained structure appeared on the front page of the Sacramento Union. The upstairs was quickly rebuilt and occupied.

By 1997, the lodge found that it required larger quarters to include a parking lot. On a parcel of land facing State Highway 49, west of Nevada City, a new Elks home was built and serves today.

The Pine Street building was sold to local investors, the upstairs remodeled and new tenants moved in. The third and fatal fire, outlined last time was in March 2002.

Tenants through the years

The ground floor has always had tenants. Some former occupants were the Chamber of Commerce, Berliner & Ginnis, printers and publishers; Steger Automotive Supply, an auto parts store; Evergreen Press, today’s businesses and countless other commercial ventures.

Bob Wyckoff is a retired Nevada County newspaper editor/publisher and author of local Nevada County history available at your favorite local bookstore. He can be contacted at: or PO Box 216, Nevada City CA 95959.

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