Overlooking a quiet corner of Lincoln Park stands a large domed Beaux Arts building.
Life-sized bronze elks offer the only outward clue to the building’s identity: the Elks National Memorial and Headquarters.
Honoring the war dead
In the years after the first World War, numerous memorials were built to honor the sacrifice of those who died in service. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, a fraternal organization, launched a competition to design a fitting memorial to its 1000+ fallen members. The American Institute of Architects reviewed seven strong design proposals and selected Egerton Swartwout to build the memorial.
Swartwout honed his Beaux Arts design skills at the noted firm of McKim Mead & White, where he had a hand in designing Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library, whose dome bears some resemblance to the memorial. Swartwout was also a principal of the firm selected to build the Missouri State Capitol, completed in 1917.
A monumental war memorial
Swartwout brought his experience designing lavish Beaux Arts buildings to the memorial project. It truly is monumental with its enormous dome resting on encircling columns, executed in durable Indiana limestone.
One of the interior’s dominant features is an immense rotunda, decorated with a spectrum of colored marbles imported from Greece, Austria, France, Belgium and Italy—as well as Vermont, Tennessee, Alabama and Missouri. Lavish frescoes, chandeliers, statuary and stained glass windows show that no expense was spared to memorialize the victims of war.
A living memorial
Since its dedication in 1924, the Elks National Memorial has also served as the national headquarters of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Over the years, the building has been re-dedicated several times to serve as a remembrance of Elks who died in all wars. Harboe Architects completed an extensive but sensitive restoration and renovation in 2013, ensuring that this awe-inspiring building will continue on for many years as a living memorial to those who died.