January 20, 2003

The Sun Buys Elks Building

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The Alumni Association of The Cornell Daily Sun has purchased the newspaper’s first permanent home in downtown Ithaca.

The Alumni Association closed on the former lodge of the Elks fraternal organization Friday. The building is located at 139 W. State St., two blocks from The Sun’s current location. This is the first building that the Sun Alumni Association has acquired for the newspaper’s operations.

“This move has been 120 plus years in the making,” said Stan Chess ’69, president of the Alumni Association and a former editor in chief of The Sun.

The Alumni Association had been in negotiations with the Elks since February, after two years of looking at properties throughout Ithaca, including Collegetown.

“When The Sun began this process, we had two goals. One was to find a permanent home for The Sun and the other was to find superior space to our current offices,” said Beth Herskovits ’03, the Sun’s editor in chief. “Although we considered Collegetown, we couldn’t find a property that would fulfill both of those goals — which the Elks building did.”

Herskovits noted that The Sun has historically rented office space downtown as a symbol of their financial independence from Cornell University.

The Sun currently rents offices downtown at 119 S. Cayuga St., and has been there for the past 11 years.

“We really wanted The Sun to stay downtown,” said Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Ithaca Downtown Partnership. “I always that it was very important for The Sun to have a community presence.”

According to Laurie Shapiro ’73, a vice president at HSBC Bank who specializes in small business commercial development, the Alumni Association was initially denied a loan because it is a relatively new organization with few assets. However, she noted, “To me this is the kind of thing that the bank should be involved in” both because HSBC specializes in small business lending and because the bank is the largest retail banking system in the state.

Shapiro, who also sits on Cornell’s real estate committee, said she pushed for the partnership between HSBC and the Alumni Association. “A lot of people in the bank worked on this credit,” she said. “For me, it’s a win-win situation.”

The cornerstone of the Elks Building was laid in 1916. The building was built as an Elks Lodge, and originally cost the Ithaca Elks about $35,000 to construct.

“They were over budget and … had to raise the money,” said Louis Withiam, district deputy to the Grand Exalted Ruler of the Elks.

Withiam commented on the worksmanship of the building, especially the room on the top floor in which Elks meetings have been held twice a month since the building’s opening in 1917.

Because of the detailed woodwork and masonry involved in the room’s construction, Whithiam said he believed it would cost “about $500,000 to build a room like that now,” Withiam said.

In 1903, the Elks chapter in Butte, Mont., presented the Ithaca chapter with the trademark elk’s head at the building’s entrance, Withiam noted.

The Elks were forced to sell building as they saw their membership dwindle over the last century; fraternal organizations across the northeast have also declined in influence. While once boasting a membership in the ten-thousands, they currently have only 500 members.

“There’s a lot of emotion there for a lot of people, including myself,” Withiam said. “But it was time to let go.”

The Elks will continue to occupy the ground floor of the building, renting it from the Alumni Association indefinitely.

“We’re very pleased with our working relationship with the Elks and we hope it continues,” Chess said.

Archived article by Maggie Frank