Elks Open House Raises Money for Renovation Project
Tours Offer A Look Back In Time
June 8, 2023
Elks Lodge 1894 in Sidney hosted an Open House and fund raising event on Saturday for the renovation project of the auditorium and building at 1040 Jackson Street in Sidney. Area residents were welcomed into the building and offered tours of the facility, including the upstairs balcony that is slated for renovations and the old city offices located on the second floor.
Elks Lodge member Rob Kuhns gave us a tour of the upstairs area, and spoke about the history of the building. Although exact records are difficult to locate, from what is known, the City of Sidney purchased the land on which the building was built in 1929, and construction was started in 1930. After completion, the total cost of the land and building was estimated at $137,000, which would be about 2,489,000 dollars today.
The building housed city offices, the police department, and had a large auditorium for meetings and events. Over the years, many famous acts like Elvis Presley in the 1950's and more recently George Strait have played the auditorium. But as time progressed, the auditorium was being used less frequently, and the cost of maintaining and heating and cooling the space became prohibitive. In 1978, an insulated drop ceiling was suspended from the ceiling, covering over the first floor ceiling space and effectively shutting down the balcony area. The balcony used to contain 320 crafted wooden seats, but 18 of them were taken out and are missing.
“We have found 18 seats that are very similar and from the era when the originals were made, so we will be installing them to complete the seating area,” said Kuhns. As part of the renovation project, people can “sponsor” a seat and get an engraved brass plaque with their name that will be affixed to the armrest. Their are tiers of sponsorship that correspond with the seating locations.
Also on the second floor before the opening to the balcony are the old city offices, including the Police Department. “These officers back then had to be in good shape to go up and down these steps all the time,” said Kuhns as he opened the door to the old police department area, revealing a steep flight of steps going up. The police office itself is quite small, with a few small rooms that were used by the officers. The rooms were small in size, like most buildings of the time, to keep heating and cooling costs low. The area also has a lock-up with the original iron barred door and simple toilet facilities in the cell. There are many areas that inmates carved their names or saying into the walls, some dating back to the 1950's. Overall, a very interesting look into a time that used to exist in Cheyenne County, when things were a bit different.
Kuhns then talked about the windows of the building, which are numerous and styled for the times they were built. “Many of these windows would be very tricky to replace, as the frames are part of the structural integrity of the building, so we're looking into options,” said Kuhns. Removal of many of these windows would cause much of the brickwork to shift, so they would have to be very carefully removed and replaced. Kuhns spoke of another option that had just been offered, which would be to layer another pane of glass that would go over the original windows. This would keep the building original windows and the classic look for the building while acting as a sort of “storm window” with another pane of glass insulating the building and keeping heating and cooling costs down.
Kuhns also spoke of a number of “ghosts” that are reported to inhabit the space, but he did not mention whether or not he had ever encountered any wandering spirits in the building. But he did mention at Halloween time they would often set up some of the rooms in “haunted house” fashion, and the kids wandering through already were filled with tales of ghosts and supernatural beings in the building, so they were prime targets for pranks like a random doll left in an area that would move, causing scares of the children that are all a part of Halloween fun.
Kuhns said the first two projects of the renovation are the fixing and remodeling of the windows, which is a big task as the building has quite a large number of windows and portals. The next tasks will be upgrading the restrooms to be Americans With Disabilities Act compliant. The project is a very complex and challenging undertaking, but the support from the community so far shows that it can be accomplished.
“Sidney and the Cheyenne County area needs a facility like this for events and public usage. We need to make sure that this facility is properly renovated and brought back to its former prominence. Our area needs a space like this, and we're grateful for all of the community support we've received so far, and although it will be challenging, it will be very worth the effort and money used to renovate the building,” said Kuhns.