Elks-a-Plenty — 1908

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Begirt with ruffles and studded with elks…

by Paula Bosse

Conventions have always been important to Dallas. One of the most important conventions ever to descend upon the city was the annual convention of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks in July 1908. There were approximately 38,000 attendees, but when you added to that number spouses and various others with business, social, or just looky-loo interests, it was estimated that more than 100,00 out-of-towners clogged the streets of our fair burg during the time of the convention. Dallas was a sizeable city in 1908, but the sudden swarming into town of 100,000 people (twice the actual population of the city!) must have been… challenging. (And profitable!)

Dallas welcomed the Elks with enthusiasm and open arms. Everyone knew they were coming, and everywhere there were splashes of the Elk colors, purple and white. A special (and later notorious) semi-permanent arch was erected to span Main Street at Akard. And businesses competed with one another to see who could decorate their building with the most spectacular and festive bunting.

Above is a photo of the Dallas Morning News Building at the northwest corner of Commerce and Lamar, crammed full of flags, bunting, pennants, cowbells, lights, little statues of elks, medium-sized statues of elks, and large statues of elks. (There is an elk in every window.) It also had a large clock erected which was perpetually stuck at an Elk-y 11:00 and a parallelogram-shaped sign which lit up to flash the Elk greeting “Hello, Bill!” So… a lot. But what might seem like overkill — like The News was trying a little too hard to be noticed… the Elks loved it. LOVED IT. They loved it so much that they awarded the newspaper an award of $250 for the best decorated building in the city (that would be about $8,000 in today’s money!). Scroll down to read a breathless description of these decorations, with details of absolutely everything that was flapping, clanging, flashing, billowing, and throbbing at Commerce and Lamar in the summer of 1908. (I have to put this sentence from the article here because I love it so much: “To the bottom of each of these flags are attached small cowbells of different tones, so that with every strong whiff of wind there is a discordant but merry jingle.”)

So, those elk statues. I mean… they’re fantastic. Little elks in every window, illuminated by a single electric bulb positioned “between the forefeet” of each mini-elk. And then there are the larger ones appearing to step out of — or off of — the building. But back to those little elks — are you wondering what happened to them after the conventioneers headed back home? Wonder no more!

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Dallas Morning News, July 18, 1908

That would have been a great souvenir!

The photo at the top of this post (by Frank B. Secrest of Hunt County) was issued that summer as a postcard. The News did not miss an opportunity to mention it:

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DMN, Aug. 7, 1908

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And because I love to zoom in on these sorts of photos, here are a few magnified details:

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Here is a lengthy description of the decorations, from The Dallas Morning News — direct from the horse’s mouth:

To decorate The News Building in celebration of the coming of the Elks has been the labor of two men for more than a month, and of a dozen for two days: for, though it was only three days ago that the first bit of color appeared on the outer walls, the preparations were begun in the seclusion of a workshop early in June. The draping of the building with bunting and flags was done under the direction of W. T. Senter of the National Decorating Company of St. Louis, and of Edward A. Gebhard, librarian of The News. In working out their scheme they have used 4,200 yards of bunting, purple, white and purple, and twenty-four immense flags, and disposed of it in such artistic fashion as to avoid a sense of crowding.

PURPLE, WHITE AND PURPLE RUFFLES

The building is thrice begirt with big ruffles of purple, white and purple. But, to begin at the topmost, three large flags, one the United States, another the Texas and the other The News’ flag, float high above the Lamar street side of the building. To the bottom of each of these flags are attached small cowbells of different tones, so that with every strong whiff of wind there is a discordant but merry jingle. From one to the other of the flagstaffs hundreds of small pennants in the colors of the Elks flutter gayly in the breeze. Festooned from the heavy cornice which crowns the building are heavy folds of purple, white and purple so arranged that with every vagrant breeze it swells and sinks like the surface of water. Once on the Lamar street side, over the entrance, again at the corner and once on the Commerce street side this bunting is gathered around an immense United States flag, fashioned fan-shape. Poised on the cornice of the building at the corner, as if surveying the land preparatory of a leap, is the graceful figure of an elk, five and a half feet high, made out of plaster of Paris, painted and enameled until he glistens.

The two lower ledges of the building are draped in similar fashion, except that the streamers at these places are narrower than those that festoon the cornice. Above the main entrance on the Lamar street side and extending from below the second story to the third-story ledge is the piece de resistance. Here set in an embrasure of the building, is a clock dial twelve feet in diameter. The gilt letters marking the divisions of the circle are two feet high. The hands point to the hour of 11. The pure white head and shoulders of an elk seven feet high are shown in the center one foot forward, as if he were about to emerge from the fluffy mass of purple and white bunting that forms the background dial. On each side an immense flag is gathered in a way to make it fan-shaped. Circling the clock dial are six large incandescent lights.

WHOLE HERD OF ELKS

From the third-story corner of the building, above which stands a five and one-half foot Elk, as if surveying the country from a precipice, are festooned two twelve-foot flags that fall almost to the second-story ledge of the building. One is gathered around on the Commerce and the other on the Lamar street side. And there yet remains to speak of the most distinctive feature of the whole scheme of decoration. The News, in preparation for this event, had made a whole herd of elks. There are forty-two of them, each thirty-two inches tall, and one, mounted on a pedestal, stands poised from the ledge of every window in the building. They are pure white, made of plaster Paris, painted twice and then enameled. Between the forefeet of every one is an electric bulb. The elks are from models designed by Mr. Gebhard and were cast in The News Building.

BRILLIANT ILLUMINATION

Of course the whole building is brilliantly lighted. In addition to the electricity used ordinarily, which lights the exterior of The News Building pretty well, bulbs have been studded profusely midst the decorations and over the Lamar street entrance is a parallelogram of electric lights which illuminate the sign, “Hello, Bill!”

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The article then launches into more self-promotion, with an, admittedly, interesting description of the layout of the News Building:

ATTRACTS GENERAL ATTENTION

The building of The News attracted general attention from the thousands of visiting Elks. Many expressed their surprise that a city the size of Dallas had such a complete, modern building and equipment, and the compliments concerning The News as a newspaper have been very pleasing.

The News Building has all the modern fireproof features. It occupies a space of 300×100, having three floors and a basement, the whole being used by the newspaper. Its business office is one of the handsomest in the State, and, as one visitor remarked, it looks more like a prosperous bank than the ordinary newspaper office.

The first floor is given up to the business and circulation departments, the press room and the mailing department. In the basement are the paper storage rooms and the power department. On the second floor are the editorial rooms, telegraph rooms and the general circulation department and the newspaper job department, besides the Employes’ Library and Recreation Room. On the third floor are the composing and the linotype rooms, the stereotype room and the engraving department.

INDIVIDUAL ELECTRIC MOTORS

Every piece of machinery in the house is operated by its own individual electric motor. Power is supplied from two immense engines and generators combined, the engine room being one of the show places in the building, having a metal ceiling and white glazed brick on the walls, with a cement floor. The press room contains two three-deck presses, one quadruple press and one sextuple press.

TWO DAILY NEWSPAPERS

The Dallas News is the offspring of The Galveston News, which was established in 1842. The two papers are under the same management. The publication offices of The News, Galveston and Dallas, 315 miles apart, are connected by special wires for interchange of news matter. The Galveston paper supplies the southern part of the State and the Louisiana border, while the other covers all North Texas and goes well into Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

THREE SPECIAL TRAINS

For upward of a quarter of a century the two papers have operated at their own expense, every day in the year, three special newspaper trains, one running Galveston to Houston, one Dallas to Denison and the third Dallas to Fort Worth. The Dallas News covers hundreds of thriving towns throughout its territory, many of them before breakfast time, through its unrivaled facilities of distribution. Starting in 1885, The Dallas News has been a continuous success, and has achieved an enviable reputation wherever American newspapers are known. As an advertising medium it is in a class by itself so far as papers in this section of the country are concerned. Starting at 1885 with thirty-three classified ads in its Sunday issue, it now runs each Sunday about 2,000. It is a success because it is enterprising and because it is clean, both in its news columns and in its advertising columns; because it is fair-minded and because its efforts have always been uplifting from a moral and intellectual standpoint and fair to every interest.

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And then it launches into many, many testimonials from Elk visitors on how much they love the decorations. This is the first. You get the idea.

J. T. McNulty of Baltimore, grand trustee of the Elks, prominent in National circles of the Knights of Columbus and a central figure in the Ancient Order of Hibernians of America, who has traveled largely and visited every State in the Union, being prominent in business and political circles said: “I have been to many conventions, my son, and have seen many decorations, but the one at The News plant, in my estimation ‘takes the cake,’ figuratively and literally speaking. It is the most unique, the most artistic and the most beautiful I have ever seen in all my attendance at conventions in this country, and I have attended many of them. I was agreeably surprised at the way Dallas has decorated, but nothing gave me such a shock of pleasurable surprise as the first sight I had of The News’ decorations.”

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And this is the dark and grainy photo that ran with the article:

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DMN, July 15, 1908

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I kinda want an elk statue now. Also, according to the article, I now know the Morning News has its own flag. Can someone point me to more info?

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Sources & Notes

Top photo — titled “[The News, First Prize for Decorations, Dallas, Texas]” — is from the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University; more info on this photograph (postcard) can be found here.

Lengthy quote is from the article “Dallas News Building Decorated In Honor of the Elk’s Grand Lodge Which Is Now Holding Its Annual Session and Grand Jubilee in This City,” The Dallas Morning News, July 15, 1908.

More Elks-related Flashback Dallas posts:

And more photos of this beautiful Dallas News Building can be found in these posts:

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Copyright © 2022 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.