Elks club is moving out of town

March 15, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

The Annapolis Elks, who lost their liquor license because their bylaws bar women, would rather leave town than change.

The deadline is midnight.

"It's a shame," Rusty Sears, former exalted ruler of Annapolis Elks 622, said as he walked through the club's old home, now a darkened, empty building on Rowe Boulevard. "But we're going to stand our ground and stick together."

The Elks tried to fight a 1990 city ordinance denying liquor licenses to any social club with discriminatory measures on its books. The Elks Lodge, which also has never admitted a black member in its 95-year history, sued to block the law's enforcement.

An Anne Arundel Circuit Court decision invalidated the law and allowed the Annapolis Elks to keep its liquor license in 1992. The club lost its battle last year when the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the Annapolis law.

Rather than give up its liquor license, which enables the Elks to serve business lunches and promote evening socials, the group sold its lodge to the state for $3.5 million. The club agreed to move out by midnight.

The Elks club, known in the area for its fund raising and charity work, will move into a temporary lodge at Parole Plaza. Money from the sale will be used to build a new complex on 12 acres in Edgewater at Route 2 and Aris T. Allen Boulevard.

As the Elks work to finish to get out by midnight, some critics are not sure if the club's defeat is worth celebrating.

"I think it's a victory that they're not going to get their liquor license," said Carol Gerson, a businesswoman who tried to join the Elks five years ago. "But it's a very sad day in Maryland when they can move out of Annapolis to avoid having women as members."

The Elks have had other controversies in their history.

In 1975, the U.S. Justice Department investigated the case of Tony Bryant, an 8-year-old black youth who was denied a spot on a Little League football team run by the Elks. The Elks were forced to allow him on the white team and pay a $10,000 settlement.

Elk membership rules do not specifically mention race, and specify only that all members be male, at least 21 years old and believe in God. But a new law passed this year by the Annapolis City Council would withhold liquor licenses from clubs whose enrollment policies and club practices -- not just bylaws -- are discriminatory.

The Elks deny any biased membership policies and argue they have no control over the national bylaws specifying that the club be all-male. And, they add, wives, widows and daughters of male members can join a separate organization, the Ladies Auxiliary of the Annapolis Elks.

About 1,200 men belong to the Annapolis Elks, and 245 women are members of the auxiliary, members said. Mr. Sears said the female members are so wedded to the club's traditions that they didn't want to move.

"If you ask the ladies, it's lots and lots of tears and sadness about the move," he said. "I think you'll find the lady members take it the hardest."

The controversy closes the doors on the building where Elks have convened for the past 34 years. The facility, with at least 10 rooms including a ballroom and lounge, was considered to be one of the best-appointed of the 41 lodges in Maryland.

Today, it is a cavern. There's a gaping socket where a chandelier once hung, bald spots on the wallpaper where four elks' heads were mounted and a soggy mess where the bar used to be.

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