Bothell, King County — Excuse me, please, while I sip Black Rabbit Red wine.
Mmm. Black, peppery overtone, yet velvety smooth.
Now, where was I?
Oh, yes. The beginning.
Let me tell you a true tale with its ending nearly written.
To get into the storytelling spirit, I came to the McMenamins Anderson School for a celebratory glass of the McMenamins private-label wine.
In 2003, as The News Tribune’s business columnist, I set a goal to persuade Portland’s McMenamin brothers to bring one of their signature brewpub/theater/music venue/hotel establishments to Tacoma.
Their modus operandi involves sensitively restoring discarded historic properties and creating getaway destinations. They did it with a 1911 poor farm in Troutdale, Oregon. A 1936 Catholic School in Bend, Oregon. And they did it with this 1916-built junior high school in Bothell.
Within a few months, they will have done it with Tacoma’s 1916 Elks Temple.
How did this happen?
In November 2003, I wrote a column headlined “An Open Letter to the McMenamin Brothers.” In it, I highlighted nine historic Tacoma properties that matched the McMenamin style.
Mike McMenamin responded. Would I show him around town?
Are you kidding?
One building captivated Mike. He walked inside the water-logged, graffiti-defaced ruins of the once-grand Elks Temple and set his laser distance measure on the ballroom floor.
“Wow! That’s a 28-foot ceiling,” he said with a sparkle in his eyes. Call it love at first sight.
Alas, that love became a 15-year-long rollercoaster ride. The McMenamins lost their first bid for the Elks. The economy tanked. The City of Tacoma bought the Temple to preserve and resell. The brothers had their hands full with other projects, like the Anderson School.
But love finds a way.
Now, 15 years later, I met Mike and Brian McMenamin, and Mike’s daughter, Shannon, atop the Spanish Steps on the bustling construction site of McMenamins Elks Temple.
I saw that sparkle in three pairs of eyes.
We talked about the basics: the grand lobby with fireplace, the intricate restorations of original Beaux Arts details, the seven floors of wonders obvious and so secret you will have to come back to discover them all, the 46 hotel rooms, the bar that will open onto the Spanish Steps, the tiki bar and waterfall in the basement, the two unique music venues.
Then Brian removed his hard hat and swiped his shirtsleeve across a sweaty brow. “Everything’s got a story,” he said. “This building. History is wrapped into everything … and it’s starting to come alive. Every floor will have a story.”
“This building is a layer cake,” Shannon said.
“That ballroom. One of the greatest on the planet,” Mike said. “What it is we’re trying to accomplish on the sixth floor, I can’t really explain. And the fifth floor, you’ll have a hard time finding.”
Why did I write that open letter to the McMenamins years ago?
Why, within 12 hours after I wrote another “McMenamins-in-the-Elks” story, did more than 180 readers directly email the brothers echoing the plea?
Because the mystique behind the brothers’ touch goes beyond saving a landmark with food, music, and lodging.
Tacoma needed this match.
The Elks Temple project, I told the McMenamin trio, will lift the collective community psyche and inject new energy into this city unlike anything in recent memory.
Mike McMenamin flinched.
“Oh, no,” he said. “That makes us extremely nervous hearing something like that. We’re just having fun with the restoration and seeing what it can become.”
Last question. Of all your magnificent 60-some destinations crafted over nearly 30 years, what’s your favorite?
Eyes sparkling, Mike said: “This one.”