“In late August, veteran Chicago house DJ and organizer Craig Loftis launched a GoFundMe to try to save the Great Lakes Elks Lodge in Washington Park from closure. Loftis says the building is more than 100 years old, and that the Elks have occupied it for 86 years. He also runs an underground house club called the Lodge on its second floor.
“A century is a long time, and the wear and tear on the building has recently brought it unwanted government attention. ‘Due to a myriad of minor licensing and structural issues, it has become a lightning rod for city interference with our operations, and threatening our various existence,’ Loftis wrote in his GoFundMe appeal.
“Loftis began booking house-music events at the Elks Lodge at 5108 S. Prairie around eight years ago. ‘I’ve been an Elk myself for over 14 years,’ he says. ‘I just started to combine my being an Elk with my history in house music.’ Loftis, 60, says his history in house goes back to when he was 15 and became a member of the Warehouse. As he got more involved in the scene, Frankie Knuckles became a mentor—and so did Warehouse founder Robert Williams. “He and Frankie were the ones who taught me how to decorate,’ Loftis says.
“In 2015, Loftis brought an idea to his fellow Elks. ‘We had a ballroom that we were not utilizing, upstairs, on our second floor,’ he says. ‘So I talked the brothers into allowing me to host my house-music events.’ Because Elks Lodges are open only to Elks or to guests of Elks, Loftis launched Loftwerk Productions to manage the guests at his events. Everyone who’s signed up for a membership through the company—currently around 1,800 people, he says—is technically his guest at the lodge.
“‘We’ve hosted some of the largest names in house music,’ Loftis says. His bookings have included heavy hitters such as Ron Trent, Alan King of the Chosen Few, and Ron Carroll.
“Loftis says the trouble began two years ago, when a city inspector tried to examine part of the building that the Elks had closed off with a gate. The inspector noticed a decrepit column where a staircase used to be, Loftis recalls, and issued a violation. “The city has had me in court for the last year and a half,’ he says. Chicago building permit and inspection records note a violation from 2021 issued because personnel couldn’t gain access for an annual inspection.
“Loftis says fixing the broken column will cost between 30 and 50 thousand dollars. ‘I thought I could handle it myself,’ he says. ‘But I had to hire an attorney. Because we weren’t able to get that fixed right away, [the city has] petitioned for receivership.’ Loftis fears the building could be foreclosed upon if he doesn’t raise enough money to make repairs—those fixes are necessary to get the city to drop its petition. The shutdown of Washington Park house-music spot the Post in March would make the closure of the Lodge a second major blow to the south side’s house-music community.
“‘We will lose the last underground house-music establishment in the city of Chicago on the south side,’ Loftis says. He’s due back in court on Thursday, September 14, to fight for more time.” (J.R. Nelson and Galil, Chicago Reader, 9/12/23)