In his weekly column, Thomas Dimopoulos takes us down the back streets of Saratoga to bring us the city's best stories
Joseph Moore was seated at a table inside the lodge, his blue cap napping atop his knee. An overhead sign instructs all who enter to remove their hats.
“I came to Saratoga in 1959, three or four of us in a car coming up from Portsmouth, Virginia, where they told me you could find a job.” He landed summer work at the Rip Van Dam hotel, but when he returned home to Virginia, Saratoga was on his mind. “I couldn’t get back here fast enough,” he remembered, his sneakered-foot tapping atop the checkerboard pattern that wandered across the dining room floor.
“I went over to Skidmore, where I started out as a lowly pot-washer and worked my way up. I took my training from the guys who were already chefs there ahead of me,” he remembered. “Moore Hall was the main dining room then and after I’d been there for a while, we made the move to the new campus. I loved the job. I loved the work.”
He retired his chef’s hat after 47 years at the college. These days he wears the hat of Exalted Ruler at the Frederick Allen Lodge. The fraternal organization is a branch of The Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, formed in Ohio in 1898 by two black men who were denied membership to an all-white Elks Club. Moore has been involved with the local branch since the early 1970s. The club was formed in 1925 and is named after original member Frederick Joseph Allen.
“We called him ‘Grandpa Allen’ and he was a trip,” recalled Johnnie Roberts, who is the program coordinator at the Saratoga Springs Heritage Area Visitor Center. Allen was Roberts’ great-grandfather.
“I remember him being very well-dressed and dignified in the way that he carried himself. He was very observant and quiet. And he was sharp as a tack.” Allen, who was born in 1862 during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, lived to the age of 104 - long enough to witness the British invasion of The Beatles. “He lived for a very long time and he worked in to his nineties,” Roberts said. “He worked for the city. He was the DPW before there was a DPW. When the boiler broke down, or someone had to fix the pipes and sweep the alley - there was Grandpa Allen.”
Her childhood memory recalls the meticulously-dressed man seated in his easy chair in his starched white shirt, suspenders, and high-top boots inside the family living room where Penn Street is bookended by Doten Avenue and Joshua Road on the city’s south side. “When I got up to go to school, Grandpa Allen was already up and dressed. That was when he was about 90 years old so I can’t imagine what he was like when he was younger.”
The original founders of the lodge that bears Allen’s name initially held meetings at members’ homes before setting up shop on Congress Street. A combination of urban renewal and raging fires in the 1960s forced the lodge to relocate to Beekman Street where today it keeps company with art studios, upscale pubs, a coffeehouse and a tattoo shop. Like many fraternal organizations, however, the group has been hard hit in recent times. The grand galas at the Canfield Casino and the street parades are reminders of an era that has passed. Where membership once swelled to more than 100, today there are less than 20 active members. “As the years go, you lose members by their passing,” Moore said. In 2005, the building sat vacant for 10 months. The utilities were shut off, and pipes that had frozen during the winter burst, resulting in floods and a damaged roof in the historical building that once housed the popular Fusco’s Restaurant with its windows that date back to the 1840s.
Seemingly at its lowest point, an effort was launched to bring the building back. Grants were secured, preservation groups got involved, community volunteers pitched in to help, and the lodge began staging annual jazz barbecue fundraisers. The women’s auxiliary group – The Mary A. Carter Temple – hosts an annual fundraising fashion show.
The lodge as it stands today
Slowly, the building and the groups who inhabit it are making a comeback. An initiation ceremony for new members will take place this weekend and the goal is to restore the building, and the group, to its former glory.
“It’s being rescued,” Moore said. “From the ground up.”
Thomas Dimopoulos is a local author who has a knack for storytelling, and a gift for finding some of the best-kept secrets in Saratoga Springs.
You can follow Thomas on Twitter at @thomdimopoulos
Photo Credits: Thomas Dimopoulos
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