Is Bloomington's B.G. Pollard Lodge still an endangered landmark?
Editor's note: In honor of Black History Month, The Herald-Times is publishing Black stories, both current and historical, throughout the month of February. A new installment will be published each weekday.
Once a lively social center of the 1950s, overgrowth now runs rampant at the B.G. Pollard Lodge. Unpruned shrubs crowd close to the building and plant crowns nearly reach the height of the roof. Ivy leaves spread over the exterior walls like cobwebs. A rusted pole vaguely denotes the site's illustrious past.
Just under two years ago, this cornerstone of Bloomington Black history was flagged by Hoosier preservationists as one of the most endangered landmarks in the state. Statewide advocacy groups were concerned about the lodge's future, if it were to fall into deeper disrepair or even potentially be demolished, the loss would erase a big piece of city history.
With the list designed as a way to raise community awareness for potential rescue, is the lodge still considered endangered?
B.G. Pollard Lodge and Indiana Landmarks' endangered list
"It's a little complicated," answered Mark Dollase, vice president of preservation services of Indiana Landmarks. Indiana Landmarks is a statewide, private historic preservation organization that has maintained a top 10 endangered list since 1991 as a way to signal where resources should be directed in order to best preserve often forgotten pieces of Hoosier history.
The annual list highlights sites with a complex set of issues — such as a lack of upkeep, abandonment or proposed demolition — that are contributing to their potential demise. While it was featured in 2021's slate of sites, the lodge has been removed from the current list — at least for now, with Dollase noting Indiana Landmarks still has some lingering concerns about its future.
"I don’t know we feel that it’s 100% where it needs to be, but it's definitely moved in that direction," Dollase said.
History of B.G. Pollard Lodge in Bloomington
Many factors are considered before identifying a site as a landmark, Dollase explained. The National Park Service recommends buildings must be at least 50 years old to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, the site must have the same or similar appearance to the original structure. Preservationists also look at the site's cultural significance, such as its architecture or historical context. That last category is what drew Indiana Landmarks' attention toward the Pollard Lodge due to its significant role within Bloomington's African American community.
The structure was first built in 1950 as a basement by the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the World, a Black fraternal organization, with a plan to later add an upper-level space. Nicknamed the "Hole," the lodge soon became a social hub and safe haven for African Americans when they were not welcome at many local restaurants and businesses. The social center persisted for decades, up until the 1980s. Several older Black residents who frequented the Hole, including local historian Elizabeth Mitchell, have fond memories of it.
"For me, it was life saving," Mitchell told The Herald-Times in a past article. "The Hole just saved me. It was my refuge."
In 1981, the Elks raised more than $100,000 to build an upper floor and renovate the basement. This upper floor was later used as office space for the West Side Youth Development program, which provided job training to students. Formally closed in the 1990s, the lodge has remained largely vacant for the past few decades. Right now, it is privately owned and used for storage.
In 2021, Indiana Landmarks attributed the lodge's endangerment status to local politics. Dollase said the city council's update of the Unified Development Ordinance could allow developers to demolish sites that sit on large plots more easily. Since the lodge is still privately owned, preservationists were also worried about the potential of future owners demolishing the building or allowing its condition to deteriorate.
Since then, some things have changed. Dollase has since had several conversations with the lodge's private owner, who shared a plan to eventually renovate the building in order to live there during retirement. No demolition plan has been proposed for the site. Additionally, Dollase praised city personnel for more concentrated efforts in raising the profile of that neighborhood's history through local designation and education programming. These factors have soothed Indiana Landmark's concerns and it is no longer considered endangered. However, the building remains on the nonprofit's informal, internal watch list.
"It’s not like we tucked it away and we’re not worried about it anymore. We still have an eye out on the building and how it will be actively reused in the future," Dollase said.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Is Bloomington's B.G. Pollard Lodge still on Indiana Landmarks list?