Located at 22 Fifth Avenue South in Downtown St. Cloud, Pioneer Place on Fifth was originally built as an Elks Club in 1913. The grand granite pillars and regal steps made the building a landmark for the time. On the facade of the building you will see two clocks carved in stone that are permanently rested at 11 o’clock, the time when Elks were to have a moment of silence for their fallen brothers. Also inset in stone are the letters BPOE, which stood for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.The upstairs of the building originally housed chambers, which were small rooms where fellow Elks could spend the night. Each chamber had running water, hardwood floors and individual radiators for heat. The upstairs is also home to one of the most admired points of interest – The King. The King is a turn-of-the-century porcelain floor model urinal. This urinal has become quite a tourist attraction at Pioneer Place on Fifth and is actually listed as one of the WORLD’S TOP 100 URINALS on the strange website www.urinal.net/pioneer_place.
Where the main theater is located now was the Elks Grand Ballroom, and originally had a balcony that extended beyond the lower level seats. The hardwood floors are still intact in the theater.
Ownership of the building changed hands many times after the Elks moved their headquarters to what is now the Coborn’s Corporate Office. The building has housed everything from apartments to gift shops, and offices to the home of County Stearns Theatrical Company.
Mark and Dan Barth purchased the facility in February of 1997 and began a major renovation to turn Pioneer Place on Fifth into a sound stage for their video production company, Diversified Media Resources, Inc. During Phase I of the remodel, a decision was made to leave the theater portion of the building intact and open it back up to the public as a venue for professional theater, comedians, musicians, and other traveling shows, as well as a meeting and lecture hall for businesses needing space.
The Pioneer Place Theater
Pioneer Place on Fifth officially opened its professional theatre on September 10, 1998, with a touring production of Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), produced by Actors Theater of Minnesota. Since that first production, the theater has grown to present a complete, 8-show theater season featuring all professional tours. Besides Actors Theater of Minnesota, producing companies have included Olson Brothers Entertainment, Hometown Theatre, Park Square Theater, Fifty Foot Penguin Theater, Pigs Eye Theater, Starting Gate Productions, Theatre L’Homme Dieu, Get Out of the House Players, Giant Step Entertainment, Burning House Group, and even a couple off-Broadway tours have made their way to Pioneer Place.
The mission of Pioneer Place on Fifth was to bring to St. Cloud high-quality, professional entertainment to art enthusiasts who would normally have to venture to the Twin Cities to enjoy. As Mark Barth, co-founder of Pioneer Place, said, “There are many wonderful community theater, opera, and symphony organizations in St. Cloud, so we felt there wasn’t a need for another. But there is a need for professional entertainment in our community, and we hope St. Cloud will welcome this high-quality entertainment.”
The intimate space means the audience is up close and personal with the performers. The statement “not a bad seat in the house” certainly holds true for Pioneer Place. The growing reputation of the wonderful facility, great audiences, and a truly professional atmosphere allowed Pioneer Place to hire actors from major theaters like the Guthrie Theatre, History Theatre, Pillsbury House, Park Square Theater, and almost every theater company in Minneapolis.
Order of the Elks
What is now the Pioneer Place on Fifth building was originally built in 1913 as an Elks Lodge. You’ll notice on the granite work outside the building, BPOE (benevolent protective order of the elks) 513 and two clocks with time at 11 am, which is when the Elks would take a moment of silence to remember those who are absent.
The front entrance area, now known as the Veranda Lounge, was originally comprised of a library and a lounge for members and guests, including a separate women’s lounge. What is currently the main theater was the Elks Grand Ballroom, which originally had a balcony that extended beyond the lower level seats. The hardwood floors are still intact in the theater.
The upstairs (now a full bar and the main restrooms) comprised single occupancy rooms and a shared bathroom/bathing area available to any traveling elks members to stay while visiting St. Cloud. The basement housed a small kitchen and additional rooms and offices.
Downtown Historic Tour Script: This is a short version of the history of Pioneer Place on Fifth as was used for this historic building tours of St. Cloud: ”When this hall was built in 1914, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks were a respectable middle America fraternal lodge – so respectable that writers made fictional characters as diverse as Sinclair Lewis’s George Babbitt and radio’s Fibber McGee into members to show their roots in small-town life. The lodges were a place where businessmen and civic leaders gathered to talk about local events and participate in social events. The BPOE, it was said, were the “best people on earth. ”The Saint Cloud lodge was organized in 1899 and met for its first fifteen years in rented rooms. Finally, in 1913, they hired architect Rolland Buckley to design a place of their own. Buckley, who had lived in town only one year, designed a two-story classical revival style building with four Tuscan columns facing the street and faced with brown brick and trimmed with Sauk Rapids granite. The lodge originally had a large hall, a library, and a ladies’ sitting room on the main floor, while the upstairs housed sleeping rooms where fellow Elks could spend the night. You can still see evidence of the building’s early ownership with its two stone clocks near the cornice, both set permanently at eleven o’clock. At every gathering of Elks, when the hour of 11:00 p.m. tolls, its members stop all activity and remember those that are absent with an “eleven o’clock toast.” It goes:
Wherever an Elk may roam,
Whatever his lot in life may be,
when this hour falls upon the dial of night
the great heart of Elkdom swells and throbs.
Living or dead, an Elk is never forgotten, never forsaken.
”This ceremony earned a special place in American history in 1918, when General John Pershing, a member of the Elks, arranged for the signing the Armistice ending World War I to fall on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – a date now celebrated as Veterans’ Day.”
Beginning of the Veranda Lounge
In the fall of 2005, Pioneer Place on Fifth introduced a concert series in addition to its theater season. A high-end sound system has been installed into the facility, and the acoustically sound room makes this the perfect concert venue. Pioneer Place has welcomed performers the likes of The Fabulous Armadillos, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Greg Brown, Iris Dement, Mason Jennings, Ann Reed, Peter Mayer, Martin Zellar, Alana Davis, Rachel Proctor, Pat Donohue, Jackie Green, gb leighton, Neal & Leandra, Buddy’s Buddies featuring Steve Smith, among many others. Local acts like BLIMP, Collective Unconscious, roGer, Ring of Kerry, The Rogues of St. Germain, Season of the Fly, Games of May, Simplicia, and many others also find comfort at Pioneer Place on Fifth.
In 2005, Pioneer Place expanded its service by opening The Veranda Lounge – a beautiful wine bar. Starting with a wide selection of wine, they eventually added Scotch to the menu and a couple of years later became a full-service bar specializing in mojitos and craft cocktails. Overlooking Fifth Avenue, The Veranda Lounge has the best outdoor seating in Downtown St. Cloud and also is home to “Monday night Jazz” each week (now on Thursdays), and acoustic music on Fridays and Saturdays from 8 pm-11 pm.
You are always invited to visit Pioneer Place on Fifth and see what rich history it holds. The elegant woodwork, original restoration, and interesting nooks and crannies are truly a treat for concert-goers and cocktail enthusiasts alike.