By Tom Dalton
SALEM — The former Salem Elks Club, which has been largely vacant for two years and fallen into disrepair, may have a buyer.
Developer William Wharff announced plans last week to convert the fraternal organization at 17 North St. into six residential condominiums. He has signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with the Beverly-Salem Elks Club, according to a club official.
"It is one of the more prominent eyesores in the city of Salem," Scott Grover, the developer's attorney, said at a Board of Appeal hearing last week. "... This really is an opportunity to save what was once a grand structure."
Neighbors were generally supportive of a plan to restore the rundown building located next to the historic Nathaniel Bowditch House on the edge of the McIntire Historic District. However, several residents stressed that they want to see the 19th-century building brought back to its original appearance — or at least close to it.
The developer said he plans to remove several additions and add a third floor.
While glad the building is going to be developed, several neighbors and a representative of Historic Salem Inc., a private preservation group, said they do not like the plans Wharff presented at a neighborhood meeting and hoped the third-floor addition would look more like the original building. They said they likely would support his request for variances for parking and the number of condos if the restoration more closely resembled the original.
John Carr, a former member of the city's Historical Commission, said he hoped the restoration "at least brought back the spirit" of the old building.
Grover said the developer is willing to change his design after hearing neighbors' concerns. He even brought a preliminary sketch of the new plan to last week's meeting.
Several zoning board members suggested Wharff meet with the Historical Commission before coming back before their board. The zoning hearing was continued to July.
The Salem Elks Club, facing declining membership and rising costs, closed two years ago when the club merged with Beverly, forming the Beverly-Salem Elks Club. Since then, the Salem building has been used only for a few committee meetings, a club official said. Although the building badly needs a paint job and other work, some repairs have been done, the official said.