"There are some people that say if you want the area to be mixed you need to have more people that are middle-income," he explained.
The irony is that the project may generate new low-income housing — just not in the posh Bunker Hill location. City officials argue they will save millions by not investing in Bunker Hill low-income housing. The Bunker Hill land would be sold to developers and the proceeds dedicated to redevelopment projects in South Los Angeles. That’s right. Seems low-income housing doesn’t fit in on "high-quality" Bunker Hill — but it’s just fine for South Los Angeles.
It’s 9 p.m., and the brothers of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks are winding up their meeting, sipping cocktails in front of the TV. But over in the corner, someone is still hard at work. Who is it? Why it’s the first-ever lady Exalted Ruler of L.A. Lodge No. 99. E.R. Mary Wigton is stuffing envelopes for her own March 18 inaugural ball.
"Exalted ruler! They should call me Exhausted Roaster!" snorts Wigton, a solidly built legal secretary of a certain age ("39 and holding," she says). "It’s nothing but work."
Wigton’s odyssey of leadership began when the Elks, along with other service organizations (Moose, Lions and Eagles), began, in 1995, admitting women as full members after a spate of lawsuits. Wigton had to work her way up through the elaborate hierarchy — Esteemed Lecturing Knight, Esteemed Loyal Knight, Esteemed Leading Knight — before finally reaching the pinnacle of power.
She faced little opposition — flagging membership, not sexual politics, is the 132-year-old group’s biggest problem — but as a woman, she does have it tougher than most Exalted Rulers. You see, the Exalted Ruler usually has a First Lady working at his side. And at the moment, Wigton "doesn’t have a guy."
"I cook dinner Friday nights, and Sunday brunch — eggs any style, pancakes, chipped beef and toast," she sighs. "When a man does it, his wife helps him."
But Wigton, who joined the Elks through a boyfriend, hasn’t given up. She plans to start an Elks singles group.
Originally in the Elks ladies’ auxiliary, Wigton prefers full membership. Now she can take part in the initiation ritual, a rhyming-verse recital so elaborate members rehearse year-round. She can vote. The latest hot-button issue: a proposal (since dashed) to abbreviate the ritual.
"Ritual is so poetic. When it’s done right, it brings tears to your eyes," Wigton says.
She is proud to bring a woman’s touch to the lodge. All members are required to wear tuxedos for the ritual; hers will have a skirt, she promises.
"It’s gotten more friendly around here. Men can be so cold," she says. "But we do like to party."
"We’re excited about Mary being Exalted Ruler. She brings a new dimension . . .," Ed Pitman, the outgoing ruler, starts to say.
"Because I’m nuts," Wigton interrupts, laughing.
"That too," Pitman grins.