Larry and Connie Korby can't remember exactly why or with whom they first dined at the Ye Olde Lantern restaurant, but it was about 30 years ago.

And the visit set a pattern: He usually gets a steak; she usually has fish.

That ends today, when the Lantern serves its last platters of prime rib then closes its doors.

Owners Bob and Madeline Hawes, both 64, are moving back to Houston to be with family. They had the place up for sale but couldn't find a buyer for the business. In the last couple of weeks, the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks, Lodge 385 decided to buy the building, 1800 N. Oracle Road.

The restaurant's iconic giant lantern atop its sign is a Tucson landmark. The restaurant opened in 1924 as the Green Lantern, a barbecue joint, and reopened under its current name on March 14, 1959.

For decades, it was one of Tucson's best-known restaurants, Hawes said. He bought the place about 11 years ago after retiring from the hotel business.

"It was a very exciting time. It was one of the most established restaurants in the city," Hawes said. "It's the type of place I always wanted to own, so I satisfied my dream, I guess."

While Hawes has good reason for retiring, it is sad in a way that nobody bought the business to keep it open, said Jonathan Landeen, owner of Jonathan's Cork, 6320 E. Tanque Verde Road, and president of Tucson Originals, a group of local restaurateurs.

"The restaurant business is tough," Landeen said. "I think the town changes, the demographics change. I don't know that anyone would want to buy my restaurant when I retire. Some of what we do is so personal. It's also kind of hard for someone to envision what you've done."

Ye Olde Lantern's closure represents the latest in a series of disappearances of local icons.

The Hidden Valley Inn, a cowboy-themed restaurant that opened in the 1960s, closed on Feb. 12, also bringing the final local performance of Western band Sons of the Pioneers. The site will become offices for a non-profit organization.

The Ghost Ranch Lodge, 801 W. Miracle Mile, closed last year after more than 60 years in business. The lodge, recognized by its cow-skull sign, is becoming affordable housing for the elderly.

Also on North Oracle Road, near Ye Olde Lantern, other landmarks have closed recently. Gus and Andy's steakhouse on what used to be known as "the strip" closed in 2004 after more than 50 years in business.

"It means that Tucson has changed," said Jim Griffith, a Tucson folklorist. "It's a sign of lots of different kinds of changes. Change in traffic patterns, of course, is the simplest one."

"People are looking for different kinds of experiences and (Ye Olde Lantern) and Gus and Andy's were real '50s sorts of dining experiences," he said.

Not much changed at the Lantern after Hawes bought it, he said. He adorned the walls with cowboy prints that his father framed. He built a window-filled wall between the bar and the dining room to comply with the city's smoking ordinance.

But the chairs are still black, the carpet is brown and the booths are a deep red. That's the way the remaining regulars like it.

"We have a lot of loyal people who come in quite often," Hawes said.

For the Korbys, the Lantern was one of the places they would bring out-of-town guests.

"My sister will be sorry if she comes for a visit and it's not here," Korby said. "We like the family atmosphere here."

The Elks have not decided exactly how they're going to remodel the property, said Exalted Ruler Bob McCleery. But they will be there tonight en masse to help Hawes close the place down.

"I think Ye Old Lantern will make a good facility for us. It may not be something that we're going to live there forever, but I think it may be three to five years, anyway," McCleery said.

If nothing else, it looks like the big lantern outside will stay.

"It may say 'Ye Olde Elks Lodge.' I don't know," McCleery said. "That is something that is sort of a landmark and we definitely plan to keep it there."

● Contact reporter Joseph Barrios at 573-4237 or jbarrios@azstarnet.com.