© 2010 Parker Anderson and Jack D. Wilson 

The Elks as a Theater

This is the third in a seven-part series about the Prescott Arizona Elks Opera House and focuses on its later history in the period 1943-1980.It was the middle of World War II in 1942 when Claude Cline took over management of the Elks Theater. He would manage it until 1980, becoming the longest-serving manager to date. Mr. Cline ran it as a straight movie theater.  There are still old-timers in Prescott who have happy memories of seeing movies in the Elks, and while it may be unpopular to say this, the Elks may have shown more life as a movie theater than it ever did as a live stage facility! 

What has progress wrought?

As the years rolled on, both fashions and technology changed. The original movies in the Elks were “talkies,” but by the middle 1940s movie technology had made major advancements. The original box seats with their Elks head décor seemed out-of-place in a “modern” movie theater. Manager Cline also was responsible for the remodeling we most remember today; in the winter of 1945-46, he took out the box seats and removed all of the ornaments and ornamental finishes including the elk’s heads, the clock, etc. to accommodate wide-screen movies. To gain some historical perspective, World War II had ended, troops had returned home and everyone was looking for entertainment to put the war behind them. 

modern elks interior stage

Modern Elks Interior with "Fluted" wall panels


The “fluting” wall he installed over the boxes was supposed to enhance the picture quality and sound.  An inside box office also eventually disappeared as did a second set balcony stairs. Today, historic building preservation is a watchword for many, but it was unheard of back then. In hindsight, we might be angry with Claude Cline for what he did, but in 1945, no one thought a thing of it. Remember, this was the same period that it was fashionable to paint natural golden oak woodwork in Victorian with white paint to “update” their look. To give everyone a “teaser” look of what is to come, here is a picture from the early part of the restoration putting the boxes back in place. 

Getting ready to put Opera Boxes back in place


Elks Building Sold

In 1968, the Elks Lodge decided to sell the building for reasons that are unknown.  They continued to rent their lodge rooms from the new owners until their new Prescott Valley facility was complete in 1971.  When they vacated the Elks building in Prescott, they took the big copper elk atop the roof with them (affectionately known as “Bill the Elk”).The Elks Theater went through a couple of short-term owners before being purchased by Don Head and Phil Toci, both attorneys.  Claude Cline kept his lease on the theater, but in 1973, he built and opened a new facility, the Marina Twin Theatres, located where the Social Security office is today.  At this point, Mr. Cline scaled back activity in the Elks, turning it into more of a family theater.  From 1973 until his retirement in 1980, Cline showed family films in the Elks, as well as second-run PG movies.  Under these conditions, he had the Elks open mostly on weekends only.  Some recent writers have contended that the Elks was closed completely between 1973 and 1980; however, that is simply not true.Claude Cline retired in 1980, giving up his lease on the Elks Theater.  Shortly afterwards, owners Head and Toci divided the building into two separate condominium units, selling the theater portion to the Arizona Community Foundation.This is the third in a series about the Prescott Arizona Elks Opera House. In the next installment, we will cover the period of turmoil in the years 1981-1999.If you have fond memories of the Elks, we encourage you to share those via a comment. Also, please let your friends know about this series of articles about a true gem in Prescott Arizona.About the authorsParker Anderson is the official Historian of the Elks Opera House. He spent thousands of hours compiling all known bookings in the first 100 years of the Opera House.Jack Wilson is the former Mayor of Prescott Arizona. He has had a long interest in history having founded two neighborhood historic societies in Chicago. He was instrumental in providing the funds that allowed the original “Bill the Elk” to return from Prescott Valley to his rightful perch atop the Elks Opera House.