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© 2010 Parker Anderson and Jack D. Wilson   

Elks Opera House restored interior - 7-16-2010 - photo by Jack D. Wilson

Elks Opera House restored interior - 7-16-2010 - photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

Elks Opera House – reaching the twin pinnacles

This is the seventh and final installment in this series about the Elks Opera House in Prescott Arizona. The series opened with a capsule history of the founding of Prescott in 1864. The previous installment covered the restoration the Elks Opera House has undergone. It now has reached twin pinnacles, representing the best of the past and the best of the present. The best of the past is the opulent and painstaking restoration it underwent. The best of the present are the hidden innards that allow for productions of any kind. That brings us to a point of commencement on this journey of the Elks Opera House. When it was all over the Elks Opera House Foundation raised over two-million dollars in support of the restoration. The outpouring of public support speaks volumes about the importance of the Elks in this community.   

Point of commencement

It is somewhat bittersweet to reach the final installment in this series, so I would like to suggest this is not the end of our journey, but a new beginning. I used the term “point of commencement” to describe where the Elks is today. It is at the beginning of a new journey. The Elks building is a condominium with two pieces. The Elks Opera House, which is owned by the City of Prescott and the remainder of the building, owned by a law firm. The City of Prescott would like to get out of the theater management business. The law firm that owns the rest of the building would like to sell their interest. In my opinion, the ideal situation for the Elks Opera House Foundation is to own and manage the entire building, because then it would be financially viable and sustainable.   

A call to action

Now that the restoration of the Elks Opera House is complete, it is time to finish the rest of the journey. The Elks Opera House Foundation needs to raise the funds to buy the portion of the Elks building owned by the law firm. The foundation has been raising funds for years and some of the board members could use some help. Prescott has been a retirement destination since the 1990’s Money Magazine article brought it to prominence. If you retired here and have played golf for a couple of years and your inner heart tells you “there is more for you to do,” you may be a good candidate to help the foundation.   

Previous articles in this series

This series of articles covered the history of the Elks Opera House, which has been renovated and restored at a cost exceeding $2-million. The renovated Elks Opera House is spectacular and represents a unique piece of Americana. Published posts in the series include:   

Elks Opera House – A comprehensive history of one of Prescott’s gems   

Early History of the Prescott Arizona Elks Opera House   

Prescott Arizona Elks Opera House 1910-1942   

Prescott Arizona Elks Opera House – Later History 1943-1980   

Prescott Arizona Elks Opera House – Turmoil 1981-1999   

Prescott Arizona Elks Opera House – Resurrection and preservation 2000-2008   

Prescott Arizona Elks Opera House – Restoration par excellence (2009-2010)   

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.   

Parker 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 “Bill the Elk” to return from Prescott Valley to his rightful perch atop the Elks Opera House. As president of the Thumb Butte Questers, he coordinated the fund-raising match with Prescott Quester chapters for the Arizona Heritage Fund grant that was used to restore the inner or second lobby.

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© 2010 Parker Anderson and Jack D. Wilson  

The prior installment covered the period of “Resurrection and preservation,” 2000-2008. This was when the City of Prescott purchased the Elks Opera House (as a condominium portion of the Elks building) and the Elks Opera House Foundation was organized by a group of Prescott citizens in late 2002 as a non-profit, tax-exempt Arizona corporation. The initial steps at restoring the Elks Opera House occurred; the restoration of the outer and inner lobbies and the return of “Bill the Elk” to his perch atop the Elks Opera House. These seminal efforts were important forbearers of the much larger and comprehensive restoration effort covered in this installment.  

Before and after the restoration

Before the restoration

2006 Elks Opera House Interior before restoration

2006 Elks Opera House Interior before restoration

 

Shown above is a photograph of the Elks Opera House before restoration, circa 2006. Note the “accordion folds” to stage left and stage right covering where the Opera boxes used to be. The years of “modernization” had not been kind to this grand old lady. However, better days were coming with a restoration of the Elks Opera House. This was a major restoration involving almost every aspect of the theater and it could not be done on a piecemeal basis. It required that the Elks Opera House be shut down for the duration of the restoration project, what thespians call the “house going dark.”  

After the restoration

Elks Opera House after restoration -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

Elks Opera House after restoration -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

I took the picture above on Monday, July 19, 2010. Final cleanup and equipment testing was underway. There had been a problem with the stage grand drape and it was still in New York being modified but the stage grand valance was in place. The eight Opera Boxes look fantastic. Everywhere you look there are little surprises, as the attention to detail during this restoration was outstanding. We will see many examples of that as we proceed to look in detail at the actual restoration.  

House “goes dark”

I was the mayor of Prescott Arizona when the Elks Opera House ‘went dark” on July 1, 2009 to begin a yearlong restoration process; it reopens on July 24, 2010 with a gala celebration featuring selections from the Phoenix Opera. Prodigious fund raising by the Elks Opera House foundation raised more than $1.7 million for this restoration. An early donation of $1-million dollars from the Harold James Family Trust kicked the fund raising into high gear (the trust later added an additional $250,000 donation).  

April 12, 2010 Former Prescott Mayor Jack Wilson and Mic Fenech, City of Prescott Administrative Services Manager, inspecting new Opera Boxes -- photo by Kerry Wilson

 

I was involved with historic preservation and restoration for nearly 20 years and this project exemplifies the painstaking planning and attention to details required for a great restoration. I closely monitored the restoration process and the results are truly breathtaking. The end product will surprise many Prescott residents who have fond memories of the Elks as a movie theater; hence I thought the title “Restoration par excellence” was fitting.  

Restoration highlights

This restoration brings the Elks back to its splendor when it opened in 1905. I have tried to present a sampling of the restoration highlights in this article; however, you cannot fully appreciate what has been accomplished until you actually see it. Please note that the following photos were taken on July 16 and July 19 while final restoration was still in progress.  

Restoring the original marquee

Marquee restored - photo by Jack D. Wilson

Marquee restored -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

When the newer marquee was removed, the original marquee was found underneath – that was a pleasant surprise.  

Removing façade over exterior and restoring ticket booth

Restored ticket booth -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

Restored ticket booth -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

Here is the restored ticket booth that gives a hint of the restoration inside.  

Exterior surfaces uncovered during restoration -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

Exterior surfaces uncovered during restoration -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

When the modern façade was removed, the original exterior façade was discover intact – again, another pleasant surprise.  

New plush carpet in the lobby and stairway to the balcony.

New lobby carpeting -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

New lobby carpeting -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

New carpeting was install throughout the Elks. Here are the lobbies with the stairway to the balcony. This is excellent quality carpet with excellent padding.  

Balcony

Entrance to balcony with drapes -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

Entrance to balcony with drapes -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

Here we see the balcony entrance through a set of plush drapes. Note the padded top on the front balcony rail.  

Wider shot of the completed balcony -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

Wider shot of the completed balcony -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

The balcony was near collapse when the restoration began. Haley Construction shored it up with steel beams.  

Where the balcony boxes stairway used to be -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

Where the balcony boxes stairway used to be -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

Originally there were stairways to the balcony Opera Boxes. These are long gone, but you can see where they were.  

Restoring Opera Boxes

Four of the eight Opera Boxes -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

Four of the eight Opera Boxes -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

An opera house needs opera boxes and now it has them; the eight opera boxes including the Elks head decoration and fancy fringes have been restored. Each set of two boxes will have an attendant at performances allowing you to order refreshments of your choice.  

Getting new seats in the house

Old main floor seats - photo by Jack D. Wilson

Old main floor seats - photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

One of the common complaints about the Elks before this restoration was about the uncomfortable seats. I think people will enjoy the new seats, I tried one and they are quite comfortable.  

New main floor seats - photo by Jack D. Wilson

New main floor seats - photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

New main floor seats - frame detail -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

New main floor seats - frame detail -- photo by Jack D. Wilson


Tin ceiling, stenciling and decorative plasterwork

Arch with tin ceiling, stenciling and decorative plaster -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

Arch with tin ceiling, stenciling and decorative plaster -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

This article is called “Restoration par excellence” and I attribute much of that to painstaking planning that proceeded the restoration and an absolute focus on getting the details correct. This is quite evident in the restoration of the beautiful tin ceiling, stenciling and ornamental plasterwork throughout the theater. In this era of planned obsolescence, here we have a celebration the best in handcrafted details. 

Outside face of upper Opera Box -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

Outside face of upper Opera Box -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

Above to the right is a molded decorative plaster column with gold embellishment next to the Opera Box. On the Opera Box your eye is drawn to the Elks head, which is surrounded by additional decorative plaster with gold embellishment. But look closely at the bottom edge of the Opera Box – there are green tassels running along the edge! 

Column capital with gold embellishment -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

Column capital with gold embellishment -- photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

Infrastructure Improvements

Besides the painstaking restoration, attention was paid to ensure equipment and facilities for productions are state of the art.  

  1. New steel beam supports for the balcony which was close to collapse when the restoration began.
  2. Updating the grid work on the stage
  3. Updating the lighting and sound equipment. The sound system upgrade includes a 9” under-floor channel from the alley behind the house to the stage and to a sound control console. That will allow national acts to park a sound trailer in the alley and connect through the channel. Provisions were also made for hanging large speakers in front of the stage for such acts.
  4. Installing a sprinkler system.
  5. Providing state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment to support meetings and conferences. In addition to dual digital projection facilities this includes High Definition TV upload and download and Internet access.
  6. Two flat screen monitors in the lobby, one at the balcony stairs and one at the concession stand, to display announcements and messages.

Thank You to the workers that made this happen

There were over seventy people involved in the 13-month restoration project and it is impossible to name everyone, but here is a big Thank You to the people that labored for over a year to actually do the restoration:  

  • Local architectural firm Otwell Associates Architects (Bill Otwell owner) was responsible for the overall planning with Wayne Sanford as the Project Architect.
  • Local contractor Haley Construction managed the construction, with Project Manager Lee Vega overseeing the day-to-day work.
  • The restoration of the intricate plaster moldings, stenciling work and faux finishes was due to two firms:
  • Evergreene, a nationally known historic preservation firm and
  • Local firm Custom Surface Innovation Inc. (owners Shari Stura and Luis Sanjurjo). The tri-layered vinyl stage backdrops are the work of Custom Surface Innovation Inc. I talked to one of the principal of that firm, Shari Stura, while shooting photographs of the restoration and found out she moved to Prescott from Chicago, as I had.
    • Local firm A&B Signs replicated the replacement light ring from a partial photograph. Prescott native Perry Wieweck is president of A&B Signs.
    • Dawn Castaneda, Elks Opera House Manager
    • Mic Fenech, Administrative Services Manager, City of Prescott 

And we need to thank the Elks Opera House Foundation and the donors that allowed this Prescott gem to be restored to perfection 

Plaque "History Beckons" with major donors acknowledged - photo by Jack D. Wilson

Plaque "History Beckons" with major donors acknowledged - photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

This is the sixth in a series about the Prescott Arizona Elks Opera House in Prescott Arizona. We hope that you have enjoyed this comprehensive history of the Prescott Arizona Elks Opera House. In the next and final installment, we will cover the future of the Elks Opera House.  

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 authors  

Parker 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 returned “Bill the Elk” from Prescott Valley to his rightful perch atop the Elks Opera House. As president of the Thumb Butte Questers, he coordinated the fund raising match with Prescott Quester chapters for the Arizona Heritage Fund grant that was used to restore the inner or second lobby. 

© 2010 Parker Anderson and Jack D. Wilson   

The prior installment covered the period of “Turmoil,” 1981-1999 – a turbulent time which saw many changes and challenges calling into question the very existence of the Elks Opera House. A tipping point was reached when the City of Prescott purchased the Elks Opera House (as a condominium portion of the Elks building) in February 2001 from the Arizona Community Foundation, paying $250,000, in a bid to preserve the historic landmark and ensure its continued use. The Elks Opera House Foundation was organized by a group of Prescott citizens in late 2002 as a non-profit, tax-exempt Arizona corporation. Article 1 of the incorporation document states:   

“The character of the affairs which the corporation initially intends to conduct includes, but is not limited to , fundraising for the benefit of the Elks Opera House and Building, 121 East Gurley Street, Prescott, Arizona; restoration of the Elks Opera House and Building; educating the public regarding performing arts, cultural and economic values; contracting with various entities for rental operation of space within the building; and any other non-profit functions which may benefit the building, the theater space and the foundation.”   

Current foundation board members include: John Olsen, Chairman, Ralph Weiger, Vice-Chairman, Elisabeth Ruffner, Secretary, Arnold Gray, Treasurer, Cathy Church, Maxine Dilliahunty, Marilyn “Dinny” Henze, Gail Mangham, Debra Matthews, Russell J. Parker, Anthony Reynolds, Frank Sente and Paul Wulff.     

“Bill the Elk” – How he got his name

The Elk that sits proudly atop the Elks Opera House has always been called “Bill the Elk.” However, nobody knew why he had that name, but that mystery has been solved. It took two pieces of information to solve that puzzle. The first was discovered during the renovation process in 2010.   

Welcome Bill Cloth Banner

Welcome Bill Cloth Banner - Photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

When this banner was found, the original thought was it was used to welcome the “Elk” statute. But Dawn Castaneda, Manager of the Elks Opera House did some research on the Internet and found out this is the standard greeting for all Elks members. Hence, the Elk statute atop the Opera house is called “Bill the Elk.”   

At the 100th Anniversary Celebration for the Elks Opera House, Elisabeth Ruffner asked me to purchase a new chair for $500-. I told Elisabeth a chair was not of interest, but that I was interested in bringing the original “Bill the Elk” back to Prescott where it belonged from Prescott Valley. I pledged up to $10,000- to help make that happen. 

It took almost two more years, but it did happen. A replacement Elk was purchased for the B.P.O. Elks Lodge 330 in Prescott Valley and “Bill the Elk” was removed and taken to Bronzesmith in Prescott Valley for restoration.   

Oct. 6, 2006 Removing Bill from the Elks Lodge #330 Photo by Jack D. Wilson

Oct. 6, 2006 Removing Bill from the Elks Lodge #330 Photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

Ed Reilly, owner of Bronzesmith, inspected “Bill” and found out he had been used for target practice as there were several bullet holes in his copper-skinned body that needed repair. He also needed to add strength to the antlers mounting and to repair water damage to the legs. “Bill” the Elk is not cast bronze as many people suspected, but pressed sheet copper (the same as the Statue of Liberty). Shane Whitcher, a metal finisher with Bronzesmith, repaired fourteen (14) bullet holes in the statue.   

Ed Reilly of Bronzesmith with "Bill" after repairs. Photo by Jack D. Wilson

Ed Reilly of Bronzesmith with "Bill" after repairs. Photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

“Bill” the Elk was returned to his rightful perch atop the Elks Opera House with a festive red scarf and was lit for the first time for the Acker Music Festival on Friday, December 8, 2006. Everyone involved in this effort contributed their services or money.   

Janet Napolitano honored those involved with a 2007 Governor’s Heritage Preservation Honor Award for the Return of the 1905 Elk Statue to the Elks Opera House.   

2007 Governor’s Heritage Preservation Honor Award

2007 Governor’s Heritage Preservation Honor Award - Photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

Early Restoration

The Elks Opera House Foundation was instrumental in raising funds for restoration of the outer lobby. The inner lobby was restored with funds from an $40,000- Arizona Heritage grant that was matched by the four Prescott Questers chapters.   

This is the fifth in a series about the Prescott Arizona Elks Opera House in Prescott Arizona. In the next installment, we will cover the period of restoration in the period 2009-2010.   

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 authors   

Parker 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 “Bill the Elk” to return from Prescott Valley to his rightful perch atop the Elks Opera House.   

by Jack D. Wilson, Foundation President  

2009 Rodeo Grand Entry

2009 Rodeo Grand Entry photo by Jack D. Wilson

 

Prescott Frontier Days® World’s Oldest Rodeo is steeped in history, but lacks a Rodeo Museum to showcase, celebrate and share our 123-year history with the world. We have rodeo artifacts displayed at Smoki Museum today, along with other rodeo artifacts and memorabilia at Sharlot Hall and Phippen Museums. The Prescott Frontier Days® Community Service Foundation believes Prescott should have its own Rodeo Museum and is raising funds for that. We have established a fund-raising target of $500,000.  

Selected Rodeo Museums – Why Not Us?

  • Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, Colorado Springs, CO
  • Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum
  • Days of ’76 Museum, Deadwood, South Dakota
  • Dublin Rodeo Heritage Museum, Dublin, Texas
  • California Rodeo Heritage Museum, Salinas, CA
  • Grant County Ranch & Rodeo Museum, John Day, OR
  • Sidney Rodeo Museum, Sidney, Iowa
  • Tri-State Rodeo Museum, Madison, Iowa
  • Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, Fort Worth, TX

How you can help

The Prescott Frontier Days® Community Service Foundation has started a campaign to raise funds for a rodeo museum in Prescott Arizona. We developed a tri-fold brochure on the foundation and its goals and passed these out at a foundation table at all eight 2010 rodeo performances. This was the first time the foundation had a table at the rodeo – we were there to raise awareness about the foundation and our efforts to raise funds for a rodeo museum.  

After the rodeo is over, foundation members will be developing a brochure specifically aimed at soliciting funds for a rodeo museum. We expect to have that brochure ready by September 2010. That brochure will be used as part of a major effort at fund-raising for a rodeo museum.  

However, if you want to support a rodeo museum you can make a donation now. The Prescott Frontier Days® Community Service Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) IRS qualified non-profit trust. All donations appreciated, whether $5 or $500,000, we can use the help.  

Donations should be made payable to:  

Prescott Frontier Days® Community Service Foundation  

And mailed to  

Prescott Frontier Days® Community Service Foundation
P. O. Box 706
Prescott, AZ 86302-0706

Please include you name and address so that we can properly acknowledge your donation. If you have a question or need additional information, call the foundation president at (928) 445-5137.

Prescott Tourism Tweets

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  • City of Prescott 4th of July Extravaganza next Wed @ Pioneer Park: games, rides, music, fireworks & more! dld.bz/b63nk 5 years ago
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