© 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.