© 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
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
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).
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.
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
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
Here is the restored ticket booth that gives a hint of the restoration inside.
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 carpeting was install throughout the Elks. Here are the lobbies with the stairway to the balcony. This is excellent quality carpet with excellent padding.
Here we see the balcony entrance through a set of plush drapes. Note the padded top on the front balcony rail.
The balcony was near collapse when the restoration began. Haley Construction shored it up with steel beams.
Originally there were stairways to the balcony Opera Boxes. These are long gone, but you can see where they were.
Restoring Opera Boxes
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
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.
Tin ceiling, stenciling and decorative plasterwork
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.
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!
Besides the painstaking restoration, attention was paid to ensure equipment and facilities for productions are state of the art.
- New steel beam supports for the balcony which was close to collapse when the restoration began.
- Updating the grid work on the stage
- 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.
- Installing a sprinkler system.
- 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.
- 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
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.