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Prescott Arizona continues to receive recognition as a top retirement destination. Money Magazine started the trend with their article spotlighting Prescott in the 1990’s. It has continued unabated since then. The latest article is in Best 21 U.S. Places for Retirement in the Best Boomer Towns blog. Take a look at the article to see why people from all over the United States choose to retire in Prescott Arizona.

Elks interior early 1900s

Early 1900s Elks Opera House Interior. Photo UBP Sharlot Hall Museum. Reuse only by permission.


© 2010 Parker Anderson and Jack D. Wilson   

In the early twentieth century there were numerous Elks Opera Houses across America. One hundred years later only one has survived in the entire country. This series traces the history of this unique structure; how it was built, how it was used, how it later was used as a movie house for 72 years, how it fell into decline, how it was almost lost and finally the story of its amazing restoration. The history of the Elks Opera House has mirrored the history of Prescott.   

Prescott, Arizona began as a gold mining and military encampment in 1864. President Abraham Lincoln chose Prescott as the Territorial Capital of Arizona because there were too many Confederate sympathizers in Tucson. The gold did not last very long (but you can still pan for gold today) and Prescott lost its place as the Territorial capital (after being the capital twice). It then evolved into a ranching community. But Prescott’s military encampment, Ft. Whipple, remained as an anchor.   

In the 1890 census, Prescott had a population of 1,789[1]. In January 1896 the Elks Lodge BPOE[2] 330 was founded. By the 1900 census Prescott’s population had exploded to 3,559[3]. In August 1900 the Elks purchased a vacant lot on Gurley Street and later bought adjacent vacant property.   

The Elks originally planned to build the structure in order to have a permanent lodge; they had been renting various meeting rooms around town since 1896.  They started to seriously consider an Opera House after the old Dake Opera House was bulldozed (in 1903; it was only half a block away). Construction was estimated at $50,000.   

Later, after a competing plan to build an opera house in Prescott did not materialize, a notice was published in the 1904 Prescott Daily Journal Miner urging businessmen of the city to attend a meeting on Feb. 12 to discuss a proposal from the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge #330 to include an opera house, at an estimated cost of $15,000, to the building they were erecting on East Gurley Street.   

“Prescott should have a good opera house and there never was a good chance before to have one for the money that this will cost, and if this chance is lost it will be a good long time before another such opportunity is offered.” 

The residents of Prescott had migrated from the East and missed the entertainment they used to enjoy. They raised the necessary funds and the opera house was incorporated into the plans for the three-story building housing the lodge on the top floor, offices on the second floor and retail space on the ground floor. The granite cornerstone of the building was laid on April 3, 1904, with an excited crowd in attendance.   

The February 10, 1905, Prescott Weekly Courier reported: 

“The peer of that theatre is not found east of San Francisco until the great cities of the Mississippi Valley are reached, and even there our theatre is outclassed only as to size, for our theatre is about as perfect as the handiwork of man generally gets to be.”  

The Elks held their grand opening on Monday, February 20, 1905. It included the stage show MARTA OF THE LOWLANDS by Angel Guimera, starring the then-famed stage actress Florence Roberts and billed as a romance of old Spain.  The play itself, though forgotten today, was quite acclaimed at the time, and to this day there are streets and monuments in Barcelona named in honor of its fictitious hero, Manelic. The orchestra was composed of musicians from Prescott, Jerome and Phoenix. Opera boxes sold for $20.00 and general admission was $2.50. The box office proceeds totaled $1,225, leaving a $600 to $700 net profit for the Elks Lodge. This play was recreated as part of the 100th anniversary of the Elks in 2005.   

After that, the Elks hosted many more professional traveling road show plays and many local productions were staged. Prescott High School and St. Joseph’s Academy held their graduation ceremonies there (called “commencement exercises” in those days).  Famous people who graced the stage during this period included bandleader John Philip Sousa, and former Presidential candidate turned evangelist William Jennings Bryan, both in 1909.   

Elks Exterior circa 1915

The elks Opera House c1915. Photo UBP Sharlot Hall Museum. Reuse only by permission.


This is the first in a series about the Prescott Arizona Elks Opera House in Prescott Arizona. In the next installment, we will cover the middle history of the Elks, from 1910-1942, when it was used for vaudeville shows that included short movies and later just for movies.   

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 D. 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.   

[1] “POPULATION OF ARIZONA.; Census Shows Increase of 62,592 Since 1890,” October 18, 1900, New York Times   

[2] Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks   

[3] “POPULATION OF ARIZONA.; Census Shows Increase of 62,592 Since 1890,” October 18, 1900, New York Times 

Prescott Museums
© Jack D. Wilson 2010

Prescott Arizona is a relatively small town of about 43,000 people. However, its thirst for the arts is disproportional to its population. Arts have many forms including the performing arts, painting, sculpture, public art, galleries and museums. This article focuses on our many museums, and includes existing museums, collections on loan and future museums.

Existing Museums

Sharlot Hall Museum Logo

Sharlot Hall Museum

(website: ) was founded in 1928 by Sharlot M. Hall. The museum is within easy walking distance of the Courthouse Plaza and Whiskey Row. It is located at 415 West Gurley Street. Their phone number is (928) 445-3122. If you like history, you will love this museum. It is a museum campus with several buildings including the original Territorial Governor’s Mansion (yes, Prescott was the territorial capital on two occasions). You can spend an hour or a day here and they have a museum gift shop with fascinating merchandize.  Here is a YouTube video about the museum: An Inexpensive Arizona Family Getaway – Sharlot Hall Museum

Phippen Museum of Western Art

Phippen Museum of Western Art

(website: ) opened its doors to the public on October 13, 1984. It is named after George Phippen, first president of the Cowboy Artists of America. The Phippen Museum is located 7 scenic miles north of the Courthouse plaza in downtown Prescott, Arizona. From the downtown area, take Highway 89 North past the Granite Dells. The museum is on the right (4701 Highway 89 North). Their phone number is (928) 778-1385.   

Smoki Museum

The Smoki Museum

(website: ) has an interesting and somewhat controversial origin. The “Smoki People” were area businessmen, not native American Indians – for the full story see The museum is located at 147 N. Arizona Ave. about seven blocks east of the Courthouse Plaza. Their phone number is (928) 445-1230

Here is a quote from their website on the origin of the museum:

Designed to resemble an Indian pueblo, the Smoki Museum was built in 1935 of native stone and wood. It was constructed with labor provided by the Civilian Works Administration and the Smoki People. The Smoki People were a group of Prescott citizens organized in 1921 and dedicated to the perpetuation of American Indian ceremonies and dances.  Until 1990, the Smoki People held annual pageants at the Yavapai County Fairgrounds, but they also became a large social organization focused on developing appreciation for Southwest Indian tribes through the Museum and their annual program. ”

Fort Whipple Museum Sign

The Fort Whipple Museum

is our newest museum (website: The museum was a joint effort between the Bob Stump VA Center and the Sharlot Hall Museum. It is located on the grounds of the VA Hospital on Hwy. 89 in Prescott. Admission is by donation. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and closed for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

The Spot – a Child’s Museum

The museum opened in 2009 in the Prescott Gateway Mall. Their website is at

There vision and mission statements (from their website) are:

The spot…a Child’s Museum envisions children as lifelong learners who are inquisitive and knowledgeable about the world and are inspired to become stewards of a peaceful and sustainable planet.    
The spot…a Child’s Museum provides interactive play experiences to stimulate curiosity, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving for children of all ages.”    

Collection on Loan

The Prescott Area Arts Trust (PAAT) owns the Solon H. Borglum collection currently on view at the Prescott Valley Civic Center. The Solon H. Borglum exhibit features 19 sculptures and other items from the renowned sculptor’s collection. Learn more and read the self-tour guide: Solon H. Borglum Fine Arts Exhibition

The Prescott Area Arts Trust plans to install this collection into a museum setting in Prescott in the future.

Future Museums

Prescott Fire Department logo

Prescott Fire Department Museum

The Prescott Fire Department is the oldest fire department in Arizona. They celebrated their 125th anniversary in 2010. They have accumulated a wide variety of historical fire department memorabilia and plan to have a museum of their own in the future.    

Prescott Frontier Days Worlds Oldest Rodeo

Prescott Frontier Days® World’s Oldest Rodeo Museum

The Prescott Frontier Days® World’s Oldest Rodeo has run continuously since 1888. It will celebrate its 125th season in 2012. Over that long history, Prescott Frontier Days® has collected a large amount of rodeo items of historic value.

About the author

Jack D. Wilson first visited Prescott in 1995 and has been a resident since 2000. He took a sojourn into politics and was the mayor of Prescott Arizona from Nov. 2007 – Nov. 2009. While he was mayor, he participated in two Mayor’s Ride to Work and had a Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee. He now writes a couple of blogs and is President of the Prescott Frontier Days Community Service Foundation.

If you are an outdoor travel enthusiast, you have some new options in Prescott, Arizona. Rubicon Outdoors and the Marriott Springhill Suites in Prescott have teamed up to offer three tours.        

Rubicon Outdoors teams up with Springhill Suites

A new outdoor adventure partnership


One is at the link below:        

— 7 day: Northern Arizona Highlights        

The other two are described below and will be added to the Rubicon Outdoor site later this month.        

Prescott to Grand Canyon – Rails and Trails – Hotel/Lodge Based – Guided Hiking Tour
We meet at the Springhill Suites in downtown Prescott at 5:00pm the day before departure for a quick informational meeting and to make sure everyone is properly prepared for the trip. The following morning we will again meet at Springhill Suites at 7:30am and transfer via shuttle to Williams where we will board the vintage Grand Canyon railway for a historic ride to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Upon arrival, lunch will be prepared by your guides followed by a walk along the rim of the canyon. Accommodation will be provided a short walk from the rim in the Maswick Lodge with a gourmet dinner at the El Tovar dining room, in the historic El Tovar Hotel.  The second day will start with an early breakfast at the Maswick Lodge followed by a full day hike on one of the many breathtaking trails.  Perhaps we will choose to hike the Hermit Trail to Dripping Springs, a lush oasis about 1000 ft below the rim.  Your guides will hand you a handcrafted sack lunch in the morning to be enjoyed at your leisure during the day. Transport back to Prescott via shuttle arriving around 6:30pm at the Springhill Suites. Includes:  Two nights accommodation at the Springhill Suites in Prescott, round trip transportation to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, one nights accommodation at the Maswick Lodge South Rim of the Grand Canyon and dinner at the El Tovar Hotel, three breakfast and two lunches and qualified local guide.       

Cost:  $895.00 per person(double occupancy), $395.00 (single supplement)

Prescott Adventure Getaway – Hotel Based – Guided Adventure Tour

The miles of biking and hiking trails and endless rock climbing possibilities make Prescott a mecca for outdoor adventure. With the Bradshaw Mountains, Granite Mountain and Watson Lake Recreation Areas all within minutes of Historic downtown, Prescott is truly an adventurer’s paradise.
Includes:  Transportation to and from adventure activities, two nights accommodation at the Springhill Suites in downtown Prescott, breakfast and lunch both days and qualified local guide.
Cost: $395.00 per person (double occupancy), $195.00 (single supplement)       

Additional Information       

Rubicon Outdoors October 2009 e-newsletter that highlighted Prescott Area Adventures      

Rock climbing with Rubicon Outdoors

Well it started with the Money Magazine’s original article on Prescott Arizona as a top retirement destination. Well it continues today with the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch and their pick of Prescott as the number 3 retirement destination in the country. See the article at 

The top 10 places to retire
Plus two bonus towns for you to consider

Prescott Tourism Tweets

  • We're soon retiring this Twitter account--follow @visit_prescott for travel, tourism & event-related info for Prescott, Arizona 7 years ago
  • Our Twitter account is closing soon...please follow @visit_prescott for Prescott, Arizona related travel & tourism info! 7 years ago
  • City of Prescott 4th of July Extravaganza next Wed @ Pioneer Park: games, rides, music, fireworks & more! 7 years ago
  • Another edition of the Folk Sessions at the Highlands Center in Prescott this Sat: "Women in Song II", 7pm 7 years ago
  • Cowboy poets Chris Isaacs and Gail Steiger perform at Ben's Fine Art Gallery in Prescott, this Fri & Sat 7 years ago

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