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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 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.

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 

  

"Bill the Elk"

"Bill the Elk" atop the Elks Opera House

 

I am happy to announce that I will be collaborating with Parker Anderson, official Historian of the Elks Opera House, on a new series on its history. We envision that this series will encompass 5 to 8 blog posts.   

At one time there were many Elks Opera Houses in America. But today only three survive in the entire country. Two of these are being used as movie theatres. We have a real gem in our soon to be restored Elks Opera House. Parker Anderson spent thousands of hours documenting all the bookings in the Elk’s Opera House in its first one-hundred years. I provided the funding to return the original “Bill the Elk” from Prescott Valley to atop the building. I also served as President of the Thumb Butte Questers when all the Prescott Questers chapters raised matching funds for the grant that allowed the inner (or second) lobby to be restored.   

I hope that our collaboration on the Elks brings back many fond memories. Stay tuned for the first installment.