Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Historic Elks Theater by Shirleen Davies

The century old Elk House in Prescott Arizona, has been used as an opera house, live theatre, movie theatre, and concert hall. The acoustics are considered superb.

It all started with a proposal in the Prescott newspaper from the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge #330 to build an opera house. Residents raised the funds and the granite cornerstone was laid April 31904, for the three-story building. The lodge was on the top floor, offices on the second, retail space at ground level.

The classic design characterizes the turn of the 20th-century transition from commercial Victorian to a modernized Sullivanesque style. It was described in the February 10, 1905, edition of the Prescott Weekly Courier. “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."

Opening Night
Feb. 20, 1905, the theater’s opening night, kicked off with the play. Marta of the Lowlands was billed as a romance of old Spain. It starred stage and screen actress, Florence Roberts, who came to be known for her later roles in the classic films Babes in Toyland, Off to the Races, and Make Me a Star. The talented musicians, who played in the live orchestra, came from Prescott, Jerome, and Phoenix.
Original Interior

Opera boxes went for $20.00. General admission cost $2.50. The box office proceeds were over 1200 dollars netting the Elks Lodge a nice profit of six to seven hundred dollars.

Prescott residents loved their opera house and built their businesses and social lives around it. The convenient location on a streetcar route near the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza was ideal for the locals as well as the many theatre troupes and shows who stopped over in Prescott on their way to perform in larger cities to the east and west.

Movie Theatre
The film masterpiece, Birth of a Nation, was shown at the Elks in 1916. During the silent film era, a small orchestra played accompanying music live. By 1929, all moves were talkies, and all the way through the 1970’s, large audiences continued to watch the latest films at the Elks Opera House. Then, in the 1980s live performances returned to the theatre.
Elk Theater Interior

In the 1940’s the opera boxes and ornamental finishes were removed to accommodate wide-screen movies. The theatre used to have a copper elk statue on top of the roof, a box office inside, and a second set of balcony stairs, which were all eliminated with remodeling through the years.

Who Performed
The venue originally had 900 seats and eight dressing rooms. Balls, civic presentations, and high school graduations were held there. The Elk Theatre also hosted minstrel shows, plays, and theater performances. Sir Harry Lauder and John Phillip Sousa were among the notable performers who appeared there. Also, Tom Mix and Tony the Wonder Horse were repeat performers at the theater.
Current Box Office

Some of the Famous People who performed were:

·       Sir Harry Lauder was awarded Knight Bachelor of the Order of the British Empire in the 1919 King's Honors List for his services to entertainment. He was a Scottish entertainer, star of concert parties and the music halls from 1894. Lauder formed his own touring company with the violinist Mackenzie-Murdoch. He also appeared in short films from 1907 and performed pantomime and musical comedy in New York and London. He had his own recruiting band during World War I. 

 John Philip Sousa, the composer and conductor of the late Romantic era, was chiefly known for his American military marches and was referred to as the March King. In 1896 he wrote the national march of the United States—The Stars and Stripes Forever. Sousa composed many songs including the entire operetta, El Capitan. 
View from Balcony to Stage

·       Tom Mix was a movie star in early westerns between 1909 and 1935. He appeared in 291 films, all but nine of them were silent movies. Mix was Hollywood's first western star and helped define the genre in those early days of the cinema. 

·       Tony was the first horse to ever bear the name “The Wonder Horse.” Tony was the companion of actor Tom Mix. But he was also a celebrity in his own right, starring in over two dozen silent and sound films during his career. When Mix placed his handprints in the cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 192., Tony set his hoofprints in the cement right beside them. He was the first horse to have equal billing with his human costar, and was featured in the title of three movies: Just Tony (1922), Oh! You Tony (1924), and Tony Runs Wild (1926). 

Elks Opera House Guild
A costumed group, The Elks Opera House Guild preserves, promotes, and supports the grand historic Opera House Theatre. The guild hosts Tea Luncheons for the public, which include vintage fashion shows featuring Victorian and Edwardian attire. They also serve as docents, giving tours of the theatre and presenting "Living Histories". Additionally, they assist at performances by selling tickets and ushering guests to their seats.   

The historically renovated Elk Theatre is one of the oldest hemp theatres (pertaining to the traditional hemp rope that raises and lowers the stage curtain) still in existence. Elks Theatre is an exquisite blend of art and history that has provided top entertainment to Prescott for over 100 years.

You may also buy direct from Shirleen before the formal release date at:

Please take a moment to sign up for my Newsletter and Follow Me on:


  1. I loved this post. Thank you for the research.

  2. What a rich history this amazing theater has been to Prescott!


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.