Originally Published: January 8, 2015 6:02 a.m.
PRESCOTT - At nearly 110 years old, the Elks Theater building has seen plenty of transformations.
For the most part, the changes during the building's first century involved adding on, covering up, or taking away from the original features of the historic building.
Acoustical dropped ceilings; layer upon layer of linoleum, glue, and carpet; and a "rabbit warren" of office walls: They all served to obscure the original grandeur of the downtown-Prescott opera house that opened on Feb. 20, 1905.
The trend toward modernization changed over the past decade or so, however, with a series of restoration projects aimed at taking the theater back to its stately beginnings.
First, the City of Prescott oversaw a full restoration of the ornate theater located in the center of the building. That $1.75 million restoration, which was paid for largely through private donations and fundraising, was completed in 2010.
Then, soon after the city sold the building to new owners in 2012, an extensive project got underway to restore the deteriorating brick exterior - a $1.8 million job by contractor Haley Construction Co., which wrapped up in the spring of 2014.
Now, the new owner, the non-profit Elks Theatre & Performing Arts Center, is poised to begin its next phase.
At an estimated cost of $2.9 million to $3.1 million, the interior renovation will encompass all three levels of the building and will focus on the areas that previously housed attorneys' offices and ground-floor retail businesses.
Project architect Frank DeGrazia said this week that he hopes the necessary permits for the project will be complete within about a month, allowing for the start of demolition work by mid-to-late-February.
Already, much of the building has been stripped of the dropped ceilings and floor coverings. DeGrazia says that process made for some pleasant discoveries along the way.
Walking through the cavernous third floor, for instance, he pointed to the three side-by-side "barrel-vault" ceilings, which workers found after removing the low acoustic panels.
Even before the renovation work begins, the potential is obvious for the 15-to-16-foot-high ceilings, which frame large windows offering striking views of Gurley Street, Thumb Butte, and the Yavapai County Courthouse.
Cat Moody, the city's historic preservation specialist, said a number of the building's features were largely unknown until the demolition revealed them.
"The fully intact barrel ceiling was a nice surprise," Moody said, adding that the stained-glass clock feature near the top of the upper balcony wall also came as a surprise.
DeGrazia said the owners plan to leave the barrel-vault ceilings intact, and cover them with tin ceiling panels similar to the originals found elsewhere in the building.
Ultimately, the upper level will be converted into a large events space, DeGrazia said, complete with a catering kitchen. With its recently restored balcony that overlooks Gurley Street, DeGrazia predicted the third-floor space would be a popular spot for weddings and other events.
The second floor will serve as the heart of the performing arts center that the new owners envisioned when they bought the building.
"This section will be a dance studio for tap and clogging," DeGrazia said as he walked through one section of the second level. The other side will serve as a ballet studio, he said, while another portion will house isolation booths for the music component.
The building's ground-floor level has long been partially dedicated to retail space, and DeGrazia said that would not change. After the renovation, several spaces will be available for lease. (The restored theater continues to operate and is not a part of the ongoing renovation project).
While working to preserve as many of the historical features as possible, DeGrazia noted that some updating is necessary. The project will include new ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) restrooms and elevator, as well as new heating and cooling, plumbing, electrical system, stairways and a fire-sprinkler system.
DeGrazia estimates that the renovation work will take about a year to complete.
As a part of its purchase, non-profit Elks Theatre & Performing Arts Center organization agreed to set up an endowment for the perpetual operation and maintenance of the theater. The organization is paying the ongoing renovation costs.
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