High-profile Prescott corner has evolved through the decades

The 1900-era Bank of Arizona building, above, was constructed to replace an earlier version, according to information at Sharlot Hall Museum. The building stands next to the 1892 Knights of Pythias building, which now serves as the ‘Tis Art Center and Gallery. (Sharlot Hall Museum/Courtesy) Today, the two historic buildings at the corner of Cortez and Gurley streets look much as they did more than 100 years ago although the interiors and uses have evolved through the years. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

The 1900-era Bank of Arizona building, above, was constructed to replace an earlier version, according to information at Sharlot Hall Museum. The building stands next to the 1892 Knights of Pythias building, which now serves as the ‘Tis Art Center and Gallery. (Sharlot Hall Museum/Courtesy) Today, the two historic buildings at the corner of Cortez and Gurley streets look much as they did more than 100 years ago although the interiors and uses have evolved through the years. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of “Then and Now” features that will showcase Prescott buildings and locations through time.

The sight of the stocky Bank of Arizona building brushing up against the tall, slender Knights of Pythias façade dates back more than a century on Prescott’s South Cortez Street.

By virtue of its high-profile location and late-1800s/early-1900s pedigree, the southeast corner of Gurley and Cortez seems to epitomize early-day Prescott.

So, it may come as a surprise to know that the entire block was the product of a turn-of-the-20th-century version of redevelopment.

Historic photos at Sharlot Hall Museum show an ever-evolving South Cortez Street – transitioning from mostly wood-sided storefronts in the late 1800s to a row of largely brick buildings by the early 1900s.

An 1883 photo of the South Cortez block offers a slice of life during Prescott’s early frontier days. With an earlier version of the Bank of Arizona anchoring the block, the street goes on to take in (depending on the era): the Capitol Saloon, the New York Store, offering furniture, dry goods and carpets; the D.J. Sullivan Boots & Shoes Notions; Herndon & Norris Law Offices; a bath house; and a mercantile.

Information from the Arizona Historic Property inventory states that the earlier Bank of Arizona building, which was made of rock and brick, became obsolete within a couple of decades.

By January 1900, M.B. Hazeltine was advertising a design competition for a building to replace the previous bank building.

Long-time Sharlot Hall Museum volunteer Ken Edwards, who has spent years documenting the “then and now” of Prescott’s historic buildings, said the old bank building was torn down shortly before downtown-Prescott’s devastating fire of July 1900. Records show that construction on the new bank building began in August of that year.

A plaque on the corner pillar near the entrance to the building states: “The new bank building, designed in a classical style with Second Renaissance Revival influence, reflected Prescott’s prosperity, with rusticated stone and fired brick and a large column bringing attention to the corner entry.”

The bank later became the First National Bank of Arizona, then First Interstate Bank, and then Wells Fargo Bank. Wells Fargo closed the bank in 1998.

The building currently houses LeFebvre's Boutique in the lower level, and upstairs offices.

Next door, the Knights of Pythias building, which dates back to 1892, was one of just two or three downtown buildings that escaped the 1900 fire.

Dubbed “Prescott’s Skyscraper,” the Pythias building stands 46 feet in height and is still one of Prescott’s tallest buildings. The building got its name from the Knights of Pythias fraternal organization, which once met there. Today, the building serves as the ‘Tis Art Center and Gallery.

Edwards has been documenting the histories of Prescott buildings since 2009. Along the way, he produced a three-ring binder notebook that features about 70 “then and now photos” of houses, businesses, and churches in Prescott.

With a long-time interest in history and photography, Edwards began volunteering at Sharlot Hall Museum after retiring to Prescott more than 20 ago from a career as a chemistry professor for the Colorado School of Mines.

Along with continuing to document the histories of Prescott’s buildings, Edwards assists visitors to Sharlot Hall’s archives, and answers email inquiries.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034, or cbarks@prescottaz.com.