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<I>For generations of Prescott teens</I><BR>Elks Opera House was home away from home

Courier/Les Stukenberg

Faith Blair checks out the ticket booth at the Elks Opera House where she used to sell movie tickets as a teenager.

Deming noted that her mother, who was of Scottish and English descent, took her daughter to see the singer in about 1920 or 1921. She vividly remembers two things: that Lauder wore a kilt for his performance, and that the Clark family sat in one of the opera boxes. "I thought that was just wonderful, to sit in a box," she said.

Deming moved to Prescott with her family in 1920, when her father, a graduate of the University of Arizona, got a job managing the university's experimental farm.

The farm, which was near where the Prescott Airport is now, was home to the Clark family for about a decade, before they moved to a dairy farm, Clark's Jersey Dairy, which now is the site of the Prescott Kmart store.

While she lived on the experimental farm, Deming attended a one-room country school near the future site of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Because all of the students were in one classroom, she picked up the lessons of the upper grades and was able to advance in her grade level quicker than usual, which allowed her to graduate at 16.

"We just all learned together," she said, "and I was a rapid reader. I skipped two grades and started high school at 12."

Deming was one of more than 40 students Prescott High School graduated in 1929. Now, nearly 76 years later, she hopes to reconnect with any of her fellow graduates from the class of 1929, for a possible reunion.

***

For generations, local teenagers had a friend in the Elks Theater.

Part entertainment provider, part entry-level employer, and part social center – the old theater on Gurley Street did it all.

As Prescottonians who grew up in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s tell it, the Elks was the place where teenagers congregated and sometimes found romance.

Although it began as an imposing opera house, the Elks adapted to the changing times. By the 1950s, when Faith Blair was a teenager in Prescott, the old theater was exclusively a movie house.

Blair – then Faith Boyle – got her first job at the Elks at age 15, when venerable manager Claude Cline was at the helm of the theater.

"Claude hired me as an usher," Blair recalls. "But because I wasn't old enough to work, he told me to hide behind the big, red velvet curtains so people wouldn't notice me."

As an usher, Blair got to wield a large flashlight, which she used to lead people to their seats in the dark theater. Although she enjoyed the prestige of carrying the flashlight, Blair said, "it wasn't too long before I graduated to the concession stand."

Blair remembers that she started her job at 50-cents-an-hour, but later got a raise to 80 cents.

Even though the money came in handy for buying clothes from the fashionable store across the street, Blair remembers another crucial benefit of the job. "That experience taught me many, many things," she said. "Claude was quite a boss. He really taught teenagers how to do things right."

Blair also met her future husband, John Blair, while she was on the job. Although she didn't know it at the time, Blair said she later learned that John and a friend had a contest going to see who could meet the most girls that night. Ironically, both met just one girl each, and both meetings ended in marriage.

In fact, Blair said the Elks Theater served as a meeting place for many couples who still live in Prescott today.

After Blair married, she returned to work at the Elks for a time, and Cline then stationed her at the ticket booth.

"I felt lucky I had that job," Blair says now of her years at the Elks. "It was a great place to work."

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com

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