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Thu, Sept. 19

Officials nix Montezuma/Whiskey Row name change

The Daily Courier/file

The Daily Courier/file

PRESCOTT - An effort to bring Prescott's most famous street in line with its common nickname suffered two blows this week.

In separate meetings, the Prescott Preservation Commission and the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors both recommended against a local push to rename the 100 block of South Montezuma Street as "Historic Whiskey Row."

The final decision on the matter is now up to the Prescott City Council. Tentatively, the City Council will have the issue on its meeting agenda on Nov. 27.

The Whiskey Row discussion began in early September, when downtown businessman Dave Michelson presented the City Council with a petition asking to rename the city street.

Michelson, the owner of the Palace Restaurant and Saloon, maintains that the name change would help to solidify Prescott's rich western history.

"We think it would eliminate some confusion and would conjure up the old west," Michelson told members of the Prescott Preservation Commission Friday morning.

He and other downtown business owners say they often encounter tourists who ask about the location of Whiskey Row. Even though directional signs are in place at both ends of Whiskey Row, Michelson said out-of-towners frequently become confused by the street signs for South Montezuma Street.

After Michelson's initial appearance before the City Council, Historic Preservation Specialist Cat Moody sent out letters to property owners and business owners along and adjacent to Whiskey Row, asking whether the owners supported or opposed the name change.

Of the 11 property owners on the west side of the street, Moody said, five were in favor of the renaming; one was against it; two were neutral; and three did not respond.

And of the 24 businesses contacted, 12 were in favor of the name change; one was against it; and 11 did not respond.

Several of the owners attached comments as well, indicating diverse views.

Mark Favour, who owns multiple parcels on Montezuma Street, brought up the expense that would be involved with the change.

"Simply put, I feel the proposal to rename Montezuma Street is a gimmick and unnecessary," Favour wrote. "If approved by the city, it will create financial stress for both the government and private sector. This is unsuitable in the current economic times."

On the other side of the issue, an owner wrote: "Montezuma Street between Gurley and Goodwin is more commonly known at Whiskey Row. For someone who's never been to Prescott, it conjures up in my opinion a vision of the old west, which Prescott is noted for."

While the Montezuma Street name dates back to Prescott's origin in the 1860s, Moody said the Whiskey Row moniker likely came later.

Moody told the Preservation Commission in October that the Montezuma Street name originated from the book, "The Conquest of Mexico," which Prescott's namesake William Hickling Prescott wrote in 1843.

A number of Prescott streets - Montezuma, Cortez, Alarcon, Coronado - took on the names of the early explorers of Mexico mentioned in Prescott's book, she said.

Whiskey Row, on the other hand, has a less definitive date of origin, although Moody noted that "the popularity surely increased" with a 1917 Gail Gardner poem, "The Sierry Petes (or Tying Knots in the Devil's Tail)."

The poem, which tells the story of a group of local cowboys who encountered the devil after getting "stewed" one day on Whiskey Row, memorializes the famous Prescott street with the lines, "Oh, they starts her in at the Kaintucky Bar, at the head of Whiskey Row, and they winds up down by the Depot House, some forty drinks below."

At the time, Moody said, Whiskey Row extended from South Montezuma Street all the say to the railroad depot at the end of Cortez Street.

The nickname stuck, and generations of Prescottonians have referred to the 100 block of South Montezuma Street as Whiskey Row.

Officially, though, the South Montezuma name has remained - on everything from street signs to maps to property documents.

A majority of the Preservation Commissioners saw no reason to change the street name now.

Commissioner Elisabeth Ruffner, who expressed support for the change at the October meeting, said Favour's comments helped to change her mind.

"Mark Favour is a major building owner on that block," Ruffner said. "His objections are valid, and I have to agree with him."

Commissioner D.J. Buttke called the name change "rather pointless," because Whiskey Row is "well identified, and it's well-signed."

Earlier this week, the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors expressed similar views, with all three of the board members in opposition to the change.

As the property owner of the courthouse, which takes up all of the east side of the 100 block between Gurley and Goodwin, the county has a say in the matter, and Moody made a presentation to the board at Monday's meeting.

Supervisor Carol Springer pointed out that there's already signage marking the street as Whiskey Row, and said further similar marketing efforts would be "great," but that she "couldn't support the name change."

"I'm not feeling warm and fuzzy that the existing property owners are really for this," Chairman Tom Thurman said. "I'm going to agree with Supervisor Springer, I think right now I would not be in favor. There's too many historic documents showing Whiskey Row as being Montezuma Street."

Supervisor Chip Davis echoed Springer's comments that promoting the location as Whiskey Row would be appropriate, but that he wouldn't want to re-name the street.

Along with the opposition, the name change elicited support from two of the Prescott Preservation Commissioners.

Commissioner Russ Buchanan maintained that "if there is a clear majority of property owners and business owners who want to change the name, then I feel they have the right to do it."

Buchanan and Commissioner Lee Vega were in the minority in the commission's 5-2 vote to deny the name change.

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