Days Past: Palace Saloon emerged from Great Fire of 1900 grander than ever
The exact age of the Palace Saloon is something of a puzzle. The Sept. 21, l877, Arizona Weekly Miner reported: "Messrs. Shaw and Standefer have fitted up the Palace Saloon in the most superb style, and fitted it with choice liquors of every conceivable kind." This suggests that it was already there, but no earlier mention can be found. Few records were kept and most of those were destroyed by Prescott's several fires
The Dec. 20, 1977, Courier reported, "The Palace was the first bar in Prescott, opened by Isaac Goldberg on the dirt street that was to become the downtown section of the city." A careful study cannot prove this statement. Goldberg, indeed, had a saloon on Montezuma Street in l864, just after the founding of Prescott, but it was more likely the Juniper House.
A document at Sharlot Hall Museum refers to, "D.C. Thorne, son of the man who founded the Palace..." and, according to the younger D.C., his father (also D.C.) came to Prescott in l867. "My father had the distinction of opening in l868 the famous Palace Bar, where the present Palace now stands on Whiskey Row (Montezuma Street)." Again, this cannot be proven.
However, in any study of the Palace, D.C. Thorne is important because Lot 19, on Block 13 on the west side of Prescott's Plaza (Montezuma Street), was bought by Thorne in 1867. Lot 19 is the center lot of the three that make up today's Palace. Records show that D.C. Thorne owned Lot 19 until 1883. This can be proven!
In any event, the Palace Saloon was one of the finest on Whiskey Row. In 1883, fire destroyed most of the street, including the Palace. The owner, Robert Brow, built the new Palace, determined to make it fireproof. The new structure was built of brick with a stone foundation, iron roof and iron shutters in the rear. The interior featured over a 20-foot bar, a beautiful back-bar, three gaming tables and two club rooms. Three heavy chandeliers completed the décor.
Fourteen years later, in l897, the Prescott Miner reported: "The Palace is to be what its name would imply. It is receiving a spring clean-up and costly fixtures are to be added in addition to other improvements in its make-up. Bob Brow, its energetic host, says he will maintain a first-class house in eating, drinking and sporting."
However, in spite of its "fireproof" construction, the Palace, along with most of Whiskey Row, was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1900. Patrons saved the huge oak bar by carrying it across the street to the courthouse plaza. Most of the liquor was also salvaged and drinks were being served at the makeshift bar before the fire was over!
Prior to the fire, Bob Brow's Palace and Ben Belcher and Barney Smith's Cabinet Saloon next door were considered two of the finest in Arizona. On the plaza in their makeshift saloons soon after the fire, they formed a pool of their interests and decided to build a single building that would be second to none. For about $50,000, the new Palace was born. And it was spectacular!
From the Arizona State Inventory of Historic Places: "The Palace Hotel is a two-story masonry structure 75 feet wide and 125 feet deep. Construction materials include native grey granite, iron and pressed ornamental bricks. An interesting feature of the front facade is the central pediment. It carries the great seal of the Territory of Arizona and, on either side, figures of a mountain lion and a bear."
The new Palace took over the front page of the June 29, l90l, Arizona Journal-Miner, describing the entrance to the barroom as through massive double doors of solid oak with beautiful frosted plate glass having the words "Palace" lettered on them. The quality of the material and workmanship employed was described as "rich and elegant. The Miner continued, "The bar and fixtures are, however, the crowning features of the furnishings. They are without doubt the most elegant in this part of the country. The front bar is 24 feet long, made of solid oak with polished cherry top and has the finest French plate glass oval top mirrors, while the massive columns and carvings cause one to look at it with wonder and amazement." This was the same bar that was carried across the street to the plaza during the fire - and the same bar that is in the Palace Saloon today!
Gaming tables encouraged faro, poker, roulette, kino and craps. A glass of beer was five cents, payable even with unminted gold. Although women didn't frequent bars in those days, the Palace had its hostesses "who also entertained with songs," and quite possibly in other ways. With its fine food and congenial atmosphere, the Palace managed to weather the 1907 state law against gambling and, later, prohibition during World War I, which closed many other saloons.
Over the years, the Palace had its ups and downs, but was able to stay afloat. But nothing much was done to keep it clean, and it deteriorated; nearly a hundred years of smoke and dirt covered ceilings, walls and floors. All this changed in l996, when Californians Dave and Marilyn Michelson signed a lease for the premises and began restoration. Michelson was determined to take it back to its appearance in 190l. And he did, noting, "It's a great building with a lot of history."
This and other Days Past articles available at sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Please contact Scott Anderson at Sharlot Hall Museum Archives at 445-3122 for information.