Originally Published: September 14, 2015 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT - By early next summer, the historic Elks Theatre should be ready for its big reveal.
For the past several years, the 110-year-old downtown theater has been undergoing a massive restoration project - first on the exterior, and for the past five months, on the interior.
Project architect Frank DeGrazia says the ongoing second phase - focusing on new plumbing, a new elevator, a shored-up support system, and renovation of the building's three levels, among other things - is now about one-third complete.
"We're hoping for a completion date of around June 2016," DeGrazia said. That would represent more than a year of interior renovation work. The contract for the second phase was awarded this past April, and crews with contractor Haley Construction Co. mobilized by about May 1.
Along the way, DeGrazia said workers were in for a number of surprises - some good, some not so good.
Earlier, the demolition had revealed three side-by-side "barrel-vault" ceilings in the building's third floor. Workers found the 15-to-16-foot-high ceilings under layers of dropped acoustical panels that had been added through the decades.
With the removal of the low ceilings and interior office walls, the large windows of the cavernous third-floor space show off striking views of Gurley Street, Thumb Butte, and the Yavapai County Courthouse.
DeGrazia says the restoration will take full advantage of the high ceilings. The barrel vaults will be left intact and will be covered with tin ceiling panels reminiscent of the originals found elsewhere in the building.
Not so pleasant a discovery was the recent uncovering of a web of pipes underground and behind walls.
Allan Crary, project manager for Haley Construction, pointed out that many of the old cast-iron pipes were rusting out. In addition, he said, lines were abandoned during earlier renovations.
"Over the years, a lot of different remodeling jobs have been done," Crary said, noting that many of the old pipes for heating the building were abandoned. In addition, old waste lines were crumbling, and some had weed and tree roots hanging down inside, he said.
"We're kind of cleaning up the place a lot," Crary said of the deteriorating and abandoned pipes. "Once the new project is complete, the only things in the building will be things that work."
The old elevator also has presented challenges. "It didn't meet any codes," DeGrazia said of the elevator that dated back to 1926. It was not original to the building, he said, adding that the original building likely did not have an elevator.
Crary said removing the old elevator proved to a feat in itself, because it required dealing with the counter-weights.
A modern "machine-room-less" elevator is being installed in place of the antiquated one, DeGrazia said.
Meanwhile, the demolition work also uncovered what is likely the original staircase to the upper levels. Because the discovery occurred late in the design process, DeGrazia said the staircase would not be incorporated into the design, although it was left in place.
The restoration work also includes the addition of a new structural "skeleton" alongside the old wood beams. "They're beefy, but the old wooden trusses aren't able to carry the load," DeGrazia said.
Part of the reason for that centers on the plans for dance studios on the second floor of the restored building. Such a use requires a different level of occupancy requirements than the previous office uses.
The second level also will feature music isolation booths and a recording studio, while the third floor is being converted into a large space that will be available for weddings and other events.
The building's street-level spaces will be dedicated mostly to retail space, similar to the previous use. (The restored first-floor theater continues to operate and is not a part of the ongoing renovation project).
The current project is just the latest in a number of phases of restoration that has been underway at the Elks since about 2009-10, when the City of Prescott oversaw a $1.75 million restoration of the theater space. That project was paid for largely through private donations and fundraising.
Then, soon after the city sold the building to new owners, the non-profit Elks Theatre & Performing Arts Center in 2012, an extensive project got underway to restore the deteriorating brick exterior - a $1.8 million job that wrapped up in the spring of 2014.
DeGrazia expects the current interior project to be the final phase, and he estimates the cost at about $3.8 million.
Despite the obstacles, Crary says work is on schedule. "It's been a little challenging because it's a really old building, but the project is going well," he said.
As a part of its purchase, the 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.
Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034 or 928-642-0951.