The Palace on the Sherman Block
detailsUnknown Unknown 1100-2023-2501.jpg Days Past B&W 1100-2023-2501 1100-2023-2501 Print <2x3 Media 1880s Reproduction requires permission. Digital images property of SHM Library & Archives
The 1883 Palace is seen on the far left of the Sherman Bloc, two doors down from the Sherman House.
Prescott’s Palace Restaurant and Saloon is an iconic piece of Old and Wild West history. As time goes on and more of its history is revealed, its importance grows. Hence, it’s essential that its origin story is correctly told.
In a column on September 12, 1999, it was stated that, “The exact age of the Palace Saloon is somewhat of a puzzle.” The historical plaque fastened in front of the Palace today uses these exact words. Happily, they’re no longer true. After a chronological study of every Prescott newspaper from the first one in 1864 through the rebuild that followed Prescott’s Great Fire of 1900, coupled with examining related documents and records along the way, the puzzle pieces have fallen into place.
The Palace’s roots reach back to 1874. It is important to remember along the way that there were three pre-Fire Palaces but only one was related to today’s Palace.
The aforementioned 1999 “Days Past” and Palace’s historical plaque both cite the following blurb from the September 21, 1877, Arizona Weekly-Miner as reason to date the saloon’s origin year as 1877: “Messrs Shaw & Standefer have fitted up the Palace Saloon in the most superb style, and fitted it with choice liquors of every conceivable kind.” Indeed, this was the first mention of a business named the Palace found in a Prescott newspaper. However, it is a Palace, but not the Palace related to today’s award-winning establishment on Montezuma Street.
The August 10, 1877, edition of the Miner, disclosed the rest of the story: “Messrs Shaw & Standefer are fixing up the old Antelope Restaurant building for a first-class saloon.” The Antelope Restaurant was on 112 Gurley Street. The 1877 Palace closed in about a year’s time. During the years 1879-1881, there was no saloon in Prescott named the Palace.
Another Palace Saloon opened, however, on Montezuma Street in 1882, several doors down from where today’s Palace is sited. It was owned by perhaps Prescott’s first female saloon proprietor, known simply as Mrs. McManus. It too was short-lived.
Throughout the 1870s and early 80s, some key Prescottonians believed that capitalists weren’t visiting Prescott because it lacked a first-class hotel. The dilemma was solved in April 1883, when Moses Hazeltine Sherman opened the Sherman House on Goodwin Street facing the south end of the plaza. The people of Prescott immediately saw the Sherman House as something special. Nathan Ellis and Al Whitney saw an opportunity too good to pass up. They predicted that the Sherman House would attract a large clientele. A saloon near it would certainly benefit from this. They decided to build one as part of the Sherman Block. The public watched with interest as Prescott’s latest “resort” arose.
On Saturday, June 23, 1883, Prescott’s newest saloon opened in grand fashion. With a bottle of champagne, it was christened “The Palace.” It was touted as not only the largest saloon in northern Arizona but also, in refinement, the finest in the Southwest. The Goodwin Street Palace is directly related to today’s Whiskey Row gem. So, does this make 1883 the birth year of today’s Palace? Not at all. Any study of the Palace must begin with the fact that the grand building now housing both the Palace and the Jersey Lilly Saloon is the result of merging two of the most popular pre-Great Fire Prescott watering-holes: the Palace and Cabinet saloons. In fact, there was talk of naming the new enterprise the “Palace-Cabinet,” which would’ve made the efforts of historians hunting for its origins much easier.
At another juncture, it was going to be called the National Saloon; that name was originally written on the back of the blueprints. The Palace Saloon on Goodwin Street, described in last week’s “Days Past,” absorbed much of the Cabinet’s business. But early in the morning of Valentine’s Day 1884, fiendish fire was at it again. The origin of this conflagration was in the first-class hotel of which Prescottonians were so proud, the Sherman House. Like the Whiskey Row fire of 1883, a defective flue was the cause. The Miner poetically reported, “Along the wooden and papered walls the forked tongues of fire leaped and chased each other with demonized and resistless fury.” Soon the Sherman House was overwhelmed with flames. Nathan Ellis and Al Whitney’s popular Palace Saloon had no chance. It was still open when the fire started. Inside were Whitney and bartender Julian Percy. With assistance, they pulled out the bar, one billiard table and a piano before the Palace was consumed by the blaze.
With much of the Montezuma Street’s Whiskey Row section still vacant, it was ripe for a second, if not better, life. Ellis and Whitney rebuilt their Palace with stone, brick and iron on lot 19, 118 Montezuma Street where the Cabinet Saloon had operated 1874-83, opening on Independence Day 1884. The Cabinet Saloon was rebuilt two doors south on lot 21, 122 Montezuma. There the two saloons served as the heartbeat of Whiskey Row until that fateful day of July 14, 1900. The Cabinet was dynamited, and the Palace consumed by indescribably intense flames.
On July 3, 1901, the new Palace—a merging of the pre-fire Palace and Cabinet saloons—opened on lots 19, 20 and 21. The Miner reported, “Only a very brief and incomplete description of such a magnificent building can be given.” The beautifully revamped business could’ve just as easily been called the Cabinet, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Despite its name, the Palace’s story began with D.C. Thorne’s Cabinet Saloon in 1874. This fact makes today’s Palace, serving its “rough customers,” the oldest saloon in Arizona, by far.
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