By Zach Hirsch
As audiences sit to view a play or listen to a concert at the Prescott Fine Arts Association theatre at 208 North Marina, they little realize the structure has a 104 year history. It is a prime example of the renovation of an historically significant building with adaption for re-use for the benefit of the community.
Construction on the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus began May 22, 1891, and was dedicated February 17, 1985. It was the culmination of efforts by French-born Rev. F. Albert Quetu, who arrived in Prescott in 1889, and served here until 1908.
Architect Frank Parker designed it in "Sober Gothic Style", using pointed arches and decorative brick work, combined with local rough-cut stone. The beautiful "old" Sacred Heart Church is considered by many to be one of the best examples of 19th Century religious architecture in Arizona. The structure's 115-foot steeple was admirably executed, but it was struck by lightening, destroyed and never replaced.
The story of the church is almost the story of Catholicism in Central Arizona. It is believed that in 1776, Franciscan Garces came through here and secured five Yavapai Indians needed to guide him north to Hopi land. The first recorded Catholic priest to conduct services in this area was Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy who came to Prescott in 1863; stayed some weeks, and offered the first Mass here on Christmas Eve. As he left on Christmas Day, he paused to say Mass again, using a stone at the base of Granite Mountain as an altar.
To the north of the church, and adjoining it by an enclosed walkway, is the two-story brick rectory building built in 1915, to replace a wooden one.
By the early 1960's, the old church was bulging at the seams as the Scared Heart congregation expanded. So a larger church was designed in the innovative 20th century style and erected on Academy Hill, a few blocks west on Fleury Street. On June 13, 1969, the last function was held in the old building by the Catholic congregation. Earlier that year, on March 16, the first Mass was served in the new building by Father Bernard O'Connor.
Some say that a ghost of the past still haunts the premises: The Reverend Father Edmond Clossen, who some people still call Father Michael. He had no regular parish, but was an itinerant Catholic priest hoping to convert the Indians of the Arizona Territory. He often came to Prescott to visit with Father Quetu, and stayed in one of the second floor rooms of the rectory. On July 14, 1900, the fire that destroyed most of downtown Prescott occurred. Prescottonians came to the rectory, calling for assistance. A fellow priest, a heavy sleeper, was asleep in a locked bedroom at the top of the stairs. Father Clossen tried to rouse the sleeper, shaking the door and calling out, but to no avail. Finally, Father Clossen went to the area of the conflagration to assist and give solace.
Two years later, on June l8, 1902, he died. His body was brought to Sacred Heart by some Indians. Some said he was killed by some outlaw tribal members, and his remains had been brought to the church as a way to seek repentance. Father Quetu performed the funeral service, and Clossen was laid to rest beneath the altar. No death certificate has been found. His body was disinterred in 1969. The site of his remains are a mystery.
Often, at night, when actors are getting into costumes on the first floor of the rectory, they can still hear the ghost of Father Clossen rattling the door on the second floor. One night, when a show director was checking the lighting for a graveyard scene in the theatre next door - with a smoke machine sending ribbons across the stage - a shadow crossed in front of the painted moon at the back of the set. And the director of the play, Blithe Spirit, has told friends that one night after the audience had left, he and three actors were on stage, checking things before closing up for the night, when three glasses rose from the bar and dropped to the stage. Has Father Clossen returned?
Now, let us return to the late 1960's. Sometime in late 1968, a germ of an idea for a Fine Arts organization was born in the fertile mind of Prescott Socialite Reathel Gammill Jackson. From there it spread to T. Frank Stewart, publisher of the Prescott Courier. Then, with a massive publicity campaign, several community leaders were enlisted to form the Prescott Fine Arts Association. Funds were raised to remodel the old Santa Fe depot for a Fine Arts Center, but a satisfactory long-term lease could not be arranged, so the old Sacred Heart Church was leased in the summer of 1969, as a temporary theatre and art galley. The Prescott Library Board members were urged by the Scared Heart owners to consider their vacated building as a new library site. Jean Phillips was among the library representatives who found the building unsuited to their need but noted its potential as a Fine Arts facility. Ethel Tyson, who had been recruited to fill the drama seat on the PFAA board, shared the potential.
However, the cost of remodeling into a theatre and art gallery was beyond the means of their budget. The group "begged and borrowed" to build a stage, cover windows, carpet, install seating, and generally adapt the building for its opening on July 3, 1969, with the presentation of three melodramas: THE MINER'S DAUGHTER, OUR NELL, and FANNY, THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER. Two other productions, ANY WEDNESDAY, and ALL BECAUSE OF AGATHA completed the three-month summer occupancy.
The temporary theatre then closed and volunteers concentrated on workshop plans. In late 1969, the temporary home was made available as a permanent location through the generosity of art-minded Mrs. Norma (Bonsall) Hazeltine. The building committee chairman, Robert Kieckhefer, initiated remodeling plans, envisioning the gallery and theatre as a viable realty. At first, art was hung on the walls of the theatre, with volunteers sleeping overnight to guarantee their safety. On August 7, 1970, the opening major art exhibit included the work of Clair Fry, George Phippen, and Earl Mac Pherson.
Robert "Bob" Williams followed Gammill as President Phyliss Motherhead took over the reins. There was no paid staff, everything from directing the plays to handling all the financial affairs was handled by volunteers. Ted Liese was President for a number of years and when he stepped down he agreed to take over the art gallery operation. Liese brought in new types of exhibits, turned the lower level into a full-fledged art gallery with a gift shop, and sought financing, through grants, for new and innovative shows.
The theatre eventually had 155 aluminum and red plastic seats. In the summer of 1985, under the leadership of then president, Bryan Gackle, new seats with arms were added; the audience area was widened to now accommodate 196 seats. The early technical aspects of the theatre were basic. Theatrical lights that had to be focused from a 16-foot wooden ladder and a lightboard that was a manual rheostat operation with large handles. In 1997, thanks, in part to an APS donation, the lighting capability was tripled to go with a computerized light board and a catwalk for focusing lights overhead. Last year a complete sound system was added, with body microphones available, to replace the portable units formerly in use. The 100-plus year old floor in the former altar area has begun to sink and elderly heating systems have been replaced.
The physical plant has needed exterior repairs as well. Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Lucheck underwrote the cost of a workshop/storage facility which replaced the former scenery storage area in a garage. They again came to the rescue of PFAA with funding to tear down the unsafe wooden structure at the rear of the rectory and the walkway connecting it to the theatre. It was rebuilt as originally designed, in keeping with the two building's designation in the Historic Registry.
The building continues to serve the people of the Prescott area. The bricks have been repointed; roofs have been repaired; windows and doors replaced; new carpeting in the old rectory; and a lift can now take wheelchair audience members right from street level to the theatre. Over the years it is the people who have sustained and helped the use of the former church to grow. The PFAA now lists three salaried personnel to handle fund raising, business management, and the box office. A paid custodian keeps the complex in running order.
But it is the volunteers who continue to make the Prescott Fine Arts Association moving ahead. Though most of the actors, directors, technicians, and designers are home grown, PFAA has been fortunate to have had former professional directors like Bryan Gackle, Paul Boxell, Zack Hirsch, and Kathy Payne direct shows. Other "retired" actors and designers have added their talents. Locals Jill Goodell Hale, Casey Knight and Carol Fulkerson's names appear in early play casts and are still deeply involved to this day. Since that opening date in 1969, 179 Mainstage productions have graced the PFAA stage and productions both Elks Theatre and Yavapai College Performance Hall. 77 Family Theatre plays (formerly Children's) have been presented, plus numerous concerts, scholarship awards afternoons, summer productions, musical variety shows in conjunction with fund-raising dinners in the art gallery, end-of-season plays by the Summer Theatre Apprentice Workshop (19 years in operation) not to mention the many extraordinary art exhibits in the gallery which operates 12 months a year.
Yes, "This Old House" has become the center of artistic life in Prescott and its environs and will for years to come.
Zack Hirsch is a Production Manager, Editor, and Scheduling Chairman for PFAA. PFAA is presenting Tuna Christmas from Dec 9-18, and a holiday gift show and sale. For details or schedules for either event, call PFAA at 445-3286).
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (pb010f11i8). Reuse only by permission.
This may be one of the last photos of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church with its 115 foot steeple which was destroyed by lightening in 1930. The building is considered by many to be one of the best examples of 19th Century religious architecture in Arizona.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (pb010f11i9). Reuse only by permission.
The interior of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church during the late 1920s. When the congregation moved to a larger facility on Fluery Street in 1969 the Prescott Fine Arts Association moved in and created a theatre and art gallery which has thrived other the last 30 years due to hard working volunteers and, lately, staff too.