By Richard Gorby
The exact age of the Palace Saloon is somewhat of a puzzle. 1877, is used because of this item in the September 21, l877, Arizona Weekly Miner:
"Mess'rs Shaw and Standefer have fitted up the Palace Saloon in the most superb style, and fitted it with choice liquors of every conceivable kind." "Have fitted up the Palace Saloon" 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 many fires. The following two are interesting but doubtful: From the December 30, 1977, Courier:
"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." This would make the Palace opening in 1864. A careful study cannot determine the proof of this, although Goldberg had a saloon on Montezuma Street in l864, which was more probably the Juniper House.
And, from the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives: "D.C. Thorne, Son of the Man who Founded the Palace." According to D.C., his father, also D.C., was a native of New York who came to Prescott in l867 from Idaho, where he followed placer mining. From young D.C.'s account:
"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. This would have made the Palace built four years after the founding of Prescott. 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, almost at Prescott's beginning. And 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 since 1877, was one of the finest on Montezuma. In 1883, fire destroyed most of the street, including the Palace. The owner, Robert Brow, built the new Palace, determined to make it fire proof.
The new structure was built of brick with a stone foundation, iron roof and iron shutters in the rear. The interior featured a 20-foot bar, a beautiful back-bar, three gaming tables and two club rooms. Three heavy chandeliers completed the decor. It is alleged that "Little Egypt", who introduced the "belly dance" to visitors at the Chicago World's Fair in 1890's once performed there. Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday (of the shoot-out at the OK Corral fame) were likely regular customers, along with Prescott's own Buckey O'Neill.
Fourteen years later, in l897, from the Prescott Miner: "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 "fire proof" makeup of brick, iron and stone, the Palace, along with most of Prescott surrounding the Plaza, was destroyed in the great fire of 1900. Patrons managed to salvage much of the liquor and the oak bar, which had been shipped by boat and overland wagon to Prescott, all taken across the street to the Plaza, where drinks were being enjoyed before the fire was completely ended.
Before 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, and almost immediately, in their make-shift saloons across the street, they formed a pool of their interests and decided to put up a building that would be second to none. For about $50,000 (interest rate 1%) the new Palace was born. And it was spectacular! They had determined to put up "The finest and best club house, saloon, cafe, etc. that Arizona has ever had, or in fact that can be found west of the Mississippi River." And they did!
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 included 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. One of each animal had been given to each of the Arizona contingency in the Spanish American War by Robert Brow for use as their mascots."
The new Palace took over the front page of the June 29, l90l, Prescott Journal Miner. The Miner described the entrance to the bar room as through massive double doors of solid oak with beautiful frosted plate glass having the words "Palace" lettered in them. The interior was described as all furnished in solid oak, finished in golden oak " which makes a very rich effect." The main bar room is described as 125 feet long by 50 feet wide. The quality of the material and workmanship employed are described as "Rich and Elegant."
"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 causes one to look at it with wonder and amazement. Beautiful electrical fixtures add to its beauty."
Three large gaming tables encouraged faro, poker, roulette, kino and craps. A glass of beer was five cents, and in the beginning days a man could pay for his drinks with unminted gold. Although women did not frequent bars in those days, the Palace had its hostesses "who also entertained with songs", and quite possibly in other ways.
In 1907, a state law drove extensive gambling and hostesses from bars throughout the state, and prohibition during World War I closed many a saloon, but the Palace, with its fine food and congenial atmosphere managed to weather the difficulties. In its later years the Palace had its ups and downs but was able to stay afloat. Bands and dancing became popular and the Palace was used mainly for entertainment of this kind. Nothing much was done to keep it clean, and it deteriorated badly.
All this changed in l996, when Dave and Marilyn Michelson, from California signed a lease for the premises and began restoration. Michelson was determined to take it back to its appearance in 190l. "It's a great building with a lot of history." He was intent on "Bringing it back to its former glory."
Most of the huge room (50-l25), needed only cleaning. A hundred years of smoke and dirt covered ceilings, walls and floors. The beautiful back doors and windows had not been destroyed but only blocked by a large, double-storied band stand, which the new owner removed immediately. Hardwood floors were sanded to their former beauty, and the original skylights opened up to reveal the sparkling glass.
Dave Michelson spent several hours in the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives, seeking (and finding) early pictures to help return the room to its early beauty. And he did! Except for dining tables replacing gaming tables, and no singing hostesses, todays Palace appears as it did in 190l.
Richard Gorby is a volunteer at the Museum and has devoted much of his 13 years to topics on Prescott's Plaza.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (bub8217pb). Reuse only by permission.
After the 1900 fire the owners were determined to put up "The finest and best club house, saloon, cafe, etc. that Arizona has ever had, or in fact that can be found west of the Mississippi River."
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (po0621p). Reuse only by permission.
The front of the Palace Saloon probably before the 1900 fire. Bob Brow is third from the right and Barney Smith is at the far right.