by Bradley G. Courtney
Last week’s readers learned that Robert “Bob” Brow left Deadwood, South Dakota, at the age of 24 and eventually wound up in Walnut Grove, Arizona. There the worst natural disaster in Arizona’s history occurred on February 22, 1890, when the Walnut Grove Dam broke.
The dam disaster soon led Bob to Prescott again where he would become a household name and historical figure still known by many in Prescott today. In 1892 he began his legendary stint with Prescott’s Palace Saloon when he purchased a 50 percent interest, co-owning it with L.F. Hale. Bob bought out Hale in 1895, becoming the sole proprietor of the Palace.
On July 14-15, 1900, Prescott experienced the worst catastrophe in its history. The majority of the town’s business district burned to the ground. A man’s careless use of a miner’s candlestick holder led to a conflagration of nearly mythical dimensions and intensity. Most famously, Palace patrons and firefighters pulled out the cherry and mahogany bar, and continued to party while the saloon’s pianist played “It’s a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” repeatedly while others watching the fire sang along. Harry Brisley, a pharmacist, noted that when the fire was finally stopped, “It was reported that Brow had tapped kegs of cold beer nearby the courthouse and was free to all comers. Never had been heard more welcome news after five hours of continuous toil.”
Brow and his crew gathered lumber, tin and other building materials and placed them on the Plaza, where he would construct a temporary building, like so many other proprietors, for his business. When his tin and wooden shack was completed, Brow posted a sign above the saloon doors that touted, “brow’s palace and not ashamed of it.”
The other top watering hole on Whiskey Row was the Cabinet Saloon, two doors south of the Palace. Proprietors Ben Belcher and Barney Smith relocated their temporary place of business a few yards from Brow’s makeshift Palace. On August 10, the three entrepreneurs bought from Hugh McCrum of San Francisco lots 19, 20 and 21 (addresses 118, 120 and 122) on Montezuma Street. The $7,000 paid for these lots was viewed as shockingly low. Still, there was no mention of a new partnership between these men. Most likely, the decision to merge the Cabinet and Palace saloons was made in late August or early September of 1900. Whenever it occurred, Brow, Belcher and Smith decided to build a saloon that would be second to none in the West.
Since this would be an amalgam of two former saloons, there was the issue of what to name their new establishment. At first, they planned to simply call it the National Saloon. Eventually, they opted to stick with “Palace.” After all, as the new Palace Saloon’s first advertisement would later state, “It’s just what its name would imply.”
The Palace’s grand opening was scheduled for the evening of July 3. With a mass of people in town for the Fourth of July celebration, it was bound to be one of the biggest grand openings Prescott had ever seen. In advance of the event, the Journal-Miner reported, “Only a very brief and incomplete description of such a magnificent building can be given.” It also claimed that it was the finest saloon Arizona ever had and “in fact that can be found west of the Mississippi.”
In 1907 Bob Brow was elected Constable of Prescott. He served two terms. While still holding the office of constable, Brow died in September of 1909. His funeral was one of the largest ever held in Prescott.
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