The Crystal Palace history in Tombstone is the example of authentic Saloon history in Tombstone Arizona. The corner of 5th and Allen Street developed as the same saloon in one way or another. Reinventing itself since 1800.
That's why we love it there! The authentic history. You're invited to come on over to enjoy it. Do you love old West history? Re-live it here. The Crystal Palace history comes alive in Tombstone, Arizona.
What is it about Tombstone's Crystal Palace history that makes it special? Let's see:
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The Tribolet brothers were immigrants from Ertach, Berne, Switzerland. Seven brothers altogether, but three were instrumental in this history.
The oldest was Godfrey. He moved to Charleston in Arizona Territory. Becoming a journeyman butcher, he learned the business, and began saving funds. He had bigger plans in his head!
Godfrey moved to Tombstone, which he realized was a growing community. Using savings he opened a butcher market at the corner of Allen and 5th Street. Godfrey recruited his two younger brothers into the business. Manfred was a cooper, 10 years younger. Charles was a year younger.
Charles was confident in the town's future, and his place in it. A June 15, 1880 record shows he purchased a deeded lot in town for $950. Located in the block south of the Golden Eagle, between 4th and 5th Streets.
Godfrey planned to specialize in alcoholic drinks and beef products. By late 1879 he was ready. He involved Bernhardt Wehrfritz: a German, and a brew-master, who ended up as the long-term owner. Godfrey set up his corner with an adjacent business - The Golden Eagle Brewery.1
They did a roaring business. The brewery became the beer wholesalers for all the outlets in Southeastern Arizona. They priced a dozen bottles for $3.
The Golden Eagle Brewery added on wholesale whiskey for $2 to $8 a gallon, depending on the brand. They also carried a base brand of mescal for $4 a gallon.
The Golden Eagle had a lunch counter. Convenient with their butcher shop adjacent, plus patrons could order beverages. It was a popular place for locals!
[By the way - it still is!]
But maybe with such quick success, did they handle their funds efficiently? That old time method of putting it under the mattress or under the bed?!! Is that what they meant by "under the house"?
In mid 1881 a serious fire lit through an area of Tombstone's business district. From half a block East of the Golden Eagle Brewery, it spread West toward the Brewery corner.
On the opposite corner stood the Vizina and Cook building, with the exquisite Oriental Saloon. Much effort went into trying to save the Oriental. That probably helped to stave the flames from jumping the street to the Golden Eagle. For the moment it was spared.
The evening of February 26, 1882 Ben Wehrfritz found his bartender, Mr. Forster, out front of the Golden Eagle. He was fighting with a local man. Ben went outside breaking it up.
A lawman entered the scene to arrest the two causing the fracas. Ben just wanted his bartender back inside. But that didn't work out! You can see how that ended up! Read the Weekly Tombstone Epitaph article here!!
By the Spring of 1882, Ben's business still rolled merrily along. He continued making it a unique and desirable establishment.
You can see he wanted to make it a quality gathering spot. Note this report in the Tombstone Weekly Epitaph of April 24, 1882. Ben placed ads regularly in local publications highlighting the quality of the Golden Eagle Brewery.
About midway between 4th and 5th Streets, on the North side of Allen Street, a fire flamed up behind the Tivoli Gardens Saloon. It was May 26, 1882, mid-afternoon. It quickly spread Eastward throughout the whole block. All the businesses, with their wooden frames, began crackling in the flames.
The Golden Eagle Brewery wasn't spared this time. Most of the business area was burnt away. Only a few buildings were saved by hard working people moving bucket brigades.
[Click on News Articles to Enlarge & Read]
The May 27, 1882 issue of The Epitaph reported that "Smoke from the fire rose from the ruins for several days." But everyone in town kept their optimism. They were determined to rebuild.
Including the Golden Eagle proprietors. Ben Wehrfritz was completing his new building on the corner of Allen and 5th Streets. On Friday, June 23rd, one of the workers suffered an injury.
By April, everyone was busy making Tombstone a thriving community once more. Tombstone's efforts on restoring its downtown business district gave Arizona papers a newsy interest.
The June 28, 1882 Arizona Daily Star reported "The whole place seems full of life and the carpenters hammer and the ring of the masons trowel is heard from daylight to dark and sometimes far into the night."
Just after the fire Godfrey Tibolet left Tombstone for Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was the main instigator of the Golden Eagle Brewery. The other Tribolet brothers rebuilt down the block at the corner of 4th Street.
That didn't dissuade brew-master, Bernhardt Wehrfritz, from continuing the business. Since his specialty was brewing, his plan centered on the saloon.
On that Northwest corner of Allen and 5th, his 2 story building began construction. Eighty feet of Allen Street frontage presented as the new Crystal Palace, a saloon and gaming parlor. A Crystal Palace in London, for the Exposition of 1851, was famous in that historical time. Was that the influence for the naming of Tombstone's Crystal Palace?
In the building Wehrfritz rented a barber shop run by Frank Beluda. The Rockaway Restaurant was also there. The second floor had rooms rented out. Dr. Goodfellow had one, and so did Virgil Earp.2
On July 22, 1882 the Crystal Palace opened its doors. On entering, the focal point was a goldfish pond with a central fountain. The July 22nd issue of the Daily Epitaph described it as spouting "forth streams of pure water."
They further described the walls: "tastefully painted and decorated. From a platform at the end of the saloon a piano, presided over by Mrs. Lincoln, sends forth strains of music, and gambling table are arranged on each side." It was "the finest saloon in the Territory."3
Around 1883 problems started affecting Tombstone. The mines suffered from situations weakening their productivity. Water flooded mines, equipment broke down.
Silver price decreased. So they lowered miners' wages. Many were laid off. The miners went on strike for a living wage. There was a bank crisis. One of the largest mines couldn't produce while waiting on a system to pump out water.
All these incidents caused repercussions in Tombstone's business community. Finally, in July 1884, the Grand Central Mine's new pump arrived. A local was optimistically pessimistic, stating the town seemed "dead with no visible present hope of resurrection. Pumps may bring it around."
It seems the owners of the Crystal Palace had the same attitude.
The proprietors in April of 1885 were Wehrfritz and Caesar. They placed ads for a Grand Reopening, planning to revive the business. The town was hopefully breathing in some fresh air!
An ad on April 11th in the Cochise Daily Record told of the event that very night...
The Daily Tombstone on Monday, July 20, 1885 gave the Crystal Palace a large write-up. Citing it's history: "known in the early days of the camp as the Golden Eagle Brewery and was owned and conducted by Wehrfritz & Tribolet."
Going on to credit it as having "the principal sporting house in Tombstone where those who desire to try their luck at any game can be accomodated..." Encouraging a visit, saying "all strangers will find that they will be perfectly at home and be treated courteously by the genial proprietors Caesar & Wehrfritz."
From that reopening, and all through the historic years of 1885 and into 1886 The Crystal Palace ran regular marketing ads in the local newspapers. Occasional mentions were noted when incidents occurred in the saloon.
But the town was still on a downhill slide. The new mine pump had break-downs. Mine work slowed down. Tombstone's Crystal Palace Saloon was still placing their regular in-text ads in the local newspapers.
A mention was made of of Ben Wehrfritz's first child's birth in late January 1886.
On January 31, 1886 the Tombstone Daily Epitaph published a small notice under "Local Notes" that caused doubt about the health of the Wehrfritz-Caesar partnership.
Very early morning, March 12, 1886, there was a robbery at the Crystal Palace. Both The San Francisco Chronicle and the local Epitaph published the news report the next day. It sounded a little mysterious.
Local police discovered the crime in action. They shot at the culprits, who dropped the cash as they fled the scene. They got away, and weren't pursued. It seems no follow-up was planned to determine who the robbers were, to seek an arrest!
A notice posted in The Epitaph on Saturday, April 10, 1886 exposed the partnership's problems. A Trustee's Sale was being held for the "Wehrfritz Saloon" and all its property.
Shortly thereafter regular ads began appearing in Tucson's Arizona Daily Star. Offering the real estate and barroom fixtures of the Crystal Palace.
Then on May 2, 1886 an article appeared in The Tombstone Daily Epitaph indicating Wehrfritz and Caesar's partnership was dissolved. Caesar is named the only owner of the Crystal Palace.
On May 26, 1886 a fire totally destroyed the Grand Central Mine's pump, halting the mine's capabilities. Many town businesses closed, moving elsewhere.
Other mines in town still operated. But citizens still struggled. Ben Wehrfritz looked elsewhere for business. The Epitaph let Tombstone locals in on it. By next month, according to the Daily Tombstone, Ben was brewing beer in Nogales at a local brewery he was running.
The details: November 16, 1886 Ben Wehrfritz was in Nogales AZ, after visiting Tombstone for several days. An ad appeared in the November 15th Daily Tombstone to lure the town's residents to Nogales to sample his brewery there, with a familiar name!
Caesar took on a new partner, W.H. Curnow. In March 1887 they began working on the Crystal Palace. Fixing it up, reinvented it as their own enterprise.
On May 3, 1887, an earthquake centered in Sonora Mexico historically rattled Tombstone. The Crystal Palace's chandeliers shook heavily. The light's globes crashed to the floor.
Another hit! Now from Mother Nature herself! People moved out, many to Bisbee and other surrounding mining towns where they could get work. By 1890 the population decreased to 1800. A far cry from the booming times of 5300+! It's difficult to make a go of a service business without the local population's support. Many businesses closed, many stores, many saloons, many restaurants.
The Crystal Palace kept its place in history - it kept hanging on!
With the town's financial problems, eventually it became problematic that the Crystal's lease-owners couldn't get enough business to make a go of it. Ownership changed hands again. In the Tombstone Epitaph of October 1887 a small Territorial News piece made the announcement.
A Tombstone paper, whose readership was dwindling, and its survival doomed, printed a sarcastic comment comparing the town's establishments. In particular it mentioned the Crystal Palace in Tombstone. Then reprinted in Tucson's Arizona Daily Star on Christmas Day 1877.
In 1888 history, there isn't much mention of Tombstone's Crystal Palace. Local news mentions the Crystal on occasion, referencing people or unusual events. For instance:
We're always researching Crystal Palace history. We're open to information anyone can provide. Please contact us about what you may know!
In 1889, Julius Caesar is referenced with an ad about the Crystal Palace Tombstone! A mysterious notice appears in the Tombstone Daily Epitaph!!
A short time later the startling event is unmasked! Another announcement appears in the Epitaph. A new singer, Miss Wood, was enlisted to provide Crystal Palace entertainment.
Creative marketing at its finest in the historic 1880s! The Crystal Palace had a raffle for a sewing machine: one of the newest inventions of the era!!
Toward year's end, a different singer was hired. First mentioned in The Daily Epitaph on November 22, 1889. They gave Miss Cushman notices in the paper under "Local Happenings." The last one on December 28, 1889.
In the 1890s, the Crystal Palace had few mentions or ads in the Tombstone Epitaph. Instead their advertising went to The Tombstone Prospector. The Tombstone newspapers of the day, as well as the local businesses, historically aligned with each other politically.
(It's actually the same way today!!)
The Epitaph mentioned the Crystal Palace again when they reported on an incident that occurred there. It horrified their editorial staff, and they commented, as well as reported on it. They asked for some action!
On the same date, though, they also mentioned the Crystal's singer: Annie Cushman. They noted she "is sure some swell singer."
What do you think of that? Use our comment section below - to let us know!
At the same time, an area in back of the main bar was rented out to P.B. Warnekros for his enterprise. He supplied the latest popular beer, Schlitz, along with ice to keep it cold. He advertised that the Crystal Palace had great access to that wanted beverage!
Suddenly a surprise announcement appeared in the local press, both the Prospector and the Epitaph. The Crystal Palace was under new management once again!
Deducing from the Tombstone Weekly Epitaph's announcements, they supported this change. Although they're not yet carrying advertising, they now begin mentioning the Crystal Palace again.
The end of July 1890 also saw an end to the Crystal Palace's advertising. From our history research, we can't see that Joe Bignon invested in much, if any, paid newspaper advertising.
However, he wasn't against having free publicity any publication was willing to give him. An occasional note was placed in various area periodicals. For instance, when a new gambling game began at the Crystal Palace, The Tombstone Prospector placed a small article. It was an evening Keno game!
During 1891 the Crystal Palace Saloon was mentioned in local papers only when there was a newsworthy occurrence. Such as these instances:
A notice posted in the Tombstone Weekly Epitaph shows that ice storage was still available in the back area of the Crystal Palace. Now the agreement was with the Southwestern Ice Company.
A raffle was sponsored by manager, Joe Bignon. Maybe he had a plan in mind, because about two weeks later two announcements appear on the same day in The Epitaph:
But July 1 comes and goes with the Crystal Palace Saloon still closed. On July 24th The Epitaph posts an article declaring it will open soon. They're working on wallpaper and ceilings.
Subsequently, there's no announcement of a new owner or management. There's no Crystal Palace Grand Opening announced. There's no historical article located. (If you can locate one, or some valid historical info, please let us know!)
Finally a mention is given...
The Tombstone Weekly Epitaph prints a cautionary notice of an unsafe area. But who's responsible for solving this issue? And it's now all the way into mid 1894!
On September 1 that year, the Arizona Weekly Citizen published a substantial analytical piece by someone with the byline "P.H." entitled "Tombstone Today." It speaks of "rows on rows of empty cabins." And "whole blocks of saloons and stores of considerable magnitude forsaken." It includes saloon names such as "Crystal Palace" and another well known, the "Fashion."
Why? Its heading explains: "Tombstone has had a great decline." And further, it tells of silver's price drop, miners and merchants leaving. They commend those left in Tombstone as hopeful and resilient.
The conclusion can be, the Crystal Palace was to be reopened after Bignon left. But the financial situation fell through, and it never happened.
At the end of 1895, the Crystal Palace is finally mentioned in The Tombstone Weekly Epitaph. It's again sold, by a court judgment to Martin Costello.
A Phoenix issue published an article by Pittock, on September 16, 1897. A historical look at Tombstone, it reviewed the current situation back from its heyday. It listed the 1897 population as about 1000. That's a few hundred less than it presently has!
Pittock mentions the Crystal Palace. Saying the "corner last occupied by the Crystal Palace saloon, northwest corner of Fifth and Allen streets, less than three years ago retned [sic] for $150 monthly."4 So it seems the Crystal Palace was still not open in late 1897.
Researching news items to the end of the 1800s, nothing more is seen by us referencing Crystal Palace History in Tombstone Arizona.
A very small item appeared in Prescott's Weekly Journal-Miner. Under their "Saturday's Daily" column. The Crystal Palace will reopen, if their notice is accurate!
Right about that time, some rejuvenation happened in the Tombstone business community. As the tiny article noted, that would now be the eighth saloon in town.
On May 18, 1902 the Weekly Epitaph mentioned the outlook. It focused on the Oriental Saloon being refurbished to reopen by June 1st. But it also mentioned the Crystal Palace was expected to open.
Another thing that happened in May, women were outlawed from saloons! The result of a "morality" political action running through the country. And it was men who had the control, as women could not vote.
The Tombstone city council passed an ordinance, effective May 20, 1902. It stated: "no woman shall be allowed in the saloons or adjacent rooms, either as a guest or employee of the place." Violation would mean a fine of $25 to $50 or imprisonment of 10 to 25 days.
However, let's note, for the men's convenience it did not apply to the red light district! It still continued through January of 1907, when prostitution was outlawed.
It took a little while, but work began on the Crystal. The Epitaph noted November 9, 1902 that remodeling was happening. That very day work on a new ceiling started. The anticipated opening date just under a month away.
It didn't go on time. But another announcement appeared in The Epitaph on December 21st, which named the new owners. In that same issue, the Grand Opening is announced.
The Tombstone Weekly Epitaph printed a small review of the Grand Opening. On December 28th they reported it "was well attended." Calling it a favorable "class of resorts in the west."
The Bisbee Daily Review July 26, 1903 issue reported that one of last year's group of Crystal Palace owners divested his interest in the saloon. Elwood Madden had moved on to "The Turf." By September of that year, he's very ill with typhoid fever.
In early August 1903, John F. Anderson is listed as one of the Crystal Palace proprietors. Did he replace Madden? Another proprietor is mentioned in the Weekly Epitaph on May 1906 - Edward Wheeler. Then by August 1906 an announcement appears in the Epitaph. Only J.M. Speck remains as Crystal Palace management.
the Crystal Palace is mentioned with reports of the travels of lease-owner, John M. Speck. In February he visits family in Los Angeles. In March he visits Silver City, NM. In July he travels to Philadelphia for a convention. But afterwards returning to Silver City, where he'll "remain for some time."
That year Tombstone's economy was struggling.
No other Crystal Palace history reports have been uncovered after that. Until we hear of Speck's marriage break-up under somewhat strange circumstances. See it for yourself in the 1909 news clipping!
No reports by us are found early in the 1910 decade. A hint of what happened can be unraveled from a story published in the Weekly Epitaph of June 28, 1914. It mentioned John Maddon [sic] returning to town.
They reminded readers he was the historic Crystal Palace owner, with John M. Speck. They note, "when the camp closed down several years ago the saloon was closed." The wording indicates it closed after these owners were done with it.
The Crystal Palace property at that time was owned by Mary Costello, as her husband Martin died on September 15, 1911. Gambling was outlawed in Arizona beginning in 1907. The Costello estate sold their gaming tables and roulette wheels to an establishment in Naco, Sonora Mexico in 1915.
Arizona passed prohibition on January 1, 1915, even before it became the national law. Voters approved Proposition 203 in 1914, influencing what became of Tombstone's saloons. Eventually, Mary Costello sold off the original, beautiful bars of the Crystal Palace.
A Naco, Sonora saloon owner, F.J. Keogh, purchased the bar, back bar and all fixtures from the Crystal Palace Costello estate. Plus the huge ice box from the rear of the saloon. A truck carted it all across the border on June 2, 1923.
The Crystal Palace bar was installed in the White House Saloon in Naco, Sonora. At some point unfortunately, that saloon succumbed to fire. The historic bar along with it!
Thus on January 1915, a whole new avenue for the Crystal Palace Saloon came into play. Joe Norcross took ownership of its lease it at month's end.
Joe expressed optimism for the town. He had The Crystal Theatre ready to go on February 26th, with a ball afterwards!
Then mid-year, he sold out to James and Tony Giacoma. Former miners, immigrants who arrived in town around 1909. They carried on the same type of productions as did Joe.
Things looked up financially for the town. Not that it was booming, but it was more stable. The local mines were consistently running, the housing market was full, hotel rooms were booked, banks were doing well. World War I began, contributing to this stability.
The U.S. didn't get in the war until 1917. Tombstone was distracted with their patriotic effort.
At the war's end, on November 11, 1918, everyone celebrated! They gathered outside the Crystal Theatre while the Tombstone High School played the Star Spangled Banner. Local attorney W.G. Gilmore gave a short, but moving commemorative speech.5
But again the commercial parts of town began to suffer. People started moving away, until the population was a little under 1000. Tombstone's First National Bank: Mary Costello, President, just missed having to close! She, herself, took action to save it. But restaurants, stores, other enterprises were closing. One after another.
The Secretary of the Commercial club, Arlington Gardner, thought of something to save the town: tourism! Author Frederick Bechdolt came to town in mid 1919, meeting with Gardner. This fomented a series of Saturday Evening Post articles about Tombstone AZ. Then he wrote a book, When the West Was Young. While in town, he promoted restoring Boothill cemetery.
In 1922, the Giacoma brothers felt the buzz. They refurbished the Crystal Theatre. The Epitaph mentioned how others along Allen Street also got into the action! The news was featured in the Bisbee Daily Review and Tucson's Arizona Daily Star.
At year's end the Crystal Theatre was still operating. The El Paso Herald published an article on December 9, 1922 reviewing Tombstone's history. It mentioned the "Crystal Palace gambling hall is a prosaic Crystal theater, showing moving pictures..."
Gardner enlisted help from Tombstone historian George H. Kelly. They decided to commemorate a 50 year anniversary in 1929. Scheduled for October, it was the first "Helldorado."
Twenty-four different committees planned it. The initial organization meeting was held at the Crystal Palace. Among the plans were:
The most popular reenactment was The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. That feature made newspapers throughout the country.
Over 6,400 people were in town for the event. Even so the Phoenix Gazette was a naysayer. Was it a one-time event for a dying town? "...the final curtain has dropped in the Bird Cage and the last lights have gone out in the Crystal Palace."
The big stock market crash that week may have influenced that feeling! Mining barely held on for some folk; up a little, then down again over the years. Depression years were severe for those in town. Tombstone lost the County Seat to Bisbee in 1930. Historically it was another severe hit!
But that year, Tombstone resident Walter Lombardi bought the Crystal Palace.
Tombstone was visited by tourists via the new cross-country touring route: U.S. Hwy. 80. Called Broadway of America. It made Tombstone a well-known stopping point by those touring from East of the Mississippi and foreign countries.
In 1936 Gardner, and the Coles - along with other pioneer Tombstoners, Mary Costello, Ethel Macia and Margaret Cummings, continued to promote Tombstone's historic buildings. Including the Crystal Palace, the Bird Cage, Boothill, Nellie Cashman's hotel, the world's largest rosebush, Schieffelin Monument, the Courthouse and others.
When the U.S. entered WWII in 1941, Tombstone's population was just 822. Again it was a terrible economic time. Mining was virtually done. Vintage buildings were on sale for bargain rates! Another tourist revival was sought after the war ended. In 1948, a travel boom on U.S. Hwy. 80 brought travelers to town again.
Lombardi again refurbished the historic Crystal Palace Saloon. He hired Alan Branson of Associate Artists and Decorators of Tucson to recreate the back bar. The Grand Opening was on May 8 & 9, 1948. The Epitaph's May 13, 1948 write-up gave descriptive accolades: "grandeur and splendor for which it was noted during the heyday of Tombstone."
In 1950, Lombardi was involved on the new Tombstone Restoration Commission. Governor Garvey came to town for a banquet. Reenactments were staged, Rudolf Valentino's silent film Son of the Shiek was shown in the Crystal Palace Theater.
A close call on Allen Street on May 23, 1957! Starting in back of the Cattleman & Miner's Bar, flames seared down the street, consuming part of the block. Approaching the Crystal Palace, and nearly got it before being extinguished.
Three men from the Eastern U.S., interested in history, and in making money, formed Historic Tombstone Adventures. Around 1963 they purchased quite a few consequential properties.
Their first priority was the Crystal Palace Saloon. They reworked the outside area to appear historically authentic. As it did in 1882, with its second story rooms. The refurbishment took 5 months. All told for purchase and renewal, it cost $190,000.2
The historic Crystal Palace has since shifted ownership more times since. The importance of Crystal Palace History as a Saloon and then as a theater in Tombstone's ongoing adventure is something you can relive today.
Stop in to envision what has gone on there over the years. See the re-creation of the beautiful, historic bar & back bar. Take photos - and Give Us A Look at them, if you would!! Visit Tombstone to live Wild West history!
1 Weekly Republican (31 Oct., 1879). From Tuesday's Daily Herald. P. 4. Phoenix, AZ.
2 Bailey, L.R. (2004). Too tough to die. Westernlore Press. Tucson AZ
3 Weekly Epitaph (1882, July 23). Tombstone, Arizona.
4 Arizona Republic (1897, Sept. 16) P. 4. Phoenix, AZ
5 Tombstone Prospector (1918, November 11). Tombstone, AZ