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 instrumental to this history.
The oldest was Godfrey. He moved to Charleston, Arizona Territory. Becoming a journeyman butcher, he learned the business, began saving funds. With bigger plans in his head!
Godfrey moved to Tombstone, 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.
Godfrey planned to specialize in alcoholic drinks and beef products. Ready by late 1879 he involved Bernhardt Wehrfritz: a German brew-master, who ended up 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 outlets in Southeastern Arizona. They sold a dozen bottles for $3, wholesale whiskey from $2 to $8 a gallon, depending on the brand, and 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 Tombstone's business district. From half a block East of the Golden Eagle Brewery, spreading 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 staving flames from jumping the street to the Golden Eagle. For the moment it was spared.
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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 to arrest the two causing the fracas. Ben just wanted his bartender back inside. But that didn't work out! See how that ended up, in this Weekly Tombstone Epitaph article:
By Spring 1882, Ben's business still rolled merrily along. He continued making it a unique and desirable establishment. 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.
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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.
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The May 27, 1882 Epitaph reported that "Smoke from the fire rose from the ruins for several days." But everyone in town kept optimistic, 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, a worker 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 Tribolet left Tombstone for Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was the main entrepreneur for the Golden Eagle Brewery. The other Tribolet brothers rebuilt down the block at the corner of 4th. That didn't dissuade brew-master, Bernhardt Wehrfritz, from continuing. 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. Did that influence the naming of Tombstone's Crystal Palace?
In that building Wehrfritz rented out a barber shop run by Frank Beluda, plus The Rockaway Restaurant. The second floor had rooms rented to Dr. Goodfellow, Virgil Earp2 and others.
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 Daily Epitaph described it spouting "forth streams of pure water."
They further portrayed 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 productivity problems started affecting Tombstone. The mines suffered from water flooding, and equipment break-down. Silver prices decreased.
So they lowered miners' wages. Many were laid off. The miners struck for a living wage. Then a bank crisis. A mine pump system was ordered.
All these incidents depressed Tombstone's business community. In July 1884, the Grand Central Mine's water pump arrived. A local was optimistically pessimistic, stating the town seemed "dead with no visible present hope of resurrection. Pumps may bring it around."
The Crystal Palace owners had the same attitude.
The April 1885 proprietors were Wehrfritz and Caesar. They placed Grand Reopening ads, planning to revive the business. Would Tombstone breathe in some fresh air?
An ad April 11th in the Cochise Daily Record recounted 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."
Crediting them 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 local newspapers. Occasional mentions were noted when incidents occurred in the saloon.
Tombstone was still on a downhill slide. The new mine pump had break-downs. Mine work slowed. Tombstone's Crystal Palace Saloon still placed regular in-text ads in local newspapers.
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 report's history. It sounded somewhat mysterious.
Local police discovered the crime in action. They shot at the culprits, who dropped the cash as they fled. Getting away, and weren't pursued. And no follow-up to determine who the robbers were, to seek arrest!
A notice posted in The Epitaph Saturday, April 10, 1886 exposed the partnership's problems. A Trustee's Sale planned for the "Wehrfritz Saloon" and all property.
Shortly thereafter regular ads appeared in Tucson's Arizona Daily Star. Offering the Crystal Palace real estate and barroom fixtures.
Then May 2, 1886 The Tombstone Daily Epitaph reported Wehrfritz and Caesar's partnership was dissolved. Caesar is named the only owner of the Crystal Palace.
On May 26, 1886 fire destroyed the Grand Central Mine's pump. Many town businesses closed. Citizens still struggled. Ben Wehrfritz looked elsewhere for business. The Epitaph let Tombstone locals in on it. By next month Ben was brewing beer in Nogales at a local brewery.
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!
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 away, many to Bisbee and other nearby mining towns where they work. By 1890 the population decreased to 1800. A far cry from booming times of 5300+! It's difficult making a go of service businesses without local population support. Businesses closed: many stores, saloons, restaurants.
The Crystal Palace kept its place in history. 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, with dwindling readership, its survival doomed, printed a sarcastic comment comparing local establishments. In particular mentioning Tombstone's Crystal Palace. Tucson's Arizona Daily Star reprinted it on Christmas Day 1877.
In 1888 Crystal Palace history, there isn't much mention. Local news 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 a Crystal Palace ad! A mysterious notice appears in the Tombstone Daily Epitaph.
A short time later the startling event is unmasked in the Epitaph. A new singer, Miss Wood, 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.
(And yes - 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 behind the main bar was rented out to P.B. Warnekros for his enterprise, supplying the latest popular beer, Schlitz, along with ice keeping it cold. He advertised the Crystal Palace had great access to that desired beverage!
A surprise announcement appeared in both the local Prospector and Epitaph. The Crystal Palace under new management once again!
Deducing from the Tombstone Weekly Epitaph's announcements, they supported this change. Although they're not carrying advertising, they begin mentioning the Crystal Palace again.
The end of July 1890 saw an end to Crystal Palace's advertising. From our history research, we can't see Joe Bignon invested in much, if any, paid newspaper advertising.
He wasn't against having free publicity any publication was willing to give him! An occasional note surfaced in area periodicals. For instance, a new gambling game began at the Crystal Palace. The Tombstone Prospector noted it.
During 1891, from our history research, the Crystal Palace Saloon was locally mentioned only with a newsworthy occurrence. Such as these instances:
The Tombstone Weekly Epitaph notice told readers ice storage was still available in the back area of the Crystal Palace. The agreement was with the Southwestern Ice Company.
A raffle was sponsored by manager, Joe Bignon. Maybe with a plan in mind, because two weeks later two announcements appear on the same day in The Epitaph:
But July 1 comes and goes, 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 history conclusion can be, [we think] the Crystal Palace was to reopen after Bignon left. But financing fell through, so it never happened.
At 1895's end, 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 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 apparently the Crystal Palace was still not open in late 1897.
Researching news items to 1800's end, nothing more is seen by us referencing Crystal Palace History in Tombstone Arizona.
A small item appeared in Prescott's Weekly Journal-Miner. Under "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. Focusing on the Oriental Saloon refurbishment, to reopen June 1st. But also mentioning the Crystal Palace expected to open.
Another thing happened in May: women were outlawed from saloons! The result of "morality" political action running through the country. Men 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 fines of $25 to $50, or imprisonment of 10 to 25 days.
However, note for the men's convenience it didn't apply to the red light district! That area continued through January 1907, when prostitution was outlawed.
It took a little while, but work began on the Crystal. The Epitaph reported November 9, 1902 the remodeling: That very day new ceiling work started. 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 short Grand Opening review on December 28th, reporting it "was well attended." Calling it a favorable "class of resorts in the west."
The Bisbee Daily Review July 26, 1903 issue said one Crystal Palace owner sold his interest. Elwood Madden had moved on to "The Turf." By September 1903, he's ill with typhoid fever.
Early August 1903, John F. Anderson is now a Crystal Palace proprietor. Did he replace Madden? Another proprietor is mentioned in a May 1906 Weekly Epitaph, Edward Wheeler. Then an August 1906 Epitaph announcement states only J.M. Speck remains as Crystal Palace management.
the Crystal Palace is mentioned, reporting travels of lease-owner, John M. Speck. In February visiting family in Los Angeles. In March visiting Silver City, NM. In July traveling 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 June 28, 1914, Weekly Epitaph. 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 was then owned by Mary Costello, as her husband Martin died on September 15, 1911. Gambling was outlawed in Arizona starting 1907. The Costello estate sold their gaming tables and roulette wheels in 1915 to an establishment in Naco, Sonora Mexico .
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. Mary Costello sold the original, beautiful Crystal Palace bars.
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!
What happens next?
January 1915, a whole new avenue for the Crystal Palace Saloon came into play. Joe Norcross took ownership of its lease. Joe expressed optimism for the town. 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 productions as did Joe.
Things looked up financially for the town. Not that it was booming, but it was more stable. The local mines consistently running, housing market full, hotel rooms booked, banks 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, 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, moving commemorative speech.5
But again commercial town interests began to suffer. People moving away, until the population was just under 1000. Tombstone's First National Bank: Mary Costello, President, almost closed! She took action to save it. But restaurants, stores, other enterprises were closing. One after another.
The Commercial Club Secretary, Arlington Gardner, thought of something to save the town: tourism! Mid 1919 Author Frederick Bechdolt came to town, meeting with Gardner. This fomented Saturday Evening Post articles about Tombstone AZ. Then 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 others along Allen Street got into the action! The Bisbee Daily Review and Tucson's Arizona Daily Star featured this news.
At year's end the Crystal Theatre still operated. The El Paso Herald published an article 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: the first "Helldorado."
Twenty-four committees planned it, meeting 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 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 from East of the Mississippi and foreign countries.
In 1936 Gardner, the Coles, with other pioneer Tombstoners: Mary Costello, Ethel Macia and Margaret Cummings, continued promoting Tombstone's history. Including the Crystal Palace, the Bird Cage, Boothill, Nellie Cashman's hotel, the world's largest rosebush, Schieffelin Monument, the Courthouse and others.
With U.S. WWII entry in 1941, Tombstone's population was just 822. Another terrible economic time. Mining was virtually done. Vintage buildings on sale for bargain rates! Another tourist revival was sought after the war ended. In 1948, a travel boom on U.S. Hwy. 80 saw travelers return.
Another historic Crystal Palace Saloon refurbishment. Lombardi hired Alan Branson of Associate Artists and Decorators of Tucson for back bar recreation. A Grand Opening 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, 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 for historic authenticity. As in 1882, with second story rooms. The refurbishment took five months. For purchase and renewal, it cost $190,000.2
The historic Crystal Palace has shifted ownership more times since. The importance of Crystal Palace History as a Saloon and then a theater in Tombstone's ongoing adventure is something you can relive today.
Stop in to envision what has occurred 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