Prescott’s famous "fireproof" Hotel Burke: Part II

by Tom Collins

The Hotel Burke opened in January of 1891 and was not only one of Prescott’s architectural gems, but was operated by its proprietors, Dennis A. Burke and Michael J. Hickey, as a first-class hotel. They hired experienced dining room managers, Mrs. Durning and Miss Bergheart, both of California, an all white kitchen crew and even a night watchman.

In February 1894, Burke and Hickey announced that they were purchasing from Lawler & Ayers the two business lots adjoining their hotel property, fronting on Montezuma Street, for $8,000. The area was 50×100 ft., occupied by one-story businesses including a saddlery, a fruit store and a saloon. Phil Kearney’s saloon had opened in May 1893. He had been the first to secure the celebrated "Old Crow" brand of whisky, a drawing card for his establishment. Burke and Hickey also announced their intention to enlarge their hotel that summer. In March, the sidewalk in front of the hotel was removed to create a front entrance and a winding stairway was constructed down into Fred Reif’s "elegant tonsorial parlors" (i.e. barber shop) in the hotel’s basement.

So successful was the hotel that, in late 1894, the owners added a third story and remodeled the exterior with elegant decorations. The drawings of the architect, Samuel Patton, showed that the third story would be thirteen feet high. The corner turret now occupied the second and third floors with an ornate concave roof piece and the mansard roof added visual appeal to the center of the wing along Gurley Street. In January 1895, the work was completed. The hotel boasted an additional "23 large, well ventilated, elegantly finished and handsomely furnished rooms." Interior doors connected all the rooms – of the Eastlake design and trimmed with redwood – so a family could take any number of rooms desired. Each room was provided with a large closet and any one of the rooms, large enough for an ordinary family, could be used as both a bedroom and a sitting room. There were now sixty bedrooms in all. The hotel boasted bathrooms, a large bar and a billiard hall as well. Patton provided a sizable new kitchen in the design, 43×40 feet. The major addition, however, was that the whole building was lighted by electricity, an advance over the previous gas lighting.

The Miner announced on May 25, 1895 that, in addition to the above improvements, "Messrs. Burke & Hickey have now en route from Winslow a carload of red sandstone, with which they propose to make a new sidewalk 70 feet long and 12 feet wide. This new sidewalk will be laid immediately and being of a rich color will add still further to the beauty and appearance of the new hotel."

In 1895, Harry Brisley moved his Mountain City Drugstore, originally located on the northwest corner of Gurley and Cortez, into the Hotel Burke. Herman Voge added a liquor establishment in the basement of the hotel in 1898, possibly adjoining the 1894 barbershop. The building had become a convenient shopping mall for its hotel clientele. The ambitious proprietors proposed a 50-foot front addition on the ground floor to the south.

The organization of a democratic club at the Hotel Burke’s parlors was a major political event in July 1896. Burke himself presided over the meeting as temporary chairman and J.P. Dillon officiated as secretary. The group adopted a constitution and bylaws and appointed a committee to select a vice president in each precinct of Yavapai County. "Quite a goodly number of democrats who have been shouting for populism of late were present and participated in the meeting and joined the club." (Miner, July 22, 1896) At a later meeting the club elected Burke their president.

Then came the Great Fire of July 14, 1900. Burke’s dream turned to rubble. It’s a pity that when reconstruction of the Hotel Burke began in 1901, the owners chose to omit the corner turret, the mansard roof and concave roof piece above the turret. The result was a much less ornate exterior. The building’s extreme dimensions were now 100×150 feet. As before, it was built of brick, "and handsomely trimmed with native tufa (porous limestone), giving the structure a magnificent, stately and inspiring appearance." It contained 110 sleeping rooms and about 25 store rooms, offices, etc., making 135 rooms in all." Having learned their lesson from the disastrous fire of 1900, Burke and Hickey installed a large number of fire extinguishers, distributed throughout the building and "so arranged that every inch of the building could be played upon by the hose in a minute’s time." At the end of each hallway, from the roof to the ground, there were large iron full stair fire escapes, "so that it would be impossible for a fire to prevent one from escaping with ease from any part of the building." It is what we see today as the Hotel St. Michael. In 1907, Burke sold his portion of the hotel and Hickey christened the building with the new name "after giving the matter serious consideration for some weeks." (Miner, May 11, 1907)

Michael Hickey died in July 1910 after a struggle of more than two years with "that illness that has seized so many who have followed mining life underground," noted the Miner of July 24.

Dennis Burke, after two terms as Mayor of Prescott, succumbed to tuberculosis in November 1918, although the author of the obituary in the November 5th Miner speculated that his death was due to the "bite of a vinegeron (vinegarroon or whip scorpion), more commonly known among the Indians as ‘The Child of the Earth,’ a small-sized insect. He was attacked by this deadly creature at night while sleeping out on a cot at his hotel at Bouse during warm weather, the fangs penetrating his hand and from that day his health declined."

The legacy of Burke and Hickey lives on in the Hotel St. Michael. Though not what it was before the Great Fire, it still reminds us of the glory days of Territorial Prescott.

(Tom Collins, a Professor Emeritus of Theatre, is the author of "Stage-Struck Settlers in the Sun-Kissed Land," a history of the amateur theatre in Territorial Prescott. He is a volunteer in the archives at Sharlot Hall Museum.)

Our readers’ thoughts…

Bravo to Tom Collins for a superb article on the Burke Hotel. His article on the gambling ban in 1907 suggests that some of the Prescott votes against the ban may have been to protect business friends. It is important to understand that gambling was an important feature of the male culture of that district. The then late Buckey O’Neill, after all, a good friend and early business partner of Burke, got his nickname from “bucking the tiger” in the casino game of faro. They voted the way they did in the Territorial Legislature because they were defending a lifestyle, not because they had a moral lapse.

Dennis Michael Burke
October 26, 2010

Illustrating image

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number:(Arizona and its Resources, 1899) Reuse only by permission.

In late 1894, the owners added a third story and remodeled the exterior with elegant decorations, adding visual appeal to the hotel. The roof line was ornate with a concave addition to the turret and a mansard (double-pitched) area on the Gurley Street side. The addition of 23 bedrooms on the third level brought the total bedrooms to 60.

Illustrating image

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number:(Scan Image 4a Morning Courier) Reuse only by permission.

This ad for the "fireproof" Burke Hotel ran regularly in the Morning Courier in Prescott. In fact, the ad ran for a full week after fire had burned it to the ground on July 14, 1900. It shows the hotel before the addition of the third story though the addition was made nearly 6 years earlier.

Illustrating image

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number:(f2110ph and f2114pa) Reuse only by permission.

The photo on the top shows the two arches that remain of the Hotel Burke after the Great Fire. Looking down Montezuma Street, the remains of the Palace Bar are seen to the left.

In the lower photo taken from atop the old courthouse a few days after the fire, the Palace Bar is at left, the Burke Hotel on the corner (the Montezuma Street entrance arch clearly visible from this angle) and in the foreground is "Tent City," temporary business quarters, on the courthouse plaza.

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