No Ordinary Street

No Ordinary Street

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This is Tombstone’s Allen Street, looking west from Fifth Street in about 1880. The building in the foreground at right would soon be rechristened the Crystal Palace Saloon, and would become one of the best known drinking and gambling establishments in the Southwest.

At this early date, however, it sported its original name — just visible on the sign above the second story windows — Golden Eagle Brewery, 1879. Town Marshal Virgil Earp maintained an office on the second floor of the saloon, as did legendary gunshot surgeon George Goodfellow.

The ornate three-story building across the street was the Grand Hotel, one of Tombstone’s finest and a favorite haunt of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday.

At the time of this photograph, Tombstone was approaching its boom years and soon would be the largest city in the Arizona Territory.

“In its rush days, Tombstone’s Allen Street presented an interesting jumble of humanity,” wrote an early resident. “Even the stranger would be carried away by the constant hurry with something doing every minute. Saloons restaurants, hotels, well-stocked stores and barber shops — all brightly lighted for those pre-electric days — kept open house on both sides of Allen Street away into the night.

“The music from dance halls, and all the hubbub that a crowd of men away from their home ties and seeking excitement can make — all of this filled the air with a confused roar of the crowds. It could be heard miles away by the lonely cowboy or prospector wandering in to join the gang.

“In daytimes Allen Street was generally like an ordinary street in a country crossroads town, but at nightfall everybody was milling about and giving vent to all their suppressed feelings and good fellowship. It was like a jolly crowd of grown boys out for a night of fun, and most business houses did a better business at night than in the daytime.

“In its palmy days, a nervous man would not have been happy with the methods of life in Tombstone. If you sought a peaceful sleep at night you might be suddenly awakened by some unearthly noise, musical or otherwise, from ‘Promenade to the Bar’ at some dance hall, a yell of ‘Keno’ from some rejoicing gambler, to a pistol shot by some shoot-‘em-up Dick just to keep things moving. But you could sleep on in the midst of this if you could simply consider it as harmless as the noise of a boiler factory.”

It is interesting to note that when the Tombstone town site was laid out, it was intended that Fremont Street, which runs parallel to Allen Street, would be the town’s main street. But businesses gravitated down Allen Street, and Fremont became secondary to the commercial district.

Many years ago after decades of neglect, the Crystal Palace Saloon was restored to its original appearance. The Grand Hotel became Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. If you can look past asphalt and automobiles, Allen Street today appears much as it did in 1880.

— Photo and research W. Lane Rogers.