After years of neglect, Dawson City in the early sixties had the classic look of a rundown ghost town. But plans were underway to spruce up the most famous gold rush town in the world.
In 1962, the federal government began an effort to restore some of the old gold rush buildings and turn Dawson City into a tourist mecca. The centerpiece of this effort was the Palace Grand Theatre built by Arizona Charlie Meadows at the turn of the century. Meadows was a veteran of the wild west shows having worked with Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill’s wild west shows in the United States. On his way to the Klondike, Meadows picked up loose change by shooting spots off a deck of cards. He also carried with him a portable bar selling booze to stampeders at various camps along the way.
To build the Palace Grand, Meadows used lumber from two steamboats he had bought. By the spring of 1899, the theatre opened and featured a stage play called Camille. Charlie Meadows would also stage wild west shows of sorts at his Grande Theatre. But it didn’t last long. For all intents and purposes, the gold rush ended in the fall of ’99, just two years after it began.
For years the Palace Grand stood as a run down reminder of those glorious gold rush days at the turn of century. Then, in June of 1962 the restored Palace Grande opened with a sparkling ceremony which included the opening of a new Broadway play called FOXY. The of this light hearted musical comedy was Bert Lahr, who had gained world wide fame as the cowardly lion in the famous movie The Wizard of Oz.
The staging of a Broadway play in Dawson City took considerable cheek and money. The play itself didn’t achieve critical acclaim and the timing of such an elaborate stage show was questionable. Dawson City didn’t have the facilities to support much tourist business. It would be many years before the town would be fully restored. Yet with the renovated Palace Grand came the determination to put the spirit of the Klondike gold rush back into the Klondike.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin