Mesa homes tour to reveal centuries of diverse living - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa homes tour to reveal centuries of diverse living

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Posted: Sunday, December 30, 2012 10:21 am | Updated: 11:57 am, Tue Jan 1, 2013.

It takes a heap of living to make a house a home, and for anyone who goes on the 13th Annual Mesa Historical Homes Tour, they’ll get to see that centuries of living took place through a diverse community and wide variety of structures.

The tour for the first time features a look at prehistoric dwellings — the Mesa Grande Ruins dating back to 1100 A.D. — and also will show at least eight homes on the National Register of Historic Places and tell the not-so-often-told story of the city’s African American community.

Tickets are available for $15 for the tour, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 26. The tour focuses on a myriad of homes and familiar buildings where crowds congregated, including homes in the historic Evergreen District — the city’s first subdivision built outside of the Mesa city limits, just north of downtown at the time and the historical significance of the once segregated Washington Park neighborhood.

More than 1,000 people are expected to participate in the self-guided tour, at least as many in years past.

Also for the first time, the tour will feature the home of Dr. Lucius Alston, Mesa’s first African American doctor, which is now the Center for Peace and Justice, as well as the First Methodist Church and the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church (both early 1900s structures) and the Mitten House.

The Mitten House was moved to 238 W. Second Street in 2002 to be saved from demolition and placed on the National Register of Historic Places the following year.

Built as the residence for Charles Mitten, publisher of the Mesa Journal-Tribune, the house was built with funds from the FHA program and the Mesa Journal Tribune as a demonstration to help encourage construction of residential buildings in Mesa. The Mitten House first was listed on the National Register on December 29, 1988 but was removed because of the move. It was renominated based upon its significance and its association with the Robson Historic District.

“All of the city’s treasures are on one tour,” said Alice Jung of the Arizona Museum of Natural History, who is helping to coordinate the tour with Lisa Anderson, director of the Mesa Historical Museum. “The tour is really divided into three parts — the Mesa Grande Ruins, the Evergreen district and the homes on the National Register. A lot of people don’t realize how many homes we have on the National Register.”

Irving and Lehi schools also are on the tour and more homes could be added, Jung said.

The Alston House, located at 453 N. Pima St., and built in 1922, was a preservation project that many groups came together to restore: The Mesa Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee and the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens, as well as the city and businesses.

Alston treated anyone who needed care regardless of race or whether they could afford to pay, but primarily served the African American, Hispanic and Native American communities. Late at night, he also treated many white patients who were too embarrassed to be seen during the day and too poor to go elsewhere in Mesa during the early 1940s to the late 1950s.

Alston’s white stucco house also was known as the “Lights House” because of the lighted French crystal chandeliers hanging upstairs in the two-story home.

Alston, who was born in West Virginia in 1892 and served in World War I, died in 1958.

The tour, which is one of the largest fundraisers for the Mesa Historical Museum, comes just one week after the Mesa Grande Ruins opens to the public and its visitors center is underway.

“We rarely hear much of the history of Mesa’s African American community, and this is a good chance to learn more about it,” Jung added. “Mt. Calvary Baptist Church also was instrumental in the history of the African American community.”

The Mesa Grande Ruins are located near the curve of 10th and Date streets, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Lehi School, where the Mesa Historical Museum is located, was built in 1913 and later expanded in 1939 with Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds.

The former school building is a mixture of neoclassical and mission revival styles of architecture. Located in the rural environment of the Lehi area, on a five-acre parcel given to the community in 1978 by settler Henry C. Rogers, the site retains much of the integrity of its setting, despite nearby development. The Lehi School at 2345 N. Horne, was a center of education for many years and symbolized the town’s independence. The Lehi area, on the northern fringe of Mesa, was originally established as a separate settlement and predates the Mesa original town site that was settled in 1878.

The Mesa Historic Homes Tour was an idea first conceived by Elizabeth Rhodes, the wife of the late John Rhodes, a former minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“This is a pretty big tour,” said Lisa Anderson, director of the Mesa Historical Museum. “We couldn’t do this without the support of the community and city.”

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