Arizona State University may have done a nice job restoring its Old Main building, but the demolition of a former Valley National Bank branch with an unusual geodesic dome early this year has put the university in bad odor with historic preservationists.
Fourteen buildings owned by the university on or near the university’s campus in Tempe and one in Scottsdale appear on the 2007 list of the state’s most endangered historic places compiled by the Arizona Preservation Foundation.
The nonprofit group has been drawing up the list since 2001 to bring public awareness to historic districts and buildings in danger of falling to the wrecking ball or just deteriorating from neglect.
“These buildings are the physical representation of our heritage,” said Vince Murray, president of the foundation’s board of directors. “We recognize that the issue of property rights is something that everyone in the West thinks is important, too. What we want is for people to make good choices about what to do with their properties. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.”
In all, 16 districts and individual buildings were designated statewide on the 2007 endangered list, including several in the East Valley.
In addition to the buildings on the ASU campus, the other East Valley places believed to be threatened are the Maple-Ash neighborhood near the ASU campus in Tempe, the ASU-owned Kerr Cultural Center in Scottsdale and the Buckhorn Baths in Mesa.
The properties were nominated by local preservationists. Murray said. From about 70 nominations, the 16 were selected for listing this year as the most historically significant and in the most danger.
PRESERVING ASU’S HISTORY
ASU architect Ron McCoy disputed the inclusion of the Tempe campus buildings on the list, saying none are planned for demolition.
“We totally agree on the value of the buildings,” he said, adding that it is “an illogical leap” to conclude that because the Valley Bank branch was removed, all other ASU historic buildings are at risk.
He said some of ASU’s older buildings have suffered from deferred maintenance, but “nothing is in dire shape. It’s the normal wear and tear of age.”
To shore up its preservation efforts, the university has hired an architect to work with Tempe and the State Historic Preservation Office on restoration projects at the Tempe campus, he said.
“When we get to the historic buildings, we will do it in compliance with historic preservation regulations,” he said.
He cited the refurbishing of the Old Main building, University Club and the Old Main lawn as examples of the university’s restoration accomplishments.
As a postscript to the bank saga, he said the building’s geodesic dome will be reconstructed as a public ramada in a park south of Apache Boulevard by the start of the 2008 fall semester.
He predicted it “will have 100 times more people using it than before,” when the building functioned as a visitor center.
But McCoy said several ASU-owned houses on the north side of the campus, which also were listed by the foundation, are slated for demolition to make room for redevelopment. He said an agreement has been reached with Tempe and the State Historic Preservation Office to save the Harrington/Birchett House, but other houses on Seventh Street have been deemed to not have as much historic value and will be torn down.
“When there are development pressures that have to be responded to as the university grows and has to meet its missions, something has to happen,” he said.
The Buckhorn Baths and Motel at Recker Road and Main Street in east Mesa is typical of the economic pressures that many privately owned endangered properties face, Murray said. Opened in 1939 to take advantage of the hot springs at the site, the Buckhorn was a popular stop for travelers on the Apache Trail for many years. It also was once home to the New York Giants for spring training and housed a museum featuring the taxidermy collection of owner Ted Sliger.
Today, efforts are under way to try to save the taxidermy collection and move it to a new museum. But the property is for sale, and any buyer would probably face a big expense bringing the existing buildings up to modern codes, Murray said. Plus, its location at the intersection of two major streets makes the property valuable for commercial redevelopment, he said.
The fact that the Buckhorn Baths is listed on the National Register of Historic Places might only delay its demolition for about six months, said Ron Peters, past chairman of the Mesa Historic Preservation Commission.
“Before a demolition permit can be issued, they have to wait that long, which gives time for local groups to do something to try to save it,” he said.
But that would require raising money to match the offer of the buyer — a tough task, he said.
“I would like to say that a benevolent person will come along and incorporate it into a new development, but I don’t know if that will happen,” he said.
“It would be a shame to lose it.”
Pieces of history
The 2007 most endangered historic places in the East Valley, according to the Arizona Preservation Foundation:
Arizona State University historic properties
ASU has many structures built in the first half of the 20th century that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places or are eligible for listing. In 2003 Ryden Architects conducted a study of historic preservation policies and procedures at ASU and identified more than a dozen buildings of historic importance. Because of the university’s demolition of one of those buildings — the former Valley National Bank branch at Apache Boulevard and Rural Road, which had been converted into an ASU visitors center — the foundation decided to list other historic buildings on or adjacent to the campus that could see the wrecking ball if university officials decide they stand in the way of progress.
They are: Harrington/Birchett House (1895); Industrial Arts/Anthropology Building (1914); Matthews Hall (1925); Men’s Gymnasium (1927); Charles H. Merritt House, 216 E. Seventh St., (1927); Matthews Library (1930); Duplex House, 208-210 E. Seventh St., (1937); B.B. Moeur Activity Building (1939); Center for Family Studies (1939); Irish Hall (1940); Lyceum Theater (1940); West Hall (1940); Dixie Gammage Hall (1941); and Science/Agriculture Building (1948).
The Industrial Arts/Anthropology Building, Matthews Hall and B.B. Moeur Building are currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Kerr Cultural Center
The center was built by Louise Lincoln Kerr, the “Grand Lady of Arizona Music,” in the 1950s as a home and studio. Kerr was instrumental in developing many cultural organizations in Flagstaff and the Phoenix area and built the center from adobe dug at the site. The daughter of John C. Lincoln, who financed the Camelback Inn and the hospital that bears his name, Kerr bequeathed her home and the studio, which is a 250-seat theater, to Arizona State University.
Once located in the desert north of Scottsdale, the center now is surrounded by urban development that has greatly increased the property’s value. With fewer acts being booked at the center, a local grass-roots organization, Concerned Citizens for the Kerr Cultural Center, fears that ASU might be tempted to sell the site to developers.
The State Historic Preservation Office has determined that it is eligible for listing on the national historic register.
This area consists of three subdivisions west of Arizona State University. The Gage Addition, Park Tract and College View subdivisions are among the oldest surviving neighborhoods in Tempe, but because the area is adjacent to downtown Tempe, ASU and Tempe St. Luke’s Hospital, it is subject to development pressures.
The city’s historic preservation office and some homeowners would like to have a historic district zoning overlay placed on the neighborhood, but other owners would prefer to keep the existing multi-family zoning, which would allow them to redevelop their properties. Without some kind of protective zoning, preservation advocates see the historic character of the neighborhood in jeopardy.
“It’s unfortunate. Property owners are against property owners,” said APF’s Vince Murray. But he admitted “it’s prime real estate.”
Ted and Alice Sliger established the baths in the 1930s at Apache Trail and Recker Road after finding hot mineral water under their homestead. At the time, hot springs were popular for treating arthritis and rheumatism. The baths and Ted Sliger played a major role in bring spring training baseball to the East Valley. In 1947, the New York Giants made the Buckhorn Baths their spring training home and continued to do so for more than 25 years. Willie Mays, Gaylord Perry, Leo Durocher and other baseball luminaries were regulars. The Sligers established a post office, bus stop, museum and motel, which they operated for more than 65 years. They also had an immense taxidermy collection, which they displayed for visitors.
The business has been closed for several years. Ted died in 1984. Alice is still living. The property is for sale, and its prime location makes it a likely candidate for redevelopment.
To learn more
Information about other endangered historic sites elsewhere in Arizona is available at www.azpreservation.org.