Scottsdale is likely to lose some of the last remaining traces of Arizona's World War II history.
Historic preservationists are trying to find new homes and caretakers for five small wooden cottages near downtown Scottsdale that once housed some of the thousands of Nazi Germany's soldiers and sailors at a prisoner-of-war camp in nearby Papago Park.
The buildings have been at Scottsdale and Thomas roads for about half a century. Owner Evans Rust bought them in 1958 and kept them occupied as rental units until the last tenant moved out three months ago.
Now he wants to clear his three-quarters of an acre and lease it to a developer or a small business.
Rust is offering the buildings free to anyone who will remove them. If there are no takers in the next few months, demolition is the only feasible alternative, he said.
The worn condition of the cottages have drawn recent neighborhood complaints. A fire apparently set by vandals or homeless people has damaged one of the buildings.
The structures are currently under notice of violation of Scottsdale's property maintenance code. But city officials have decided not to force Rust to make costly repairs or tear them down.
“As long as we can see there's some progress being made, that it looks like he'll be able to give the buildings away, then we will give him some time,’’ said Raun Keagy, Scottsdale's neighborhood services director.
Despite interest in saving the structures, preservationists say moving, restoring and making meaningful use of them would be costly.
One proposal was to move them back to Phoenix's Papago Park, to the site of the old POW camp near Scottsdale's boundary along 64th and Oak streets.
Phoenix's budget constraints make that a long shot, said former Scottsdale City Councilman Don Prior, president of Papago Trackers, an affiliate of the Arizona Historical Society that works to preserve remnants of the military use of Papago Park.
The group has talked to the Ellis family about relocating one or two of the buildings to the family's Cattle Track artists colony about a mile north of downtown Scottsdale.
The Cavalliere family, which owns a historic blacksmith shop in downtown Scottsdale, is interested in one or more cottages for its Greasewood Flats commercial property in north Scottsdale, Elizabeth Cavalliere said.
There also are discussions with the Pioneer Living History Museum in Phoenix and the Arizona National Guard base near Papago Park, which features a military museum.
Phoenix Regional Airport, a private “fly-in’’ residential and commercial development near Casa Grande, might be interested in the cottages for a military museum its developer is trying to establish.
The cost of moving each cottage would probably be about $4,000, said Warren Laffy, a Scottsdale high school teacher who volunteers at the Pioneer museum and has proposed the facility take one of the cottages.
Scottsdale is developing a program to offer incentives for restoration of historic properties in the city. But the POW cottages don't fit requirements for official historic designation.
Because the buildings are not on the original site and their interiors have been extensively modified over the decades, the structures have “been removed from their historical context,” said Debbie Abele, Scottsdale historic preservation officer.
Valley history buffs said the structures are still worth preserving.
The Papago POW camp added interesting flavor to Arizona's wartime experiences, said Lloyd Clark, a writer and occasional history lecturer at community colleges.
The camp usually housed between 1,500 and 3,000 prisoners. With the Valley's work force depleted because many men were off fighting the war, many prisoners were put to work picking crops at citrus and cotton farms or maintaining canals for the water-delivery system, Clark said.
The most famous — or infamous — incident involved the attempted escape by about 25 prisoners around Christmas Eve 1944, he said.
They dug a long tunnel through granite with small hand tools and shovels, planning to get out of Arizona by rafting down the Gila River — only to discover the river was almost always dry.
Years later, some of the prisoners, released to Germany after the war, kept in touch with friends they made among the U.S. military personnel who ran the Papago camp, Clark said.
Some even returned to the Valley decades after the war for friendly “reunions” of former prisoners and camp guards and officers, he said.