Arizona preservationists list most endangered historic places

March 02, 2013

A group of Arizona preservationists has unveiled its list of most endangered historic places in Arizona.

MARK BRODIE: So, there are lists you want to be on, and lists you probably want to avoid. This morning, we’re gonna talk about one of the latter.

Jim McPherson Jim McPherson is working to save buildings like the Mesa Citrus Growers Association Building. (Photo by Mark Brodie - KJZZ)

The Arizona Preservation Foundation has released its list of Most Endangered Historic Places — it includes the state parks system, First Baptist Church in Phoenix and the famed roadside inn Buckhorn Baths in Mesa. It’s a list Jim McPherson would love to whittle down. He’s Board President of the Arizona Preservation Foundation, and says every year, the group asks for public input on which buildings should make the list. A team of historians, advocates, architects and others then winnows that down to 25.

JIM MCPHERSON: Just to help tell the story of a community’s history, where historic preservation stands, what buildings are threatened, and how they can be brought back.

BRODIE: McPherson says there are basically two ways a building gets off the list. One, a preservation-minded buyer comes forward — or, two, it’s demolished. And, he’s trying to avoid that fate for another building on the list — the Mesa Citrus Growers Association Building.

The building isn’t hidden away somewhere, it’s right out in the open, taking up a couple of blocks at Broadway and Country Club. It went up in 1935, and closed in 2010. The building’s locked up now, but McPherson and I peer inside, through a window.

MCPHERSON: It’s huge. And, you can see the trusses, the wood trusses of the ceiling, it’s brick construction, just a fine old building that goes on and on and you can imagine the activity of the work that was done here - and this is representative of historic, vintage warehouses in Arizona, in Maricopa County, that we have plenty of.

BRODIE: If you have a picture in your mind of what old-time industry looked like, this would pretty much match it. McPherson says lots of buildings like this one are coming down – that’s one of the reasons it made the most endangered list. It takes some imagination to replace today’s traffic with the citrus groves that used to stand here, but McPherson says just as the area has changed, so too can the building.

Mesa Citrus Growers Association Building The neighborhood around the building: more development, less citrus.(Photo by Mark Brodie - KJZZ)

MCPHERSON: It’s still a fine structure, it still can be a contributing member of the community from the standpoint of adaptive re-use and what can be done here - you see, we’re on a busy street, it has great access.

BRODIE: Ideally, what would you like to see become of this building?

MCPHERSON: Well, it’s large, so it could be a variety of uses. One idea that’s sprung up most recently was a brewery…

BRODIE: McPherson lists several other possibilities — a restaurant, offices, high tech incubator — and then pulls out a piece of paper with ideas from a sustainable building program, which has taken this building on as a project.

MCPHERSON: They’re looking at it as being a mixed-use space — of theater, culinary arts, urban agriculture, urban transport, manufacturing, fine arts, clean micro-manufacturing — there’s a lot of different uses that these facilities can be used. And, it has character, it has authenticity, it’s not stucco and … stucco.

BRODIE: Just down the sidewalk, there’s a sign — you’ve seen them — it says the property is available, and at the bottom, there’s a phone number. I ask McPherson how optimistic he is that number will get a call from someone who wants to save the building. He says economic recoveries generally lead to more development, which can put pressure on preservationists. But, he says there seems to be more interest among local governments, and community and neighborhood groups in saving old buildings. Plus, he tells me, preservationists tend to be optimistic — and see bricks where other people see sidewalk.

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