Mesa is on the brink of finalizing a land swap with the Valley of the Sun Habitat for Humanity that will allow it to acquire, renovate and preserve the home of the city’s first black doctor, Lucius Alston.
The plans to a preserve the two-story Alston House will mark the first-ever historic preservation project of a building specifically significant to the black and Hispanic communities in Mesa, city officials said.
The home is on Pima Road in the Washington Park/Escobedo neighborhood. The park was named after educator and activist Booker T. Washington and that was once a segregated area.
Once the city acquires the house, it will be leased to the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens and the Mesa Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee for office and community space. The city’s historic preservation officer also plans to make a case for the building to be listed as a site of local historic significance on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It’s right in the middle of a segregated community,” said Carmen Guerrero, a MAHC board member. “It’s important to upgrade it ... to highlight the importance of diversity in our community.”
In late 2005, the City Council authorized an agreement with Habitant for Humanity allowing Mesa to swap two parcels of land in exchange for the Alston property. Those parcels include one on Lewis Street and another at the northwest corner of Alma School Road and Sixth Avenue.
The council also allocated $90,000 in federal grants to preserve the 1920s-era home that will be used in conjunction with a $100,000 grant from the state’s Historic Preservation Office.
Neighborhood Services director Kari Kent said the city expects the deal to be sealed within 30 days. The city received the state grant last June. But the clock is ticking to launch the project, since the money can be used only over the course of three years.
Meanwhile, MAHC and MLK committee members still seek donations and volunteers to help the renovation proceed. A local electrician recently stepped up to offer his services, MAHC members said.
Everette Woods, vice chairman of the MLK committee, said it would be the first major project he’s aware of with such strong collaboration between the Hispanic and the black communities in Mesa. “That shows solidarity,” he said.
MAHC president Phil Austin grew up in the neighborhood and can remember his family taking him to swim in a nearby canal because they were prohibited from using certain pools reserved for whites. He hopes the project will spur more collaboration among the various minority communities and Mesa as a whole, he said.
The city is still doing research on Dr. Alston — a task that has proved daunting. The city does not have any photos of him or of the house while he lived there, and officials are asking for help finding images that will bolster their case for the National Register.
“He was, from what I understand, a very generous person,” said Stephanie Bruning, the city’s historic preservation and planning officer. “He didn’t turn away anyone, no matter if they could pay or not — a true doctor in all respects.”
She said the doctor used his four-room home as a medical office to treat patients from the black, Hispanic and American Indian communities, and he also had an office nearby. Some neighborhood residents said they still remember him.
Jerline Hemphill said she moved to the area when she was 10, and Dr. Alston was her family doctor. She used to have photos of him, but they were lost in a flood.
“He was never able to do surgery or anything at the hospital, so he built an office at the end of Pima Street,” she said.
“That’s where most everybody went to, was Dr. Alston.”