Architect Ron Peters spent years trying to get Mesa’s Buckhorn Baths Motel onto the National Register of Historic Places, so it’s fitting that he was one of the first in town to learn it was listed.
Peters, a member of the city’s Historic Preservation Board, said it would have been nice to know as soon as it was added on May 5, but that didn’t detract from the joy of stumbling onto it several months later.
"I was looking up something else, and by God, there was the Buckhorn Baths!" he said.
When the motel was opened by a young couple, Ted and Alice Sliger, in 1939, it was located on the only road connecting the Valley to the Midwest, and on top of a rare spring of hot mineral water.
The Buckhorn Baths was instrumental in attracting Mesa’s first spring training team, drew travelers seeking relief from arthritis and other painful ailments for 60 years before it was shut down in 1999.
"It was a gold mine, as far as health is concerned," said Alice Sliger, who will turn 99 on Christmas Eve and misses being able to use the facility herself, having closed it so she could recuperate from an injury.
Peters made two attempts to have the motor court-style lodge placed on the national register, then turned the information over to the State Historic Preservation Office, unable to spend any more of his free time trying to meet the exacting requirements.
Kathryn Leonard, National Register of Historic Places coordinator for that office, said the office then hired Mark Pry, a consultant willing to finish the application at a reduced rate out of his own affection for the place.
She said it’s normally her job to notify owners and cities once a property is added to the register, but she was on maternity leave in May and could not find a copy of the notification letter.
Sliger, who still lives at the Buckhorn, did receive a letter, but Shelly Allen, Mesa’s historic preservation officer and Town Center development administrator, said she isn’t aware of the city ever receiving one.
Allen is very aware of the Buckhorn Baths: "It’s one of a kind. It’s almost like the Grand Canyon — there’s only one of them and it happens to be in the state of Arizona."
The unpaved, 15-acre Buckhorn property is large even by today’s standards, and the motel’s casitas are scattered throughout, each with a carport too small to accommodate today’s SUVs and trucks. Some are in need of repair; others are still being rented.
Walls made of thousands of Indian grinding stones wind through the property and around the mineral well.
More than 400 animals preserved by part-time taxidermist Ted Sliger, who died in 1984, are also still on display at the Buckhorn Wildlife Museum, at least for the time being.
Alice Sliger said there’s "nothing definite" about reports the collection may be sold, either to Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World for its planned Mesa store or a local museum.
Arizona State University associate professor Linda Nelson Johnson said Friday, as students in one of her interior design classes talked about how they would reinvent the Buckhorn while preserving and honoring its history, the main class project.
Student Candace Wilson was born and raised in the Valley, but had never before heard of the Buckhorn Baths. She and her class partner, Meghann Neely, envision a hotel and day spa, with four mineral pools of varying temperatures. "It’s really a gem, in kind of a poor part of Mesa," she said.
Half of the eight Mesa Main Street motels named in crackdowns by federal and local authorities in the last two weeks are within a mile of the Buckhorn Baths.
Sliger’s been following the story, and isn’t happy about it. But she’s clearly proud of the motel and its new status.
"Not many people get onto the National Register," she said. "That’s pretty doggone good."
Visit the motel
Where: 5900 E. Main St., Mesa
Information: (480) 832-1111