A weathered gray lectern from the old Mezona dance hall sits in the Mesa Historical Museum’s basement under several layers of dust and atop cinder blocks that barely saved it from 4 inches of water left by Tuesday’s storm.
In its prime, the lectern stood before presidential candidates who stumped at what was the center of Mesa nightlife in the early to mid-1900s.
Now, it’s one of 64,000 artifacts cheating damage in one of the worst environments possible, a flood-prone basement with no air conditioning. The flooding of the base- ment was the worst of a bad night for the museum at 2345 N. Horne, during which the storm knocked out three of four phone lines, split a paloverde tree and may have struck an air conditioning unit with lightning.
At some point that night, the museum’s chronic vandalism issue also flared up, with eggs thrown at the buildings and the lettering on signs rearranged into obscene words.
"It’s hard to keep your sense of humor," said Dennis Kavanaugh, president of the Mesa Historical Society’s board and a former city councilman. "At least the locusts and frogs didn’t come."
All 7,500 square feet of the basement’s floor was submerged, but most of the collection escaped serious shortterm damage because anything not made of metal is kept on blocks or shelves.
The museum will remain open. Director Lisa Anderson said the staff will have to stay on guard against mold growth. "That’s our biggest challenge moving forward," she said.
The basement floods once or twice a year, collections manager Jared Smith said, though not as badly as this week, when more than an inch of rain hit northwest Mesa.
Staff and volunteers have toiled in the cellar throughout the past two days. Soggy carpet was yanked out from under heavy wooden furniture, boxes upon boxes of clothes and papers, and utility shelves loaded with objects. The Museum Association of Arizona also has helped through its emergency program that rescues collections from disaster. It has supplied pumps and other equipment since Wednesday, and on Thursday employees of four other Valley museums responded to a call for help.
Anderson said there’s talk of converting one of the museum’s exhibit rooms to storage. They can do more of that if conditions in the basement worsen, she said, but "we don’t want to become one big building of storage."
The Mesa Historical Society board is getting ready to launch a drive to raise up to $1 million to renovate the entire auditorium. It finances the museum through donations, grants and city funding — but city support has shrunk over the last few years from around $120,000 to $75,000 this year.
Anderson fears the museum may not get any money from the city next year as it grapples with a budget crisis. City Councilman Mike Whalen said it’s impossible to know now how much support there will be for museum funding next year.
"A lot depends on what happens next spring, both in the council election and if we have a property tax or some kind of sales tax election," he said.