East Mesa mineral baths at crossroads - East Valley Tribune: News

East Mesa mineral baths at crossroads

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Posted: Tuesday, November 11, 2003 9:43 pm | Updated: 1:08 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

The 27 stone tubs at the Buckhorn Mineral Wells and Wildlife Museum haven't provided relief to those weary of life's aches and pains since 1999, but there's much more to the northwest corner of Main Street and Recker Road.

It's an east Mesa time capsule vying for a slot on the National Register of Historic Places. The well-maintained landscaping has a wealth of desert trees and cactuses rooted in the area's natural history. Nestled among it are 15 adobe-style travel cottages with carports, one of the few motor-court lodges still serving travelers today.

There's also a wildlife museum, filled with about 450 well-preserved animals, some from species no longer found in the Arizona wild.

The woman who opened the Buckhorn Baths with her taxidermist husband in 1939 realizes the time-warped motel and bathhouse on the prime piece of real estate won't stay the same forever. But Alice Sliger, who will turn 97 on Christmas Eve, hopes the rare hot mineral water that flows under her 10 acres can be put to some use.

"We've had offers, but we're waiting for for someone to offer the right plan — the right plan for this place and this water," Sliger said. "We dug this well, and we have this beautiful water, and it would be a shame to concrete it over."

Sliger said she would love to see a resort hotel with a more modern spa evolve from what she built with her husband, Ted, who died in 1984. She knows she doesn't want another strip mall or more homes to be built there; she's too savvy a businesswoman to go into detail about past offers or the land's current value.

She does support a local architect's work to put the Buckhorn Mineral Wells and Wildlife Museum on the national register to shore up its defenses — a little bit — against the tide of commercialism.

Ron Peters of Mesa said getting the Buckhorn on the register would put a six-month hold on any future owner who may decide to raze the buildings and cover the well.

"Everybody gets really yippy about being on the national register because they think it means they can't do anything with their property, and it does no such thing," Peters said. "All it does is allow people some time to think, is this really what you want to do?"

Last month, the Arizona Historic Sites Review Committee said Peters' application didn't have enough data about the Buckhorn's historical significance, but encouraged him to resubmit it during its February meeting. The state board reviews site applications before sending them for final consideration for the national register.

History was built into the Buckhorn from the ground up, at 5900 E. Main St. Sliger, who taught school for eight years before marrying in 1935, spied a pile of bricks from Mesa's first schoolhouse and snapped them up for the Buckhorn's first building. Walls made of hundreds of hollowed-out Indian grinding stones, collected throughout the area and mortared together, wind through the property.

The Buckhorn made history in 1947. The mineral baths and massages offered there "sealed the deal" when the New York Giants came looking for a new spring training home, Sliger said. The Giants needed somebody to play with, and the Cactus League was born.

The Sligers sowed the seeds for east Mesa's growth in other ways. The Buckhorn housed the area's first post office and bus depot, and the couple eventually sold the northern part of their homestead to the developers of Dreamland Villa, one of the area's first retirement communities.

While undergoing treatment for skin cancer in 1999, Sliger decided she needed to cut back on her workload.

But she said the pumps, like the house itself, are well-maintained.

"Everything is fine," she said. "It hasn't fallen apart."

Today, the intersection of Recker and Main lies squarely between fast-growing northeast and southeast Mesa, but business owners there struggle against vandalism and other crime in an older area of town, City Councilman Rex Griswold said.

"It's a whole intersection that could go either way," he said.

Nonetheless, he said many developers would love to buy the Buckhorn, especially since it would offer a chance to develop a relatively large chunk of land where smaller lots are the norm.

Griswold said city officials have been brainstorming on where they could try to attract high-end accommodations, and putting it at the Buckhorn "is so obvious it slips your mind."

"We've been looking for a place for a luxury hotel, but we really haven't considered it (at Recker and Main), to be honest with you," Griswold said. "Probably because I loved the place too much, I didn't want to recommend that you bulldoze it."

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