Preserving history, brick by brick - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Preserving history, brick by brick

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Posted: Wednesday, February 21, 2007 5:26 am | Updated: 5:31 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Just about any visitor who passes the rambling, twostory, red-brick former seat of Pinal County can grasp how this old courthouse links modern Florence with Arizona’s emergence from a Wild West territory into our nation’s 48th state.

But a quick glance at the corner of Fifth and Main streets fails to reveal that this edifice is slowly succumbing to the march of time. As the Tribune’s Sarah Boggan reported Feb. 10, a leaky roof, dissolving bricks and rotting wood all threatened the future of this symbol of justice and public service on the United States’ final frontier.

Saving this rare setting from our past will require a monumental effort by Florence, the rest of Pinal County and fans of Arizona’s colorful history everywhere.

The former courthouse shaped the work ethic and early political career of Ernest McFarland as county attorney and then superior court judge, before he eventually went on to become majority leader of the U.S. Senate and an Arizona governor. Dating back to 1891, the courthouse was the state’s oldest continually occupied public building before age and deterioration forced the county to close the final office there in 2005.

The building’s design reflects those fleeting years around statehood when central Arizonans were beginning to move beyond the influences of the former Spanish empire, but had not yet embraced red tile, stucco, steel and tinted glass. Ernie Feliz, leader of the courthouse restoration effort, explained the courthouse’s unique features in 2002 for the KAET-TV program “Arizona Stories.”

“This is American Victorian architectural style. It’s a little bit later in the period when we begin to see — we’re getting away from adobe construction,” Feliz said. “And we’re able to — we have a railroad now and we can bring in materials from other parts of the country.”

Feliz and other courthouse supporters have had one victory since that program aired, bringing together $280,000 to restore the clock tower.

Today, they seek to expand on that success by selling engraved bricks at $50 each for the front pathway. They have raised $10,000 so far with a total goal of $90,000, Boggan reported.

But that would only scratch the surface of what must take place to keep the courthouse intact as a source of pride and a focus of knowledge for future generations. Feliz estimates repairing the roof alone will cost $600,000, and total restoration could reach $5 million or more.

Arizonans have many competing ideas on how to prepare for the state’s centennial in 2012. Surely, additional public and private investments in this project should figure prominently as we complete the planning for our 100th birthday party.

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