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Updated Jul 16, 2014 - 6:03 pm

Preservationists attempt to save Phoenix building

PHOENIX — A judge granted a request for a temporary restraining order
Wednesday to stop the demolition of a historic building at the Arizona State
Fairgrounds that played a key role in the implementation of the New Deal in the
state during the Great Depression.

The structure known as the Civic Building was built in 1938 by the federal
government as the Arizona headquarters of the Works Progress Administration. It
was used to coordinate the WPA’s efforts as part of a New Deal-era program to
reduce unemployment by funding public-works projects during the Great
Depression.

The building was headed to the bulldozers because it has a badly leaking roof,
termite damage and a cracking foundation, according to officials with the
Arizona State Fair and Exposition.

An attorney for Preserve Phoenix filed a lawsuit seeking to delay the
demolition until alternative options can be explored.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David O. Cunanan granted the temporary
restraining order and a hearing that could determine the fate of the building
was scheduled for next week.

“The WPA was the New Deal’s biggest emergency works programs,” said Bill
Collins, a State Historic Preservation Office historian. “It provided jobs for
people during the Depression.”

The agency coordinated projects such as the construction of schools, sidewalks
and other infrastructure. For many historians, that is reason enough to preserve
the building.

“While not every property worthy of preservation can be preserved, it would be
tragic for the people of Arizona and its visitors if this historic building were
lost not for real reasons but merely hypothetical ones,” said James Garrison, a
historic preservation officer, in a letter to the Arizona State Fair. “The
historical value, architectural interest and spatial qualities of this building
far exceed other buildings” at the fairgrounds.

It is built with an art deco design and has a concrete frame with adobe infill,
both rare in Arizona.

The Civic Building has been used as a haunted house and a mineral-and-gem
exhibit hall. However, it has been neglected in recent years and was used for
storage.

“It got to this place because of years of lack of funding and lack of
commitment,” said Jim McPherson, the president of the Arizona Preservation
Foundation.

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