Historic Arizona Icon in Danger

[Source: Arizona Republic; by Kathleen Ingley, columnist]

The mission known as “The White Dove of the Desert” shimmers with the unworldly glow of a mirage in the dry flatlands south of Tucson.

Kathleen Ingley/The Arizona Republic

San Xavier del Bac, with its asymmetrical towers, elegant curves and exuberant decoration, is the best example of Spanish colonial architecture in the nation. It’s such an important window into the past that it was one of the original listings when the National Register of Historic Places was established in 1966.

But the White Dove is in danger.

The Legislature drained the Heritage Fund, wiping out a $150,000 grant that was supposed to help pay for repairing the east tower. The job was the final part of a two-decade restoration project. Without it, the tower and the entire structure are at risk.

Go to San Xavier, and you can’t miss the problem. The mission’s two towers look like “before” and “after” pictures for plastic surgery.

The west tower has brilliant-white stucco, new balustrades, reworked volutes and a reconstructed balcony made with mesquite.

The shorter east tower, which doesn’t have a cupola, is dingy, chipped and mottled with black mold stains. Parts of the finials and cornices are loose and could come crashing to the ground.

The Revolutionary War had just officially ended and southern Arizona was still part of New Spain when construction started on Mission San Xavier in 1783. The structure, made from fired-clay bricks in an unusual series of 11 domes, has the fluidity and openness of the Spanish baroque style.

Thanks to a series of factors, including a 50-year abandonment, isolation and scarce resources for making major changes, the mission has remained relatively unaltered since it was built. Architect Bob Vint, who has worked on the restoration, calls it “a time capsule.”

Virtually all the art inside, which has been cleaned by an international team of conservators, dates from the late 1700s. The sculptured-plaster altar is covered in gold and silver leaf.

The mission, which sits on the San Xavier Tohono O’odham Reservation, still functions as a parish church. But the building itself is a cultural monument and a major tourist attraction, drawing about 200,000 visitors a year from around the world.

In an ironic twist, most of today’s problems come from past efforts at restoration. The exterior was coated with concrete in a misguided attempt to protect the mission. But the concrete ended up trapping moisture, melting away the centuries-old bricks.

The current restoration project strips off the concrete and goes back to the original way the mission was built. The bricks for it are produced in Mexico using a traditional process – including a mule-powered mill to sift sand out of the clay – to match the mission’s bricks in density, porosity and salt content. The mortar is mixed with local sand and lime, plus a natural glue made from cactus pads.

The Patronato San Xavier, a non-profit that promotes the mission’s conservation, has managed to keep the restoration rolling with a combination of fundraising and grants.

The west tower was finished in 2009, and the scaffolding was about to go up on the east tower when word came that the Heritage Fund grant was in jeopardy.

We are not talking enormous sums of money. The Heritage Fund has put in $230,000 over the course of 15 years.

The current grant was just $150,000. But it would have triggered an equal amount of matching money and provided a solid base for starting the east tower project. The total cost is estimated at $1.5 million.

Voters established the Heritage Fund in 1990, dedicating money from the state Lottery to several grants programs for recreation and historic preservation. But the Legislature has been raiding that part of the Heritage Fund for the past three fiscal years, taking a total of $26.3 million.

The San Xavier grant was canceled. And there’s no prospect of getting it back. Lawmakers quietly abolished the cultural and recreational portion of the Heritage Fund.

Interestingly, the part of the Heritage Fund that is administered by the Arizona Game and Fish Department has taken hits in the past but didn’t fall victim to this year’s budget crisis. Maybe advocates of culture and history would be more persuasive if they carried rifles and fishing rods.

San Xavier’s restoration should have been finished in time for Arizona’s centennial in 2012.

That’s impossible now. But it would be a disgrace not to have the work well under way on the state’s 100th birthday.

We’re in a real race against time.

“That east tower is deteriorating,” says Vern Lamplot, executive director of the Patronato. “The longer it sits, the more damage is done to it, which ultimately threatens the whole thing.”

These are tough times for fundraising. But the remaining cost of restoring this irreplaceable piece of Arizona’s history and culture is remarkably small. It’s inconceivable that Arizonans won’t raise it.

Reach Ingley at kathleen.ingley@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8171.

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New fees proposed for Kartchner tour

[Source: Sierra Vista Herald]

The Arizona State Parks department staff is proposing a fee change for one of the two cave tours at Kartchner Caverns State Park.

A view of the Big Room in Kartchner Caverns
A view of the Big Room in Kartchner Caverns. Image via Wikipedia

The new fee proposal is to change the Rotunda/Throne adult cave tours from $18.95 to $22.95 and children’s fees (7- to 12-year-old) from $9.95 to $12.95 and (6 and under free).

Public comments on these fees will be accepted online until Aug. 29. Comments may be submitted at AZStateParks.com/find/contact.html.

The Arizona State Parks Board will be presented this information from park staff who say this solution will increase income to the park and reduce overhead costs by suspending tours in the Rotunda/Throne room from Oct. 15 until Dec. 15. This will also allow time for this portion of the cave to have a rest from the public while research can be conducted.

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Kartchner Caverns chosen to represent state in contest

[Source: Sierra Vista Herald]

Kartchner Caverns State Park has been chosen as the nominee to help the state parks system win $100,000 in the  “Live Positively, America’s Favorite Park Program” being coordinated by Coca-Cola.

In anticipation of Friday’s launch, Reneé Bahl, executive director for Arizona’s State Parks said, “We would like the public to follow our lead and consolidate their votes so Arizona State Parks can win. We polled our rangers to get a consensus on one park so we have a better chance to win this amazing prize for the whole system. Some states have a higher population, some higher visitation, but we believe Arizonans have the greatest passion for all their parks and the outdoors so they will join us in voting for Kartchner Caverns State Park.”

The staff decided that Kartchner Caverns epitomizes the natural resource stewardship and commitment of Arizonans. Kartchner is now one of the top 10 show caves in the world for the diversity of its stunning calcite formations and symbolizes the extraordinary efforts taken by elected officials, park rangers and the public who took unprecedented steps to protect and open this pristine cavern system in 1999.

“This living cave has character and a persona. If you haven’t gotten a cave kiss from Kartchner Caverns, you haven’t lived,” says park director Bahl.

While park officials want you to vote as many times as possible for Kartchner Caverns, they say it is more important that you also visit your favorite park.

Votes will be tallied on Aug. 31.

Go to www.livepositively.com/#/Americasparks/vote and vote for Kartchner Caverns State Park.

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Yavapai County to consider assisting Jerome State Historic Park

[Source: Prescott Daily Courier, Linda Stein 7-31-2010]

[…]

The board will also consider an intergovernmental agreement that could lead to reopening of Jerome State Historic Park this fall. Under the pact, the county would pay $30,000 to the Arizona State Parks Board to run the park, a mining museum in the 100-year-old Douglas Mansion. A separate agreement would allow the Jerome Historical Society operate the gift shop and the visitor contact desk.

Previously, county officials inked agreements to keep Fort Verde State Park and Red Rock State Park open by contributing $30,000 to each and marshaling volunteers. State officials targeted the parks for closure because of state budget cuts. The parks generate $266 million for rural Arizona and attract about 2.3 million visitors annually.

[…]

Here is a video (unrelated to the article) on Jerome State Historic Park.  It was produced by KAET-TV Eight PBS:

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