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Arizona Historic Places (Photos: Eric Vondy)
Preservation Action Alert!

State of Arizona to Demolish Historic Building

State Fairground's 1938 WPA Administration Building Threatened


Vintage photo of 1938 WPA Administration Building

The Arizona State Exposition and Fair Board has decided to demolish an important piece of Arizona and Phoenix history. Located on the State Fairgrounds along McDowell Road, the building is the 1938 WPA Administration Building. The structure was one of a dozen built by the Works Progress Administration on the fairgrounds during the Depression in an effort to assist Arizona's unemployed by creating important and long lasting projects. Of the 18 or so buildings built by the WPA, the Administration Building is one of a handful remaining. Despite the fact that this building is historically significant and eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the State of Arizona has no qualms with the building's destruction, since it "has several similar age and features buildings which it is committed to maintain better to preserve the historical value."


The WPA Administration Building was headquarters for Arizona's WPA program between 1938 and 1943. It was specifically designed to serve in the capacity of an administration building until its lease expired, when it could easily be converted to exhibit space. After the WPA program ended in 1943, the building was used for a short time by AiResearch, in the early years of Arizona's evolution into the high-tech industries.


Demolition fencing appears, July 14, 2014

The decision to tear down the building is supposedly based on a rehabilitation evaluation of the building by Struktur Studio, a structural engineering firm with an unknown preservation track record. According to the Struktur Studio report, rehabbing the building could cost up to $800,000, but James Garrison, the State Historic Preservation Officer, believes the stabilization of the building would be a fraction of the cost. However, the State Fair Board wants to use the site - sans building - for vendor space. They believe they can receive a profit of $85,000 to $100,000 a year. As a "compromise," they are promising that an undefined portion of these funds will be used to assist in the preservation of other historic buildings on the fairgrounds. 


The State Historic Preservation Office does not approve of this demolition, but is powerless to stop it. To quote Garrison in his May 29, 2014 letter to the State Fair Board:


"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 for hypothetical ones. The historical value, architectural interest, and spatial qualities of this building far exceed other buildings at the Fair Grounds. To demolish this building only adds to the Fair's image problems. We hope that the Arizona Exposition and State Fair can continue to utilize a building that reflects its place in Arizona history, a building constructed as an act of faith in the future of the State Fair when that event had been cancelled year after year during the worst days of the Great Depression. We hope as well that when reconsidering the fate of this piece of Arizona history that you also keep in mind the sentiment expressed by the Arizona State Fair Foundation's mission, that the Fair's 'architectural history and nostalgic past are honored.'"  


This building is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and should be saved. We may not be able to stop the bulldozers, but we need to try. Please contact Governor Brewer and ask her for a stay of execution. She can be reached via email or by fax at 602-542-1381 addressed to the attention of Governor Janice K. Brewer.


Thanks to Vincent Murray, Arizona Historical Research (text); Robert Graham, Motley Design Group (top photo and Facebook page); and Philip Reina, Reina Design Studio (bottom photo).


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