Friday, January 24, 2014

Bill would reopen Arizona mining museum

The Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum never was transformed into the Arizona Centennial Museum. (Republic File Photo)

By Harmony Huskinson
Cronkite News Service

For three years, most of the rocks, gems and artifacts once displayed by the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum have remained unseen.

Meanwhile, efforts to create a centennial-themed museum in its former space near the state Capitol have stalled for lack of funding.

Saying the old museum should never have been closed in the first place, a state lawmaker has introduced legislation to bring it back.

“I think it was an experiment gone bad by a couple individuals who thought about changing the museum into something else, and now it lies dormant with nothing going on,” said Sen. Eddie Ableser, D-Tempe, author of Senate Bill 1023.

Ableser has introduced a bill to reopen the museum every year since it shut its doors in April 2011.

In 2010, Gov. Jan Brewer presented plans for an Arizona Centennial Museum, which would occupy the Mining and Mineral Museum’s space and showcase Arizona’s Five C’s: cattle, copper, cotton, citrus and climate.

It was with this intention that the Legislature transferred responsibility for the museum and the state’s mineral collection from the Department of Mines and Minerals to the Arizona Historical Society.

Brewer assigned the Arizona Centennial Commission to raise moneyfor the new museum by approaching businesses, with fundraising goals set between $9 million and $15 million.

But the commission never raised enough money to move beyond the planning phase. After Arizona’s centennial came and went, the proposed museum’s name changed to the Arizona Experience Museum.

Brewer’s press office didn’t respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment on the bill. Karen Churchard, director of the Arizona Centennial Commission, was out of the office, according to the Arizona Office of Tourism, and was not available to comment.

Ableser’s bill, which had yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing, would transfer responsibility for the museum from the Arizona Historical Society to the Arizona Geological Survey, which absorbed the Department of Mines and Mineral Resources’ duties in 2011.

Ray Grant, a retired geology professor at Mesa Community College and co-author of “Mineralogy of Arizona,” said closing the museum prevented people from learning about a profession vital to Arizona’s fabric as a state.

“To me it’s one of the greatest geologic states ever. Millions of people come to the Grand Canyon. What’s it about? It’s all geology, isn’t it?” he said.

Former Rep. Russ Jones, R-Yuma, who authored the 2010 legislation transferring responsibility for the museum and its collection, said low revenue and high rent made the Mining and Mineral Museum unsustainable.

“The museum portion was very, very popular. Unfortunately, the revenues from the activity as a museum were just a fraction of the cost of maintaining and paying the rents on that facility,” he said.

The rent for the building is still paid for by the state. According to a report by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, the fiscal 2014 budget provides $428,000 to the Arizona Historical Society, $360,800 of it for rent on the unused museum space and $67,500 for a curator to care for the state’s mineral specimens.

Saying it’s unfortunate that the commission couldn’t raise enough funds for a centennial museum, Jones said Ableser’s legislation would only cause more problems. The Arizona Geological Survey would require a huge sum of money and an increase in staffing to restore the museum, he added.

“There’s so much we need to do that remains undone as we crawl out of the recession, I find it hard to justify millions of dollars for a mining museum when need to fund things for Child Protective Services, the list goes on and on,” Jones said.

Ableser’s bill doesn’t include any appropriation for bringing the museum back.

The collection from the former museum currently consists of more than 21,500 specimens and objects, according to the Arizona Historical Society’s website.

Even if Ableser’s legislation doesn’t succeed, people can see several of the state’s minerals on display at the University of Arizona Mineral Museum, including a 225-pound azurite boulder from Bisbee.

Other minerals will be part of a new Gallery of Natural History opening soon at the Arizona Historical Society’s Museum at Papago Park, said Mark Candee, assistant curator and collection manager at the UA museum.

But Ableser still thinks the Mining and Mineral Museum should once again serve as home to the state’s collection.

“Many of the volunteers that sacrificed their hours and time and resources have all the supplies still with them, ready to go, and we can reinstitute the mineral and mining museum today,” he said.

Related Info on Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum

1884: A collection of minerals is first displayed at the Arizona State Fair.
1917: The Legislature provides $30,000 to construct a permanent home for the collection at the Arizona State Fairgrounds. Private funds help complete the work.
1919: The building opens with that year’s Arizona State Fair.
1953: The collection, still at the fairgrounds, opens full-time as a museum.
1973: The museum becomes part of the Arizona Department of Mineral Resources.
1991: The museum moves with the Department of Mines and Mineral Resources to West Washington Street near the Arizona state Capitol.
2011: The museum is closed to make way for a centennial museum that has yet to open.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Harvey House welcomes visitors

Casa Del Desierto, also known as the Barstow Harvey House.

By Trevor Summons
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

BARSTOW, CALIFORNIA -- If you cross the iron trestle bridge slowly on First Avenue in Barstow, and count carefully, you will see the tracks of 14 railway lines.

I might have missed a couple, of course, but that’s the number I came up with.

A lot of rail traffic goes through here, but only two passenger trains stop each day, and that’s the Amtrak Southwest Chief on its way to and from Chicago. But there are no passenger services for them these days.

Back in 1959, just before it closed, the Harvey House was on hand to cater to passengers’ needs and even to allow them to spend the night. It was quite an operation.

The idea of a Harvey House chain was started by Fred Harvey back the early 1870s with a handshake and a partner who soon absconded with the proceeds to fight in the Civil War.

Fred Harvey must have been a determined young man. He had left his native England in 1853 at the age of 17 to look for work and opportunities in America. Beginning with a job as a pot scrubber and bus boy in New York, he eventually moved to New Orleans and found work with a railroad.

As he worked his way up the corporate ladder, he traveled a lot on the job. He found the food available was unappetizing and often served in dirty places.

In 1874, he opened his first two rail side cafes in Kansas and Colorado. By the time he died in 1901, he was known as “the civilizer of the West” with his chain of Harvey Houses. Fred Harvey is credited with beginning the first restaurant chain in America and at his death, he had built it up to 47 sites. At its peak, there were 84 Harvey Houses. His business was carried on by his sons and grandsons until the mid-1960s. Today there are only three under the ownership of private, local and state governments.

The Harvey House in Barstow opened in 1911, having taken two years to build. It eventually closed in 1971.

Today the building has a new function. The Barstow Chamber of Commerce is its principle tenant, and other r firms have offices there.

Regular tours are given to members of the public with an interest in its history; upstairs is the original Station Master’s Suite with much of the original furniture. Winston Churchill stopped here in 1929 to use the bath tub.

The downstairs has the two main dining rooms which are available for private use. Back in the busy times, there were dozens of Harvey Girls dashing about in black dresses with white aprons and caps. The uniform was made famous in the 1946 movie with Judy Garland as one of The Harvey Girls.

The Barstow building also houses the Western Railroad Museum and the Route 66 Mother Road Museum, so there is plenty to explore if you cross all those tracks to get there.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Needles to Demolish Route 66’s Overland Motel

Abandoned Overland Motel in Needles along Route 66 in December 2013. (ZachNews)
By Ruth Musser-Lopez
San Bernardino Sentinel

Less than one month after meeting with a new government and grassroots Route 66 (RT66) coalition formed to manage and protect the historic RT66 corridor in the wake of its resurgence as a world class visitor attraction, the six-member Needles City Council voted to take action towards demolishing one of the route’s newer assets: the classic 1960s era Overland Motel at 710-712 West Broadway/Route 66 in Needles.

Dwarfing other motels during the 1960s and early 70s, the glitzy Overland represented increasing traffic along Route 66 and a respectable climax of the “mother road.” However, after Interstate 40 was built, traffic patterns in Needles changed with larger hotels being constructed at freeway exit ramps drawing over-nighters away from the downtown corridor. Some twenty years after the Overland was constructed it was already struggling. The restaurant closed in the early 1980s. Laughlin and its hotel-casinos just 35 minutes away also posed competition for Needles area lodging facilities and restaurants.

The 44-room, two-story motel with a lobby and large central parking area once sported a restaurant and swimming pool that could be seen while driving along the main street in downtown Needles. Currently it is being marketed as a Route 66 attraction 35 minutes from Laughlin, where potential “theme rooms would create another ‘destination’ for the reported 30 million Route 66 travelers last year.” It is advertised and listed for $89,000 by Caleene Williams, the broker and listing agent. The asked for amount likely does not include the cost of back taxes owed and probably does not reflect the cost of litigation which the city of Needles has brought against Keith Enterprises, the assumed current owner, in case number CIVNS 1100085.

The reality of the historic preservation issue that the motel represents is that cost to the owner currently outweighs benefit to the owner. Generally it can be said that the cost burden of preserving historic structures along Route 66 is now on the back of just the property owners instead of spread over the entirety of those potentially benefiting from the maintenance and continued establishment of the entire package of assets and resources along RT66’s corridor. The question remains: How many heritage structures can be demolished before Route 66 looses its character and charm?

Overland Motel during better days.

After a little over an hour of deliberation behind closed doors, the Needles City Council, meeting in executive session on December 10, 2013 at a regular council meeting voted on “Whether to purchase property through San Bernardino County tax sale and price and terms – Negotiating Parties: County of San Bernardino through tax sale.” The agenda item did not mention demolition of the motel.

On the open session agenda, action was scheduled to be taken to authorize the purchase of the property identified as Assessor’s Parcel No. 0186-106-26-0000 (Overland Motel) via Chapter 8 Tax Sale. No further background, fiscal impact, timeline or environmental review was provided in the background information packet and no mention was made of demolishing the motel.

However, according to local internet blogger, Zach Lopez in his “ZachNews Service,” city attorney John Pinkney reported unanimous votes in executive session on both authorizing the city manager and staff to initiate a Chapter 8 tax purchase of the property and authorizing legal council to obtain a court order permitting the property “receiver” to demolish the historic motel structure

According to the county website, the next San Bernardino County tax sale is tentatively scheduled for May 2014.

ZachNews Service expressed the sentiment, “After years of sitting abandoned, collecting dust and trash, and a hangout place for vandals [to] do drugs inside, the old and abandoned Overland Hotel may be next to becoming demolished…This was good news to those in the community who have been sick and tired of seeing nothing done onto this property and being an eyesore to those driving into Downtown Needles, California to follow the historic and world famous Route 66 highway…Overall, many hope that those abandoned homes and properties get cleaned up or knocked down so to keep the community safe and clean.” Eleven local Facebook readers gave that review a thumbs up. This, however, is not necessarily the sentiment of the wider Route 66 community who has yet to weigh in on the subject.

With “ghost” structures considered to represent imagery assets, the pitch to demolish crumbling service stops on Route 66 is contrary to the dialogue of stalwart Route 66 coalition members who are determined to develop a “Corridor Management Plan” (CMP) for the “Mother Road.” The CMP currently being developed has been made possible by a $103,000 grant for the project acquired from the Federal Highway Administration in 2012 at the behest of James Kemp, California state director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). An 80/20 matching grant in services from the California Route 66 Association supplements that funding. This CMP would not just be used as a management tool but also as the first step toward designating Route 66 as a National Scenic Byway in need of preservation and federal funding to implement the management plan.

The coalition including representatives and stakeholders from the California Route 66 Association, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), county of San Bernardino, the National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, chambers of commerce, Caltrans, various tour-ism bureaus, local businesses, museums, grassroots organizations and other Route 66 advocates were aboard the bus tour of Route 66 through Needles on December 4, 2013.

The evening before, on December 3, 2013, at Juicy’s Restaurant in Needles, the coalition had met with members of the Needles City Council - Jim Lopez and Linda Kidd, its mayor Edward T. Paget and his wife Jan, the city manager Rick Daniels, a representative of the Chamber of Commerce, Sue Godnick, and a representative of the Needles Downtown Business Alliance, Jan Jernigan, as well members of the Needles public at large, Robert and Lana Shaw, Linda Fitzpatrick and myself, who were informed of the possibility of funding that may soon be available to rescue declining historic properties along the historic site’s linear corridor should a National Scenic Byway designation be approved.

While passing through the Needles historic district of Route 66, the bus tour participants of the coalition viewed numerous structures also considered important to the Scenic Byways designation, including: the El Garces Harvey House and train depot, the Claypool building and the many historic motels, storefronts and residences along its course which are yet to be inventoried and described for the management plan.

Monitoring, putting deterioration in check, reversing the decay, restoring, retooling, resurrecting, rehabilitating abandoned and deteriorating historic properties and “ghost” structures along the corridor between Needles and Barstow was said to be an important goal of many of the Route 66 coalition participants. Demolishing was not.

During 2013, the city of Needles destroyed, approved the destruction of, or turned their eyes while two other important historic structures along the portion of RT66 through Needles were razed: the historic green castle that once housed the Needles Dairy creamery (see Glimpse 9-13-13) and “Mansker’s” two story railroad tie cabin (see Sentinel’s Glimpse 7-12-13). This demolition is billed as an effort to “clean up blight.” The homeless retreat to vacant, unprotected structures in Needles from time to time.

The consequence of the countrywide economic downturn is the need for affordable or publicly assisted temporary housing in Needles. The Overland Motel represents a structure that could potentially be retooled for government housing for the temporarily homeless or reinvented as a private assisted living facility as has been discussed for years. Some residents of Needles believe it wasteful and inhumane to destroy the stock of extant housing without a plan for replacement, particularly when there are so many people in need.

Edward Mejia, a groundskeeper at a church across the street from the motel, related his experience with the homeless in Needles. “There’s no place for the homeless here. They’re sleeping wherever they can in this cold of winter. Why is no one giving them direction as to where to go? They are being harassed at night by the police without direction as to what to do. We are supposed to be Christ like. It’s ridiculous.”