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Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014
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Preservationists attempt to save Phoenix building

Published:   |   Updated: July 17, 2014 at 12:41 AM

PHOENIX (AP) 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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