Pima County to Use Grant Money in Historic Location Preservation Projects

Pima County shared Friday that after receiving various grants, an office will use the money to fund projects which aim to restore historical locations across the county.

“On paper, a grant may not look like much more than a set of numbers. But when it makes the leap from the page to the world, a dry-sounding proposal can give new life to the most vivid sites in our community,” according to the county.

The funds coming in from various sources will allow the Pima County Office of Sustainability and Conversion (OCS), along with the Cultural Resources and Historic Preservation Division (CRHPD) at the OCS, the resources necessary to work on restoration projects for public benefit. Three grants come from the Arizona State Heritage Fund, which provides $10 million from Arizona lottery proceeds to the Arizona Game and Fish Department annually for natural conservation and protection projects.

Teatro Carmen

One of Pima County’s projects will be to restore the Teatro Carmen; a historic mission-style theater first opened in 1915 by Carmen Soto Vasquez. Located in Tucson’s Barrio Viejo district, the theater initially served as a venue for Spanish-language plays, movies, and operas for over a decade, and theatrical troupes from Mexico and Spain traveled to the theater to perform. The theater closed in 1926, but the African American social club, Black Elks, later occupied the building.

However, the building has been used as a privately owned storage house boarded off by the public for the past two decades. Yet through a partnership with local nonprofit Stanford Art Works (SAW), the OSC is preparing to return Teatro Carmen’s status as a performing arts center and gathering place for the community. The county will use $300,000 in grant funds plus $150,000 in contributions from SAW to accomplish the project.

Mission Garden

At the foot of Sentinel Peak lies the living museum Mission Garden, operated by the nonprofit Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace. The museum houses over a dozen garden plots with agriculture representing the people groups who have used the land throughout history.

To manage Mission Garden, Pima County received $500,000 from the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund. Moreover, the OCS is preparing to nominate the museum for the National Register for Historic Places, a national program that identifies areas of historical significance to be protected.

Historic Fort Lowell

Built in the 19th century to house U.S. Army soldiers, Fort Lowell started life south of Broadway in downtown Tucson. In March 1873, soldiers were relocated because of the prevalence of malaria in the area and civilian complaints about drunken soldiers; however, fort buildings still stand to this day.

The county already has experience restoring the area, having worked to conserve the officers’ quarters after county voters passed a $2.5 million bond in 2004. This new project will include refurbishing the old hospital, the Fort Lowell Museum, and the commissary buildings using a $300,000 Heritage Fund grant and another voter-approved bond from 2018.

Juan Santa Cruz Picnic Area

The county’s final project focuses on the Juan Santa Cruz Picnic Area (JSCPA), located in Tucson Mountain Park. The Civilian Conservation Corps designed the picturesque area in the 1930s as part of the New Deal. While the JSCPA is still usable, a heritage grant of $190,000 will be used for needed maintenance to ensure the area stays that way for future public use.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Teatro Carmen” by LHAT.


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