Before Greg Turturro purchased the historic property on the corner of Main Street and McLane Road, bushy trees shrouded the aging Pieper Mansion while gnarled vines a foot thick penetrated the sod of the adjoining Sidles Mud House, the oldest building in Payson.
Turturro bought the 36,000-square-foot parcel for $235,000 in April 2006; it's back on the market four months later for $788,000.
"You have to have money to restore this place," Turturro said. "I don't have the resources to do a total restoration and upkeep."
From an economical standpoint, the zoning, accessibility and location of that land creates its value, and that's what prompted Turturro to purchase the property.
His original plan included razing the landmarks at 505 W. Main St. -- the Pieper Mansion, the Sidles house and the three garnet-red guest cabins -- clearing the land for commercial development.
Since nobody had a key, and Turturro really wanted the land, he bought the property without inspecting the interior. Judging by the exterior dilapidation, he assumed the buildings were lost causes.
That's before he actually went inside.
"The houses were in better shape than I thought," he said. "The structures are sound. Three-quarters of the sod house is still there. It's actually quite complete for its age."
In good conscience, Turturro said, he couldn't tear it down.
So, he proposed a trade with the town -- a parcel of airport land for the Pieper property.
But the town couldn't make the swap because the Federal Aviation Administration funded much of the property surrounding the airport.
Unless a benefactor steps forward, one of the last pieces of Payson's history could be lost.
"The real legacy is the Sidles house," said Jerry Owen, community development director. "This is probably one of the most significant properties in town."
The Sidles house and Pieper Mansion hark to the turn of the century.
In the 1880s, homesteader Henry Sidles built the 600-square-foot sod cabin.
German immigrants August and Wilhelmina Pieper moved into Sidles cabin in 1891. Two years later, the Piepers began construction on the neighboring 1,800-square-foot French Colonial house.
In the 1950s, Steve and Cindy Hathaway purchased the Pieper homes and added three rental shacks east of the main house.
But the years haven't been kind to the old Pieper Mansion and its adjoining abodes.
Today, the Sidles cabin is a worn record of its own past. A corn cob, along with rocks and other debris used in the original sod mixture, protrude from the wall.
Burnt carbon dusts the concrete foundation of the hearth. Some of the thick, wooden floor planks are splintered, exposing the underlying dirt; a few ceramic insulators from the cabin's knob-and-tube electrical wiring still hangs near the ceiling.
A support beam reveals evidence of the cabin's interior design -- dry, thin wallpaper with pale yellow flowers and gray geometric designs flakes off the wood.
As Turturro clears out the main home, the luster of its past comes to life.
"This place is built like a fortress," he said. "The original walls are solid-wood planks."
Previous owners erected particle board to create new rooms and cover walls. Over time, the material has absorbed water and turned to mush.
Underneath the particle board are layers of vintage wallpaper.
In the bathroom, flimsy cloth with taupe hatch marks on a beige background first covered its walls. The second layer of wallpaper is a rose-petal pink, accented with dainty white flowers and bronze vines. Toward the 1930s, the Piepers applied a floral, art deco design -- brown pears hanging from trees covered with green and blue leaves.
Pastel paint -- cyan in the long hallway and baby pink in the bedrooms -- cover the home's walls up to its ceiling, 11 feet above the hardwood floors.
Anthony Incardona has lived in Payson his whole life. The Pieper mansion is a childhood memory.
"I remember trees all around it," he said. "I'd be sad (if it was torn down) because it fits the town, especially Main Street."
Few historical renovation and acquisition funding options are available, and a full restoration project, could cost as much as Turturro's asking price.
"The economics of that is tough," Owen said. "The community would really have to rally around this property."
Local dollars are limited, too.
"We don't have much in the way of funds," said Pat Lundblad of the Rim Country Historical Society. "We'd love to see it saved. There's virtually nothing left of old Payson."
To organize a preservation effort, contact the Rim Country Historical Society at (928) 474-3483 or the town's community development at (928) 474-5242.
-- To reach Felicia Megdal call 474-5251 ext. 116 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.