A Lesson Learned From The Pieper Mansion

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As the vitality of Payson pumps through the Beeline Highway, it seems that the circulation has been cut off to some of the town's older arteries.

Take, for example, the case of the "Pieper Mansion." The property sits, withered, on Main Street. In its current condition -- water damaged, termite infested, crumbling -- the new owner is faced with two choices. He can spend the incredible amounts of money that it will no doubt cost to restore the historic buildings, or he can save himself some cash, raze the place and rebuild a new home, commercial or residential development.

Unfortunately, Payson has no system in place to help him make a decision in favor of historic preservation.

The time has long passed for any government intervention. In March 2003, the Pieper property came before the town council for possible acquisition and preservation by the town.

At the time, then town historian Stan Brown wrote an editorial in the pages of this newspaper pleading with the town to step forward and save the landmark.

He wrote, "They will be more than repaid by the economic development ... an extension of Green Valley Park .... Woe the day when (our landmarks) are bulldozed because they were not preserved."

Woe the day, indeed, as it has arrived.

The council voted the purchase down that year with a 4 to 3 vote.

The only evidence that anyone valued the history told by that property is the placement of a plaque on the sidewalk in front of it in the fall of 2004.

It may be too late for the Pieper property, but it may be a lesson that could motivate us for the future.

In some communities, funds are available to restore historic buildings. Tax incentives are in place. But no such apparatus exists in Payson.

In towns like Flagstaff, Prescott, even Bisbee and Jerome, the architecture tells the story of the town. And decades ago, the residents of those communities responded to the crumbling masonry on their old bank buildings and to the water damage on the mosaics in their opera houses by creating historic preservation measures.

But Payson is literally built from a different material, which might be the barrier to similar programs.

Our history is told in the less dramatic tone of tin and wood, written on buildings like the small adobe house next to the Pieper Mansion.

Now is the time for us to decide if those places are important or if they should step aside for more modern buildings.

We believe those buildings are still worth saving.

According to historian Jinx Pyle, much of old Payson is gone -- burned to the ground -- like Tammany Hall and the Herron Hotel, and much of what is left is so dilapidated it may not be salvageable.

But there are a few buildings that deserve our eye and our care -- the old Julia Randall house on McLane Road, the Owens house on the corner of Main Street across from the Presbyterian church, the Pieper Saloon (built of adobe across the street from the Pieper Mansion behind Rim Country Printery), and the Julia Randall Elementary School.

But historic preservation is a movement of the people, not of the government, as was witnessed in 2003.

More than the cast bronze plaques we now have in 23 locations, we need to take action. A group of volunteers must step forward, apply for grants, do a survey of historic properties that need to be preserved and make that preservation feasible for the property owner.

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