Past Remembered, Future Unknown

'Pieper Mansion' purchased, plans uncertain

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In recent years the property has sat empty. A few who knew the history of the "Pieper Mansion," located at the corner of West Main Street and McLane Road, kept an eye on the place from afar.

The property was overgrown and in disrepair. Only those on foot would notice the plaque that showed its importance as the site of the oldest standing structure in Payson -- a poured mud house.

But the quiet was disrupted recently by the sound of chain saws and those interested in local history and Main Street have taken notice.

It started when the towering dead trees behind the Pieper Mansion came down. As the trees fell, people speculated about the future of the surrounding buildings.

The property -- several acres of land and buildings from the 1890s and 1950s -- was purchased a few weeks ago by Greg Turturro of Phoenix, who has several holdings in the Payson area.

His first step was to order the tree cut down.

"The new owner was doing his due diligence," said Gary Cordell of Realty Executives, who participated in the sale.

Not too long ago, one of the trees was blown down and hit a car on the road. No one was hurt.

As for the house and the other buildings on the property, their future is uncertain, Turturro said.

Turturro bought the property just before the the 13th Annual Cruise-In and Charity Car Show May 6 and said he was very concerned about people being hurt if another tree fell. There were no problems, but he made the decision to take down the trees, clear out the blackberry brambles and a lot of the debris that was behind the old house.

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August and Wilhelmina Pieper started building the house that now stands at 505 W. Main St. in 1893.

"No one took care of it for years," Turturro said.

In addition to the "Pieper Mansion," the property has what is believed to be the oldest standing structure in town, a poured mud house. Henry Sidles had the adobe house built for himself by Paul Vogel after his first home, out where Flowing Springs is now, was burned by the Apaches, according to Jinx Pyle, official town historian.

August and Wilhelmina Pieper, who had both come from Germany to Globe, bought out Sidles in 1891, according to retired town historian Stan Brown. They lived in the mud house, and then in 1893 started building the house that now stands at 505 W. Main.

The Piepers moved into the house when it was completed, then either rented out the adobe house or used it for storage.

"One wall is completely gone," Turturro said of the adobe building, "and the main support beam is busted."

Mrs. Pieper was widowed in 1931 and not long after moved away, renting the house to the Curtis family, according to Brown.

Before Mrs. Pieper died in 1954, she sold the property to Steve and Cindy Hathaway, who added the three little cabins east of the big house in the late 1950s, and rented them. Over the decades, they were abandoned and began falling apart.

"Those little cabins were totally trashed," Turturro said.

The Hathaways sold the property to Bill Wilbanks and his wife, Ola Jane Franklin, in 1945, according to Brown's research. Wilbanks died in 1948 and his widow continued a rooming house in the old Pieper Mansion and operated the cabins.

Ola Franklin Wilbanks married Walter Lazear in 1956. The two had been childhood sweethearts and found one another again in their golden years.

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Three little cabins east of the big house were added to the Pieper Mansion property in the late 1950s, and rented out. Over the decades, they were abandoned and began falling apart.

The house became known as the Lazear Place and the tradition of hospitality for which it was known continued, Brown said.

Ola Lazear surrounded the house with gardens, trees and lawns.

Pyle said he remembered walking by the house on his way home from school and would sometimes stop for a drink of water from the well that sat by the roadside.

"It was always a pretty place with the big trees," he said.

Jayne Peace Pyle, who is also Payson's official historian, remembers visiting the house with her mother when she was a little girl.

"I was only ever in the front room," she said. "My mother loved Ola's flowers. There were open porches on both ends of the house and a widow's walk."

Dese Muller, Walter's daughter, spent quite a bit of time at the old house.

"It was nice," Muller said. "Ola always had a beautiful garden and yard. There was water in the meadow and lots of lovely trees."

She said her stepmother was a wonderful cook and she had many great meals there.

Her father loved the garden and was always in it.

"They were always playing cards and visiting with friends," she said. "They were very happy there."

Because it was built next to the meadow, it was flooded several times, Muller said.

Walter died in 1969 and his widow stayed on at the house, caring for the gardens and trees until her death in 1985.

At that time, the house went to Mrs. Lazear's daughter, Jesse Wingfield, who later sold it to the Garcia family.

In addition to taking down the dead trees, Turturro had Arizona Public Service take down the electric wires leading to the house.

"The electricity in there was so bad, if I'd turned on a light the place probably would have burned down," Turturro said.

Because of the flooding and lack of care, much of the house has decayed, he said.

"The fascia has rotted, the floors are caving in," Turturro said. There is also a tremendous amount of termite damage.

He said a lot of people don't know that the property has been zoned for commercial use by the town, rather than residential.

"The Daughters (of the Gila County Pioneers) would have loved to have got their hands on that place and restored it," said Jayne Peace Pyle.

But for now, the old house at the corner of West Main and South McLane remains empty and desolate, with an uncertain future.

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