A Historical Society Without A Memory?

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by Dick Zimmermann, retired aerospace engineer

In 2010, the passage of House Bill 2251 gave the Arizona Historical Society control of the historic and top rated Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum. That was done to facilitate their 5C Arizona Centennial Museum project. However, after a very contentious public hearing, the Allen amendment was also passed to preserve the mineral museum and its very popular K-12 education programs in part of the building. The amendment further dictated that the historic mining equipment outside the building also be preserved. The AHS had two representatives at the table when the Allen amendment was drafted.

The fundraising effort for the centennial museum failed, as did prior fundraising efforts for the History Museum at Rio Nuevo and the Marley Center Museum. Then, in mid-2011, the AHS inexplicably closed the mineral museum and, except for the mineral specimens, disposed of the contents of the building. They also asked a contractor to plan the removal of historic and functionally restored mining equipment from around the outside of the building.

In November 2011, Rench Law LLC sent a cease and desist order to the AHS and to the contractor that was planning the removal of the historic mining equipment. The notice cited the statutory responsibility to “maintain the mining and mineral museum” in accordance with Arizona Revised Statute 41-827. In December, 2011, Rench Law received a response from the Assistant Arizona Attorney General stating that the AHS would comply with the statute. Subsequently, the mining equipment was not removed, but the mineral museum never reopened even though the AHS continued to receive the full mineral museum budget of over $400,000 every year.

Now, teamed with the 48 Arizona Women (http://www.48women.org/), the AHS has initiated a new fundraising campaign. Apparently, the AHS has again forgotten about the provisions of ARS 41-827. The current project would convert the former mineral museum building into a “public center for events, receptions and programming.” In addition to being redundant to the much larger and newer event center that the AHS already has in Tempe, such a facility would preclude restoration of the mineral museum and any possibility of complying with ARS 41-827. Details of the architect’s concept for this project have not yet been released, but it seems likely that they would include removal of the historic mining equipment, just as the architect’s plans for the centennial museum did.

So, it appears that the AHS could not remember a state statute specifically tailored for them just over a year before. Then, when reminded of their legal obligation by the Office of the Attorney General, it again slipped their mind in just over two years.

With a memory that faulty, how can the AHS be relied on to preserve Arizona history?

Dick Zimmermann is a retired aerospace engineer, a former mineral museum supporter, and the author of the blog Mineral Museum Madness.

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