Before I begin, I need to talk a little about the election. I am grateful that you and your neighbors chose to give me another term on the city council. There is a lot of work we need to do together, and by together I mean with you as constituents and with my two new colleagues, Nikki Lee and Lane Santa Cruz as well as my longtime colleague and our next mayor, Regina Romero. Congratulations to all three for earning the support of our city.
I’d also like to extend thanks to my opponents for putting their names forward in this election. Running for office is difficult. It’s not just showing up to a few neighborhood meetings and handing out cards. I admire anyone who is willing to put their lives on hold and present themselves to the community.
Thank you to everyone.
Aside from the Fort Lowell area, I think many of us would be hard pressed to name a historical resource in Ward 2. We’ve got some archaeological sites hidden away in some of our neighborhoods, but as far as buildings more than fifty or sixty years old, our part of town is not what people think of.
Well, there is a cluster of century old buildings that many of you have probably seen but not thought much about: the United States Magnetic Observatory.
The Observatory is in the largely undeveloped southern section of Udall Park. You’ve seen them if you’ve parked to use the soccer fields or the dog run. Currently, there are four buildings on the site. They are behind a locked gate, and each building has been fenced off to prevent vandalism.
The facility was built by the US Geological Survey in 1909 primarily to measure variations in the Earth’s magnetic field. Such data can be used for helping ships and airplanes with navigation and to help manage power grids. At one point, there were nearly two dozen buildings, mostly wooden sheds that housed equipment. There are now four buildings that remain: two of which were residences, one was an office and the fourth was a shed that housed equipment.
When the facility was built, it was far from the city. Keep in mind that at that time, the U of A (I’m sorry, UArizona) was on the eastern edge of town. Since then, of course, our little town has grown up around the old Observatory. They moved it to Saguaro National Park in the 1980s.
Despite the move, USGS paid a caretaker to live on the site until the city got the responsibility for maintenance about 25 years ago. Because of that, the buildings are all in relatively good shape, and there is both electrical and water infrastructure at the site.
Ten years ago, local preservationist Ken Scoville saw that the place was threatened and lobbied for the city to do a bit more for the area. The fences were put up to prevent vandalism and the windows were sealed off.
Since then, we have entertained a number of ideas: offices and equipment storage for a soccer league, changing rooms for a possible amphitheater, leasing them as art studios. My colleagues and I passed a comprehensive plan for Udall Park in 2011 that would have the buildings as part of an “interpretive center.”
Students from Vail School District helped restore the old Esmond Station on the city’s southeastern edge. These buildings are in far better shape than that one. A similar project might be worth contemplating here as part of bringing the site back to life.
A member of my staff visited the site this week along with personnel from Parks and Recreation and historical preservationists. They will be meeting again and I hope that we can find a use for this scientific and historical treasure.