In February we reported that the Church was likely closing the Mesa Arizona Temple visitors center for good. While that speculation has now been confirmed by city planning officials in the massive Phoenix suburb, we’ve now learned of a larger effort by the Church to redevelop the area around the historic building. But progress would come at the cost of a handful of historic homes.
The Temple Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001, comprises residential and commercial areas to the west and southwest of the temple grounds. A number of period bungalows dot the area, which has preservationists concerned. The Church, however, is concerned that the area surrounding the temple is not exactly as tony as that of other temples (see: the WASPy, Stepford delights abutting the Gilbert Arizona Temple). The Trulia crime map below shows the Temple Historic District in the center, with crime rates much higher than other areas, particularly East Mesa. (The temple grounds are the green rectangle in the middle-center under Ashland.)
Gentrification, then, is key to the long-term health of Mesa, as well as the safety and beauty of the area surrounding the House of the Lord. You might be getting flashes of City Creek as you read this, and while the Mesa plan, though undisclosed, would likely not be as grand in scope for what is essentially a suburban area, the desired outcome should be similar.
According to AZ central, a number of post-war homes are being eyed by the Church for demolition. The map below shows that all of them area to the immediate west of the temple grounds, clearly in an effort to open up a larger lot west of Lesueur along Main Street.
Final plans will be unveiled in the coming weeks, according to Daniel Woodruff, Church spokesman. However, we do know that the visitors center will be moved to the southwest corner of Lesueur and Main, right along a light rail stop. A family history center along 1st Ave. and Leseuer is slated for demolition, with no indication as to where (or if) it will be moved. In addition, the Church plans to build temple housing in the new area.
Some preservationists are concerned that the Church has not been appropriately transparent. Vic Linoff, a longtime city preservationist, stated, “What’s really boiled up… is a lack of communication with the preservation board.” City Planning Director John Wesley told the Preservation Board that planning official rejected three demolition requests from the Church, while six are under review. An interesting wrinkle, however, is that the Church actually owns a number of homes under review, but because they lay within the historic district, Salt Lake has to wait six months for demolition permits. According to Linoff, after the waiting period, as the property owner, the Church may demolish as it wishes.
Here’s the thing—and perhaps this is at the risk of editorializing—while many of the homes in the historic district are great examples of 1950s architecture, the ones in question aren’t. Look at this slideshow of the homes on the chopping block. Images are courtesy of AZ Central.
To be clear, there are historic homes that are well kept and represent a particular era. These properties can be large or small, ornate or spartan. There are also old properties that are just worn down. The homes in question do not appear to offer much in the realm of historical value, so it’s hard to see the case from the preservation board beyond, “These are old! Don’t touch old!”. (Come at me, Mesa enthusiasts.)
It’s also worth noting that while the homes fall within the Temple Historic District, they are outside of the “Temple Historic” zone that is part of the City of Mesa’s broader redevelopment strategy, which stretches beyond the Church’s ambitions. Salt Lake is but one of many partners. It just so happens that the Church’s properties in the area are among the most famous and beloved in all of Arizona.
According to the City of Mesa’s own planning board, the Temple Historic zone is actually the only area abutting temple property that is not being considered for redevelopment in one form or another:
Moving the visitors center to a prominent location right next to a light rail is great for outreach efforts, and it also removes the existing building from the line of sight to the temple itself, even if the current structures play off each other nicely and are in better architectural harmony. It will also be interesting to see what this means for staging of the Mesa Easter Pageant.
We’ll add updates as the Church releases them.