Posted on 12/10/2017, 8:57:43 AM by SandRat
FORT HUACHUCA — Harlan Bradford vividly remembers climbing over mounds of rubble and trash while walking through the Mountain View Officers’ Club.
As a member of the Southwest Association of Buffalo Soldiers (SWABS), Bradford is part of a 14-year campaign to save and renovate the historic building, which at one point was slated for demolition.
Thanks to local efforts and involvement from national organizations, that mission may have just gotten a lot easier.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently announced a major milestone in an effort to save the 75-year-old building, which was built in 1942 and is one of two documented World War II-era African-American officers’ clubs still in existence today. The U.S. Army has conditionally accepted a proposal to rehabilitate and reuse the facility, creating a multipurpose facility while honoring the site’s historic significance.
“The encouraging thing is that the Army and the National Trust and a number of partner organizations are working together for the first time to move forward with this project,” Christina Morris of the National Trust for Historic Preservation out of Los Angeles said. Morris visited the site Friday with other parties to discuss funding options, future plans and the project’s progress.
“This project is not a ‘done deal’ but shows significant progress,” she said. “The National Trust is focused on funding and financial opportunities, and the Army has taken the lead on the leasing structure with the Army Corps of Engineers,” she said.
Arizona State Parks and Trails worked with National Trust in applying for a $500,000 grant that would pay for the exterior restoration to the building, bringing back its 1942 appearance, Morris said. The project’s full rehabilitation is expected to cost $4.4 million and will be conducted in phases.
The first two would include the building rehabilitation and expansion to the immediate grounds.
Architect Corky Poster, of architectural firm Poster Frost Mitro out of Tucson has been working with the project for 14 years.
“If we get the State Park grant, that would be an incredibly good start when it comes to approaching private developers and other entities about investing in the project,” Morris said.
Four years ago, National Trust designated the building as a National Treasure, which is the organization’s highest level of engagement.
Col. James W. Wright, commander, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Huachuca, was among those at the site on Friday. He applauds the building’s rehabilitation and the SWABS organization for its effort to save the historic building.
“We’re really excited about partnering with Chris (Morris) and her team,” he said. “Having this building available is going to fill a lot of voids in Cochise County, Sierra Vista, Fort Huachuca and the community at large.”
Plans are to use the site for entertainment purposes, a dining and sports complex, meetings and as a large-scale event space. He also spoke of an extensive market research analysis conducted by Morris and her team where dozens of interviews were conducted on and off Fort Huachuca, as well as with Sierra Vista leadership.
“Those interviews revalidated a pressing need for this kind of large-scale, multipurpose facility,” he said. “We’ll have a vibrant community center once this is brought back to life.”
Along with the community center, Wright also spoke of the project’s historic component.
“We are very bound to tradition and our heritage. This is a great way to honor the service and sacrifice of the 92nd and 93rd Infantry Divisions that served here in a segregated military,” he said. “This club serviced the officers of those two divisions. It also encapsulates the officers and heritage of the Buffalo Soldiers that operated and fought at Fort Huachuca in the early 1890s until World War II,” he said.
For Bradford, whose involvement with the project started in 2004, the colonel’s words represent hope for the building’s future.
“Having the Army’s support is a very important first step in protecting and preserving this very important building,” he said. “We (SWABS) got involved when the Army decided to tear the building down and we took action to stop the process. It was full of clutter and trash because it sat empty and unmaintained from the mid-90s until we got permission to start cleaning it up,” he said.
SWABS President Charles Hancock has been part of the restoration campaign since 2010.
“I think we’re finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” he said Friday while standing inside the empty building. “The historic significance of this building is incredible. I visualize what it was like and what it meant to the officers who served here from 1942 to 1945. I visualize the commaradire, the laughter, the families. And I can visualize what the final product will be like when we get it renovated.”