Razing the T.F Miller Building: Jerome, AZ 1953

In early 1953, speculation ran high that the entire town of Jerome, AZ would be razed. According to a former official of Phelps Dodge, “WITHIN A YEAR – GRASS WILL GROW ON THE MAIN STREET OF JEROME—JEROME IS FINISHED.”[1]

It was an easy time for the mining companies that abandoned Jerome to begin bulldozing town buildings. Phelps Dodge Corporation (PD) and United Verde Exploration (UVX) owned the land underneath Jerome, many lots and buildings on Main Street, the schools and hospital and much of the land surrounding the town for many miles.

TFMILLER rJ-90-285

The iconic T.F. Miller building was ordered to be torn down by Phelps Dodge in 1953. “Jerome is finished,” a mine official said. Kids were paid a penny a piece to clean the bricks. (Photo courtesy: Jerome Historical Society)

In early 1953, bulldozing began. First to go was the T.F. Miller company store, which held sentinel at the top of town, facing down Main Street, a handsome four-story building, with its brick and sandstone façade. The building was the lifeblood of the mining community—a symbol of the dominant place it occupied in the lives of its residents. William Andrews Clark, founder of the United Verde Mine, built it in 1899 at a cost of $100,000, a grand price in those days. The large fire of 1899 caused only some warping of the I-Beams on the fourth floor and these were quickly repaired. It had been handsomely maintained. Jerome resident Joe Selna was still operating the commissary in the first part of 1953.

By the end of 1953, only rubble remained.

In October, Phelps Dodge Corporation sold the building to Joel Baldwin, Yavapai County Assessor in Prescott, AZ, for fifty dollars with the agreement that he tear it down. PD said the building was a ‘fire trap’ and that the Con OKeefe building next to was pushing dangerously against it. The Town of Jerome granted Baldwin a demolition permit with the agreement that he clean up the lot after the building was torn down and asked for $200 check as a guarantee. Baldwin sold the materials at salvage prices to a company in Los Angeles.

Baldwin also demolished the Ewing Transfer Building on Lower Main Street. Verde Exploration Ltd. pulled down The Con O’Keefe Building . It looked like the gloomy prophecy about uptown Jerome turning to grass might be coming to pass.

Although the O’Keefe building lot was cleaned up to the satisfaction of the town, Baldwin left a large rubble at the site of the T.F. Miller and Ewing buildings. Town letters of complaint to Baldwin and PD were stonewalled and the Town had to eventually clean up the rubble. To add insult to injury, Baldwin’s cleanup guarantee check bounced.[2]

Robert Sandoval, who was born in Jerome, had this to say in an interview with me: “When the Miller building was demolished, my brother Jesse and me cleaned bricks. They were stacked on pallets, 500 per pallet. We got a penny a brick. We’d use a small hatchet to get the mortar off. We got so we could clean a pallet of bricks an hour. I remember ten to fifteen kids cleaning bricks., even some girls. Everyone had their own pallet

The demolition of those buildings served as a wakeup call for the Jerome Historical Society. During the Society’s December 5 meeting, “Mr. McMillan moved that the secretary write the Verde Exploration[3] and the Phelps Dodge Corporation asking that we be given a chance to discuss the sale of any building that may be put up for sale in Jerome. We don’t want to remove them, but will assume taxation and liability for any damage.”[4] The society also appointed a committee to investigate acquiring buildings in Jerome.

In February 1954, The Society wrote to Verde Exploration asking if they could purchase the Mine Museum building, which they had been renting for fifteen dollars a month. Verde Exploration Manager, Clarence J. Beale wrote that the company would be willing to sell the building at a salvage price of seventy-five dollars and the paid-up rentals would be considered as payment for the lot. The Society voted to send $150.00 to purchase the building.

For the first time, Society took a giant step towards leveraging itself into becoming stewards of Main Street buildings. Board members worked closely together in signage, repairs, promotion, welded together strongly by a single goal— community building on a scale they hardly imagined when they began the society. Night after night, members met to rescue a shipwreck of a town and, at the same time, sail themselves out of the doldrums.

The Society began to replace PD’s threat of grass growing on Main Street with their motto, “The Past is our Future.”

In those days, neither money nor power drove their dreams forward, particularly remarkable when you look at a very wealthy town whose values today seem to be solely defined by money and power.

Excerpts from Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City by Diane Sward Rapaport

[1] News Bulletin, Jerome Historical Society newsletter, 1955.

[2] The Jerome Chronicle, Summer 1987, ‘The T.F. Miller company Building; Margaret Heyer Mason, “The 1950’s, “Jerome in Transition”, paper presented for the Jerome Historical Society Symposium, 1982.

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An Art Museum for Jerome AZ—Wouldn’t it Be Great?

Jerome, Arizona needs an art museum that would introduce its numerous visitors to the marvelous art created here by painters, sculptors, photographers, jewelers, potters, etc. during its four major eras: mining days 1876-1953; ghost town years (1950-1960); restoration (1970-2000); contemporary Jerome (2000-present). Many artists, such as Lew Davis and Roger Holt, are nationally acclaimed.

Oil painting by Roger Holt

Oil painting by Roger Holt depicting Jerome in its ‘ghost town’ era.

The town of Jerome owns some art created by Jerome artists and it hangs in some of the town offices, meeting rooms and libraries. The Jerome Mine Museum on Main Street has a small collection of very fine oil paintings depicting mining days. The Jerome Historical Society archives has a considerable photography collection, only a very small portion of which has been printed and is on display. The Jerome State Historic Park has a small collection of photos and paintings. Some of that art owned by these entities is museum quality and should be protected and displayed in one location.

Sadly, however, much of the great art created in Jerome AZ before 1990 is gone—to families of artists that have died, to museums, and to visitors and residents of Jerome and the Verde Valley who had the good sense to buy it.

Three shows that occurred in Jerome within the last fifty years gave residents and visitors glimpses of the greatness of artists that once lived in Jerome.

Lew Davis: The Dean Arizona Artists

During the nineteen seventies, the Verde Valley Art Association in Jerome AZ sponsored a show of the art of Lew Davis, dean of Arizona artists, who grew up in Jerome during its mining days. The show included one of his most famous pieces, “Morning at the Little Daisy.” VVAA Director and musician Pat Jacobson and Arts Coordinator and jeweler Susan Dowling went to Phoenix in Pat’s pickup truck and borrowed all of Davis’ paintings from museums and collectors.

"Morning at the Little Daisy" by Lew Davis

“Morning at the Little Daisy,” by Lew Davis, owned by the Phoenix Art Museum. Davis grew up in Jerome, not wanting to admit to wanting to be an artist in a community of miners. After he moved out of Jerome, Davis painted a series of paintings depicting life in Jerome.

Other VVAA art shows featured the work of Arcosanti visionary Paolo Soleri and nationally renowned Verde Valley sculptor John Waddell.

The VVAA shows of Arizona artists and Jerome artists’ studio tours helped place Jerome on the map as an art destination. Shows of Jerome resident artists introduced their art to visitors and gave many artists their first sales.

1999: Images of Jerome

The Jerome Historical Society sponsored an art show in 1999 called “Images of Jerome: A Centennial Retrospective: 1899–1999.” The show depicted the culture of the community during three distinct periods: mining era, ghost town years, and restoration. A collection of more than one hundred paintings, photographs, jewelry, stained glass, tiles, sculpture, and pottery were displayed that were created by artists and artisans that lived in Jerome. The art was of excellent quality.

“Miner Pushing Ore Cart” by William D. White.

“Miner Pushing Ore Cart” by William D. White. This painting was the poster cover for
“Images of Jerome” exhibition in 1999. The painting was part of a series commissioned by Phelps Dodge Corporation in the mid-1930’s depicting copper miners. After the society formed in 1953, The American Legion loaned six of White’s paintings to the Jerome Historical Society and they were eventually accessioned by them.

I produced that show on behalf of the society. It was a propitious time to remind those of us who helped rescue the town of our deep attachments here and our roots into every aspect of its culture. The art was gathered from about 150 homes, studios, and businesses in Jerome and from the society’s collection in the Mine Museum. Curators ML Lincoln and Karen Mackenzie put in more than four hundred volunteer hours. They were astonished to find homes so chock full of Jerome art that they looked like miniature art museums. “These were not wealthy people collecting art as an investment but art to treasure as you would a good friend,” ML said. “Artists traded among each other or bartered their work for carpentry or bookkeeping or another piece of art. It was all very personal.” Lincoln and Mackenzie photographed all the art that they saw in people’s homes and donated the slides to the Jerome Historical Society for their archival records.

Vincent Family Art Exhibit

In 2012, Henry Vincent, a well-known Cottonwood CPA and resident of Jerome AZ had a showing of the art his family had gathered, much of it from Jerome artists at the old Manheim Gallery in Old Town Cottonwood. It was called the Vincent Family Art Exhibit and comprised more than thirty art works that had never been on public display and were not for sale, the majority of it by Jerome artists. Henry’s father Tom and mother Frankie remodeled a home in Jerome and moved into it in 1962. He began collecting art from Jerome artists. Their three children, Ed, Maeve and Henry continued collecting it.

The show included a painting of the Vincent family home called “First Snow” by Jerome artist and resident Robert Knudson and four or five paintings by Roger Holt the celebrated American artist, Roger Holt, who had exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery, and Carnegie Institute. Holt and his wife, Shan, arrived in 1954 and lived in Jerome until the mid-1960s. They founded the Verde Valley Artists, which morphed into the Verde Valley Art Association in 1975.

Where Could a Jerome AZ Art Museum be Located?

But where could this museum be?” I was asked whenever I mentioned my idea to people in Jerome on a recent visit. No one disputed that it was a good idea; but they did become very dubious that a museum could find a home here.

At some point, Verde Ex could explore the possibility of donating/selling/granting some or all of the old Mingus High School buildings for an art museum. It’s a logical idea: it has the reputation already as an art studio center and has adequate parking. Verde Ex needn’t displace any of its renters, many of them artists, but it could stipulate that whenever the renter gave up the space, it would become part of the new museum.

Would Verde Ex by up for selling? That would have to be explored. Could money to buy some of all of the complex for a museum be raised from donations and grants: no doubt.

OR??????

But Wouldn’t It be Great

If an art museum did exist in Jerome AZ?

Wouldn’t it be great if special shows could be brought up to Jerome by artists that visited or lived here? Like Lew Davis. Or the great Edward Weston who photographed Jerome in the thirties.

An art museum could raise the funds and persuade the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. to help mount an exhibit here in Jerome of some of the collection of William Andrews Clark, the man who started the first of Jerome ‘s great copper mines. Like his collection of rare laces. Or world-renowned collection of majolica pottery.

Wouldn’t it be great for Jerome artists, before they died or moved away, to donate one or two pieces to the museum, instead of it evaporating out of town, never to be seen again. I’m thinking of the great work by artist Paul Nonnast, who died a few years ago, and whose home and studio are on the market. Or stained glass artist Nancy Louden. Or the tiles and magnets of Jade and Rosie? Or some of the work of jeweler Shorty Powell, who lived here in the sixties. I’ve never seen any of his art.

Wouldn’t it be great if some of us who own some of the great art that has been created here in Jerome could leave it as a bequest to the new museum?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was one place our tourists could see the fantastic art that was created here in all eras of Jerome’s fantastic and colorful lives.

Fall in Jerome AZ

“Fall in Jerome” by Mark Hembleben, a plein air artist currently living and painting in Jerome. Hembleben has an art studio in the old Mingus Union High School. This painting would be one of my candidates for a new art museum in Jerome AZ. (www.markhemleben.com).

Wouldn’t it be great if there was one great art museum where visitors could recognize how deeply entwined art was in the history and collective identity of Jerome?

Jerome, AZ 2014—America’s Loveliest Town

Jerome AZ is home when I come back to visit, as familiar and comfortable as my new home in Hines, Oregon. I was hugged back into its warmth and beauty by friends and family.

I strolled through streets that are full of magic and surprise. It’s not just the highly individual houses and gardens, but coming upon staircases that climb to nowhere, secret pathways, gussied up pink flamingos, an old dental chair planted in the grass, the body of a 1951 Chrysler New Yorker floating on a pedestal adjacent to the New State Motor Company.

Fantasy garden in Jerome AZ.

Karen calls this her Jerome AZ fantasy garden. I call it the garden of magic and surprise. lovely Lady Bank roses cascade up the large tree and the peace sign is lit at night. Photo by Karen Mackenzie

It was late spring. Thousands of trees in hundreds of varieties had greened up. Apricots and peaches were plumping out; it would be a bonanza year. Pink, red and yellow roses cascaded off porch trellises. It made me feel like I was walking through a terraced arboretum decorated with people-sized dollhouses.

It was difficult to imagine that in 1953 Jerome and the surrounding mountains were denuded of vegetation.

Unlike virtually any other American town, Jerome, AZ is framed in by a wild rocky landscape. The entire town is encompassed in about one square mile. There are no perimeter condos or trailer parks; no big box stores; no fast food franchises, no blighted neighborhoods. The land surrounding the town is owned by that is owned by mining and other large entities and the US Forest Service.

Jerome AZ illustration by Anne Bassett

The entire town of Jerome AZ is encompassed in about an aereal mile. Illustration by Anne Bassett (www.jeromeartistannebasset.com) for Diane Rapaport’s book, Home Sweet Jerome—Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City (homesweetjerome.net).

Every stroll shows me stupendous backdrops of craggy copper-colored canyons above Jerome or sweeps my eyes 1700 feet down and across the Verde Valley to the carmine and buff buttes, which form the ramparts known as the Mogollon Rim. The lighting effects produced by any kind of weather are entrancing.

Late afternoon in Jerome AZ

Views from Jerome AZ are stupendous, especially when their are storm clouds. “Heaven on earth” is what photographer Ron Chilston calls it.  (www.ron-chilston.artistwebsites.com)

The mining history of this once fabled city is everywhere present. Just up from the post office on Main Street, I can take in the elegance of fifteen lovingly restored Victorian houses, built by William Andrews Clark, the mining mogul reputed to be richer than Rockefeller. My eyes can look at the big buildings that dominate most every neighborhood and remember how derelict they looked when I moved to Jerome in 1980. Now they are architectural showcases, lovingly used and enjoyed.

DeCamp House

The DeCamp house on Company Hill in Jerome AZ. It sits on the edge of Paradise Lane. Illustration by Anne Bassett (www.jeromeartistannebassett.com/

The restoration efforts led to Jerome AZ being declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. A decade before, the commercial district had been designated as a National Historic District.)

The white Douglas Mansion, the largest adobe brick structure in Arizona, once belonged to Jimmy Douglas, the second wealthiest mining mogul in Jerome, AZ. The mansion is now a meticulously cared for state park and museum. Nearby, the Daisy Hotel, once a miner’s hotel, and, after the fifties, an informal child’s skateboard and hide and seek playground, is now a handsomely restored home for its owners. The old hospital has become the Grand Hotel with its gracious maroon awnings. The Mingus Union High School complex is crammed full of remarkable art studios. The old elementary school houses town hall, offices and public library.

I always gawk at Jerome’s retaining walls, its immense, and somewhat unheralded, architectural treasure. The walls behind the new fire station and down by the basketball court near the sliding jail are built with rocks so large you’d think giants lifted them. Other walls are built with trestles from old railroad beds, steel sheets, or even bedsprings. Still others are huge concrete edifices. Some 1500 retaining walls have been built in Jerome AZ and they are as individual as the homes that people have restored. The walls keep the town from toppling down the mountain.

Wall on Highway 89A, Jerome AZ

One of the first Jerome AZ walls that drivers notice on their way up from the Verde Valley is right on Highway 89A. It was built by Mexicans and Italian stonemasons in the 1930’s as a WPA project. The limestone rocks are quarried from the Martin formation just outside of town. The rocks have settled and withstood a few rumbles, which accounts for some of their curved lines. Photo by Bob Swanson (SwansonImages.com)

The Jerome Historical Society (http://jeromehistoricalsociety.com/) has displayed many mining artifacts in its parks and streets: iron ore carts, the coal coker, the huge half steel spoke outside its mine museum on Main Street. They have transformed an old Audrey head frame below the Douglas State Park Museum into a museum mini park. I stand on top of the glass walkway and look down almost 1900 feet into the old elevator shaft, a view enhanced by dramatic xenon lighting and specially designed mirrors. I saw an old elevator ‘cage’ and wonder if it was the same one that once transported me almost 5000 feet down into the large mine caverns.

Audrey Headframe

The Audrey headframe was part of the elevator that took employees down into the United Verde Extension Copper Mine in Jerome AZ.

After more than sixty years of restoration, the ghost town derelict that Jerome became after 1953 is gone. It is arguably the most photographed and painted town in America. Visually, Jerome, AZ gets my vote for the loveliest town in America.

Fall in Jerome AZ

Fall in Jerome AZ by plein aire artist Mark Hemleben (markhemleben.com).

Jerome, Arizona: Spook Hall and the Ghost City that Never Existed

Visitors to the 49th Annual Home Tour of historic homes and buildings in Jerome on May 17 and 18 reported many treats: homes beautifully restored by their owners and furnished as miniature museums of their lives. Because Spook Hall was a hub of this tour, readers might like to know how it got its name how Jerome became a ghost city.

Jerome, Arizona 1953

In 1953, less than a dozen businesses were still open in Jerome, Arizona— two bars, one Chinese restaurant, and two small grocery stores uptown. There was a mortuary near the elementary school, a small grocery store and gas station in the Gulch, and a pig farm out on the hogback.

The town was dying. Less than three hundred buildings remained. A population of 15,000 had dwindled to two hundred and nineteen people, 87 of them children, uncertain of what the future would bring. An eerie quiet settled into the town. No more explosions. No smoke wafted up from the Clarkdale smelter. No trains and whistles. Not much traffic, especially at night. No birds sang.

Jerome, Arizona, a ghost city that never existed.ver

View of Jerome, Arizona and Cleopatra Hill from the old cemetary. Photograph by Bob Swanson (Swanson Images.com)

And into that silence came the question, “What now?”

Spooks of Jerome, Arizona

In 1953, the Jerome Historical Society was formed and opened a mine museum, right where it still is on Main Street.

Society members spent their evenings gathered in the “Salt Mine,” their term for the saloon that had been located in the basement of the new museum. They churned out signs and brochures. They joked among themselves that they were a bunch of spooks. Once the word “spooks” was mentioned, the members jumped on it as part of the theme for promoting Jerome.

They made new hand routed ‘spook’ signage. The letters were white on a black background: “Spook’s Crossing” on Main Street across from the Mine Museum and “Luke the Spook,” their adopted mascot. Society members wrapped themselves in sheets and were photographed with the signs. The photographs appeared in newspapers and brochures.

The Spooks of the Jerome, Arizona  Historical Society

Jerome ‘Spooks’ on Main Street, Jerome, Arizona in the nineteen fifties. Courtesy Jerome HIstorical Society.

At the August 1953 meeting, society members discussed plans for an annual event. They gave it an official name: “Annual Spooks Homecoming, Potluck, and Dance” and invited present and former Jerome families. The free event was held in the Salt Mine.

The second Spook Night was held in Lawrence Hall (previously the J.C. Penney store), which the Jerome Historical Society purchased in 1954. The old wooden floor was a wreck and members worked many nights to make new flooring and nail it down. Some of the kids helped strip the old wood. The building became affectionately known as Spook Hall. Although faded, the J.C. Penney sign still remains. Today the hall is officially named the Richard Lawrence Memorial Hall, in memory of Jerome’s postmaster and first member of the society’s executive board, but those of us who live in Jerome call it “Spook Hall.”

The Invention of a Ghost City in Jerome, Arizona

One evening, some society member, nobody remembers who, dreamed up a sign that cemented the words “Jerome” and “ghost city” in visitors’ minds. The sign dramatized Jerome’s dwindling population in a sequence of descending numbers, each with a line crossed through it: 15,000, 10,000, 5,000, 1,000. At the end of the sequence were the words, “GHOST CITY.”

The ghost city of Jerome, Arizona that never existed.

The sign showed zero population in Jerome, Arizona, part of the Jerome Historical Society’s invention of a ghost city. Photo courtesy Jerome HIstorical Society.

Two signs were made and society members placed one on the hogback road that led out of town towards Clarkdale and one at the top of town. From either direction, the town looked desolate.

The signs were photographed and sent out with a press release that proclaimed Jerome, Arizona as “America’s First Ghost City.” Hundreds of newspapers and magazines picked up the story. Postcards of the image were sold in the Mine Museum.

Jerome Historical Society members that had never worked in an advertising agency had accomplished the most difficult marketing task of all. They branded Jerome as a ghost city.

Magazine and newspaper writers loved the ghost town moniker and readers of their articles never saw the name of the town without it.

Tourists told Mine Museum personnel for decades after that they had come to Jerome because of the ghost town stories. They took photographs of each other next to the signs. The signs disappeared sometime during the 1970s. . .

Thus, the history of a wealthy mining mecca became intertwined with the mythology of a ghost city that never really existed.

Excerpts from Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City (www.homesweetjerome.net)

Diane Sward Rapaport's history of Jerome. Arizona after 1953

Book Cover of Diane Sward Rapaport’s history of Jerome. Arizona after 1953.