Nonprofit levels historic 90-year-old motel | News

By Scott Shumaker, Tribune Staff Writer
10 Min Read

A Main Street motel that served weary travelers to Mesa for almost 90 years was torn down in October after owner Chicanos Por La Causa got a demolition permit from the city.

The property did not have a local historic designation that would have paused the Kiva Lodge’s demolition, so the city had no discretion once the nonprofit had submitted all the necessary documents.

But the demolition took some preservationists by surprise.

“We never heard anything until the demolition was approved,” Historic Preservation Board Chairman Jim Babos said. “Obviously, it’s a shame it was torn down.”

The historic neon sign on site was saved and has been donated to the Mesa Preservation Foundation for safe keeping.

Chicanos Por La Causa promotes social equity and opportunity for underprivileged populations of all ethnicities. With encouragement from the city, the group is planning multiple developments on Main Street, including a mixed-use project at the former Bailey’s Brakes site.

On the former Kiva Lodge site and several adjacent parcels, the group has preliminary plans for a 90-unit affordable housing complex with community services.

But the organization has not received the zoning required for the development and will need to eventually get council approval.

The rezoning case could have provided a public forum to discuss significance — or non-significance — of the Kiva Lodge buildings, but its demolition renders the question moot.

Started in the 1930s as a souvenir shop and later expanded into a motel, the Kiva Lodge was one of the oldest remaining motor lodges in Arizona.

A historical review commissioned by Chicanos Por La Causa prior to demolition said the Kiva Lodge helped tell the story of the growth of Mesa after the creation of the numbered U.S. Highway system in 1926 and the explosion in car ownership following World War II.

Kiva Lodge operated as a motel until 2020, when the nonprofit purchased the property.

Chicanos Por La Causa issued a statement in response to a request for comment on the demolition.

 “We listened to the Mesa Preservation Foundation but unfortunately we were not able to accommodate the existing structure and build affordable housing when our communities need it most to address a housing crisis,” it said.

“However, we made true to our agreement to address their initial concern of the sign preservation. …The sign was the only item preserved as recommended by the historical report prepared for the property.”

“Since 2018, we have done our due diligence including speaking with a number of officials and leaders and commissioning studies to look at other options.”

The Kiva Lodge, particularly the sign, was an often-photographed feature of Mesa. 

In June, a journalist documenting roadside history, Rolando Pujol, featured the Kiva Lodge sign on his website Retrologist, writing that Kiva Lodge is “one of many vintage and often extraordinary sites along this throwback stretch of Mesa. 

“There is so much old-school goodness around these parts, one doesn’t know where to begin. Kiva is a good start.”

When the Mesa Preservation Foundation posted about the Kiva Lodge last year, a commenter responded: “One of the exciting parts of Mesa. Get off the main drag and you can see some pretty extraordinary places. This is one of the highlights of my ride on the light rail.”

The Arizona State Historic Preservation Office determined last year that the Kiva Lodge buildings were eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

A contract archaeology service that surveyed the site in 2018 disagreed, recommending that the buildings be considered ineligible and the sign alone eligible.

Representatives for Chicanos Por La Causa appeared before Mesa Historic Presentation Board earlier this year and made known their intentions to demolish the buildings and preserve the sign.

They said the buildings and sign were not compatible with their affordable housing vision and might create confusion about the new buildings’ purpose.

Also, the affordable housing wouldn’t “pencil out” if there was a preservation component to the project, an attorney for the group said.

Preservation Board members at the time pushed back on a total demolition, arguing that the site had significant historical value and was worth preserving at least in part. 

They asked the group to consider some sort of adaptive reuse for the Kiva office or some of the rooms. Many hoped that meeting would be the start of a longer conversation.

“We thanked them, they thanked us, and we never heard anything until the demolition was approved,” Babos said. 

Babos said he found out about the demolition when a city employee contacted him to let him know a permit had been issued.

Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation said, “We’re losing some important properties now. It’s really troublesome. Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.” 

“Some (city officials) just didn’t feel it was a priority item to go after. Not enough pressure was put on the developer to find a solution,” he said.

Linoff’s group will help preserve the sign and may eventually assist in giving it another location, but Linoff said he always prefers to keep historic signs on site.

“Once they’re removed from their original locations, they lose their history and significance,” he said. “People who see it (in a new location) will think it’s intriguing, but not understand what it meant to travelers.”

Councilwoman Jenn Duff, who represents the area where the Kiva Lodge was located, said over the years there have been many behind-the-scenes discussions with Chicanos Por La Causa about the site and historic buildings, and she did not oppose the demolition.

“I didn’t feel it was sloughed aside by any means. It’s been a long time coming,” Duff said.

Duff said she didn’t believe the Kiva Lodge in its final state merited preservation. 

She said it was in blighted condition, had been significantly altered from its original form and the neon sign featuring a Native American Plains man in headdress was a problematic candidate for showcasing Mesa’s roadside history.

She had heard questions raised about whether it was respectful to the tribes.  

According to a historical context review by PaleoWest prior to the demolition, “Feathered headdresses, especially of the style depicted, are typically associated with Native American Plains groups, and have a long-found history in the misrepresentation of Native Americans by Euro-American culture (King 2010).

“This depiction, coupled with the use of ‘Kiva’ – a ritual space solely attributed to Pueblo groups and not Plains groups – establishes a juxtaposition of familiar Euro-American iconography with unaffiliated terminology. This creates a distortion of both Plains and Pueblo groups.”

Duff added that the planned affordable housing on the site is a high priority for the community, and she’s glad to have “something that’s very useful” replace the Kiva Lodge.

“I realize others have differing opinions (about the demolition), but property owner rights prevail,” Duff said.

The demolition was legal, but it comes at a time of heightened anxiety in Mesa over rapid demolitions of historic properties.

In September the Planning and Zoning board signed off on extending temporary stays of demolition for historic properties from six months to a year.

The Historic Preservation Board advised city officials to consider stiffening penalties for unauthorized razing of historic properties.

Currently, the board noted, a clandestine demolition of a historic property like the Buckhorn Baths, which does have a historic zoning overlay, would be treated like a code violation with penalties similar to other violations. 

By Scott Shumaker, Tribune Staff Writer

2023-11-28 07:00:00 , – Vivrr Local Results in news of type article

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