Fate of Historic State Fair Building Remains Uncertain

The WPA Administration Building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds has been in the news a lot lately. Last year, preservationists succeeded in halting plans to bulldoze the 77-year-old building when a judge put the demolition on hold for a year. That year has come and gone, though, and the building's future remains uncertain, according to an Arizona Republic story published earlier this month.

Last week, Photo Editor Jeff Kida and I visited the fairgrounds, which are near Arizona Highways World Headquarters in Phoenix, to make some photos and learn more about the building and its future. With us was Kristi Walsh, assistant executive director of the Arizona State Fair. (Like the fair, Arizona Highways is a state organization. That said, the magazine is not advocating for or against the building's preservation — just keeping our readers updated on the situation.)

The Art Deco-style building was built in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration, one of several New Deal initiatives under President Franklin Roosevelt. It hasn't been usable by vendors for 20 years, Walsh said, and for the past 10 years, it's been completely unused (its most recent use was for storage). It has extensive termite damage, roof problems and a cracked floor that may or may not indicate foundation damage, she said. The fair hopes to use the location for additional vendor space, as well as consolidate the two fairgrounds entrances flanking the building into a single main entrance along McDowell Road.

Preservationists, though, continue to advocate for the building's preservation. Earlier this month, a group leading the restoration effort met with fair officials and presented a plan for stabilizing and renovating the property, along with proposals for how to fund the project. The group, though, remains far short of the funding that would be needed for restoration. But Jim McPherson, president of the Arizona Preservation Foundation and a leading figure in the effort, remains optimistic. Fair officials, he said, "have come to the realization that it can be an asset ... it's just a matter of locating those funds."

Whatever is done with the building, there's no doubt that space is in short supply. Walsh said the fairgrounds, at 96 acres, are the smallest state fairgrounds in the country despite hosting the third-highest-attended state fair.

Walsh said with the state fair coming up in October and November, it's unlikely any action will be taken on the building before next year. What action might that be? It sounds like we'll have to wait and see.

— Noah Austin

All photos by Jeff Kida.

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