Message #331:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Cultural Heritage And Disaster Management In Tucson 
Date: Fri, 22 Aug 1997 10:09:12 -0700

Cultural heritage and disaster management in Tucson, Arizona

There is a great diversity of cultural resources in America in general,
to say nothing of the sites which are important to local communities. One
of the most important sites in Tucson, Arizona is "El Tiradito," the
Wishing Shrine. A fabled site in the Barrio Libre National Register
Historic District, the shrine commemorates the demise of a man who died
while in the commission of a mortal sin and was buried in unconsecrated
soil. Legend has it that if you light a candle at the shrine and make a
wish , if the candle is still burning in the morning the wish will come

Cultural heritage and disaster management in Tucson, Arizona
ALEX KIMMELMAN, City of Tucson, City Hall, 255 West Alameda Street, P.O.
Box 27210 Tucson, Arizona 85726-7210, U.S.A. 

The identification of cultural resources - historic, architectural,
engineering, cultural and archaeological (both historic and prehistoric);
locations of multiple copies and accessibility of surveys and inventories
at the local level. 

There is a great diversity of cultural resources in America, in general,
to say nothing of the sites which are important to local communities. One
of the most important sites in Tucson, Arizona is "El Tiradito," the
Wishing Shrine. A fabled site in the Barrio Libre National Register
Historic District, the shrine commemorates the demise of a man who died
while in the commission of a mortal sin and was buried in unconsecrated
soil. Legend has it that if you light a candle at the shrine and make a
wish, if the candle is still burning in the morning, the wish will come
true. Over the years, El Tiradito has witnessed small seas of candles
extending out into the street during some of the various crises of this
century. In the 1970s, the listing of El Tiradito on
the Register was a key factor in stopping a freeway plan that would have
displaced both the shrine and three adjacent historic districts. 

Another site of limited architectural value, but enormous historic
significance, is today referred to as "Slab City". In 1942, Japanese
citizens were relocated to an isolated site on the Gila Indian
Reservation. Hundreds of Quonset huts and other structures were built to
accommodate the internees. The buildings have long since disappeared;
today only the concrete slabs and pillars testify to the existence of the
camp. Much of the camp site has been destroyed or converted over to
agricultural use. The Gila River Pima Indians are today taking necessary
measures to protect and administer the remaining resources. 

During the last century, historic preservation efforts have resulted in
the production of vast quantities of documentation on buildings,
structures and sites. The 1992 Amendment to the National Historic
Preservation Act further expanded the range of documentation by requiring
eligibility determinations on non-registered properties. In just nine
months in Tucson, preparation of the reports used in the Section 106
process have resulted in the survey and inventory of over 1,200
properties in nine working class barrios. The 106 documentation includes
both detailed architectural assessment and an historic significance
report. Whichever type of documentation is created, the information is
valuable to both the residents of historic areas and the community at
large. To insure maximum access to these records (which generally reside
only in government repositories), local institutions should be provided
with copies whenever possible. In the aftermath of a disaster, local
availability of historic records can be expected to speed the process of
stabilisation and restoration. Even without a disaster, historic records
can be a boon to educational institutions; and programs should be
established to provide a link between preservation organisations and
local schools. Churches, neighbourhood centres, health clinics and other
local institutions may benefit from sharing historic information and also
provide a point of public accessibility. 

Disaster assessment (both potential and post disaster); getting the
appropriate cultural resource experts to assess historic sites;
co-operation and team building; who pays?; how can Federal, state and
local agencies assist (interface) FEMA and what are the roles of Federal
state, and local agencies and commissions? 

The most important aspect of planning is planning - the act of
identifying potentialities and establishing procedures to the meet the
need. While both the act and the product of planning are imperative,
especially in recovering from a natural disaster, the need for
adaptability and innovation in the field is no less vital. Some equate
planning for disasters as somewhat akin to planning for war. In the
latter, technology usually renders the experience of the previous war as
unsuitable for fighting the current; in disasters, mother nature's chaos
dictates the need for flexibility. 

Differences in institutional culture cannot be understated when examining
the various roles government agencies play in disaster recovery and
cultural preservation. Institutional attitudes that consider natural
disasters as nature's way of clearing away the accumulated refuse or
"unfit" constructs of man fall in well with the proponents of urban or
community renewal without regard for the preservation of cultural

The first requirement for local disaster planning is to identify the most
likely type(s) of disaster which might occur. In Tucson, Arizona, we are
blessed with an environment which historically has not witnessed major
disasters on the scale of the California earthquakes or Mississippi
Valley floods. Damage in Tucson is most likely to be caused by wind or
fire, and with regard to historic structures, the damage usually involves
catastrophic loss of roofs. Because of the recognition of the principal
damage, the City preservation office has taken steps to assist property
owners after a disaster. Development Standards for the historic districts
identify appropriate replacement materials to be used in restoration.
Co-operation with local trade groups and organisations, such as
Construction Specifications Institute, facilitates rapid access to
product data and suppliers. Interaction with the local "Who's Who in
Contracting" directory allows for rapid access to a broad range of
construction trades. Preservation, particularly when adobe is involved,
often requires specialists; and separate lists of these individuals and
companies have also been compiled. Sources of financial aid - grants,
low-interest loans, tax credits - should likewise be compiled and made
available to the public. 

In the post-disaster environment, it is vital to document the condition
of historic and cultural resources as soon as possible. This
documentation should continue through various stages of the restoration.
Procedures should be established to provide immediate approval for
permits necessary to stabilise and protect property after a disaster.
Fencing, shoring up, partial demolition to remove elements which may
imperil public safety or adjacent properties should not be subject to
extended review processes. Review boards need to be convened at the
earliest time to provide assistance and/or clear restoration plans for
permitting when appropriate. Property owners should be permitted to
restore a structure to an identical condition as that which existed
before the disaster. In this regard, local preservation agencies should
develop programs to assist property owners make historic upgrades when
they are not economically able to do so otherwise. In all cases, property
owners' rights to existing conditions must be respected. 

Stabilisation, protection and repair of damaged historic sites; salvage,
conservation, and repair of materials. 

Restoration of historic properties following a natural disaster can
illicit a wide array of preservation and building code issues. Such was
the case following severe wind conditions in January 1993 which damaged
historic buildings in El Libre National Register Historic District in
Tucson, Arizona. Barrio Libre is a working class district, and thus has
changed over time in a manner consistent of neighbourhoods with similar
economic and social conditions. Roof systems especially have been subject
to major alterations over the years. Originally, all building in the
district (some dating from the mid-1860s) had flat roofs with parapet
walls. Between 1910 and 1930, with large quantities of bulding materials
available, most property owners
transformed their Sonoran rowhouses with the addition of sloped roofs.
Secretary of Interior Standard for Rehabilitation, Number 4, states that
additions and alterations over time may become historic in their own
right and, if so, should be preserved. Consequently, local buildings may
have a flat/parapet configuration. But what if the hipped roof is
destroyed in a storm? 

Such was the case for a property owned by Kelley Rollings, a longtime
property owner and early preservationist in the Barrio. With the hipped
roof lifted off the building and deposited in the middle of the street,
the property owner was left with the reasonable option of restoring the
roof to either historic configuration. Of course, before the new roof was
installed, the building was brought up to code with the addition of a
bond beam to tie the entire structure together. This type of situation is
not unusual. More roofs are lost to fire than wind, but the situation
remains essentially the same: namely, release permits to protect the
remaining resources and facilitate an emergency review to deal with any
changes sought in the restoration. The preservation office and building
safety officials need to continually update the photographic
documentation of the property. Experience in Tucson suggests that when
roofs are being installed, inappropriate and non-historic elements such
as skylights, modern venting systems and mechanical equipment
mysteriously appear where none had existed before. Notation on plans
regarding these elements are the first line of defence in promoting a
true restoration of the historic building. However, only regular site
inspections during construction will insure against intrusive elements
being added in a conspicuous locations on an historic building. A
beneficial aspect may exist for education if preservation co-ordinators
and property owners work
quickly. While wall and roof systems lie exposed, it may be possible to
provide training programs to those involved in local preservation
activities: historic review boards, construction programs in public
schools and community colleges and university architectural departments. 

Document version:1.0.0 
Document created: October 20, 1995 
Document URL:
Alex Kimmelman, American Assocoation of Preservation technology and the
Johnstone Centre of Parks, Recxreation and Heritage. 
Maintained by: Dirk H. R. Spennemann , e-mail,