Monday, January 13, 2014

Ajo Plaza and Curley School

Odometer 37747
Trip 0

Saturday 1/11/2014

Every second Saturday of the month a volunteer group called The Friends of the Plaza, gives tours of the Plaza and the Curley School.  At first, Joan and I were thinking nah!- but then we thought -yeah!- why not?- it could be interesting, and we would know a little more about our chosen winter haven.
Our tour guide Hope, is a winter transplant the same as we are.  She got involved because she was intrigued by the history and wanted to share it with others.  Ajo is quite unique in that it is a city that was master planned by the mining company, in a time when there were no outside regulations. The idea behind the the town was to make it a place that was family friendly.  The owners of the mine were smart enough to realize that happy family meant a stable work force.
The plaza and school were built in 1917 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style.  The buildings were well maintained over the years until the mine shut down in 1985.  Phelps Dodge, the owners of the mine, decided to sell off the company housing, the plaza and school.  Luckily the plaza and school were eventually purchased by the International Sonoran Desert Association (ISDA) and with grants and community support the buildings and infrastructure have been maintained and in some cases improved.  In the plaza we saw inside the old Oasis Theater that is boarded up and inactive now.  Plans are in motion to renovate this and bring plays and movies back to town.  

Next we moved up the street from the plaza to the old community school building
The Curley School was named for the mine Supervisor at the time, Mike Curley.
When ISDA finally got ownership of the school the roof was in very bad shape and the walls were peeling, windows broken. Today the roofs are all new, the stucco is all patched and painted, the windows glazed- it is in awesome condition.  Because there is a new- more modern school across town, and to make the old school self supporting, the interior was renovated into apartments.  To help make the town self supporting the apartments were rented to low-income artists in an effort to put Ajo on the map as an artist haven, and a center for art.
The multi-purpose room in the center of the school has been renovated and is available for community events.
Everywhere throughout the campus, we saw expressions of art- this mural was 100 feet long.

The School went through several changes over the years.  It started out as all grades taught in the same building, then as the class sizes got larger the school expanded into two more buildings on the same campus.

One addition housed the middle school-
and the second became the elementary school (below).
As you can see here the play ground has been turned into a community garden space.  The elementary school building shown above is the last to be renovated.  The roof has been refurbished and now workers are going through the classrooms one by one.  This area will become part of a proposed convention center, adding another draw to this small desert town.

Several other buildings on campus have been utilized- one as a pottery studio complete with throwing wheels, extruding dies, and several kilns.  In the other end of the same building is a community wood shop, that has a table saw, band saw, planer, jointer, miter saw, sturdy project tables, and numerous hand tools.  There is also a separate gymnasium building that has just been renovated and is owned by Pima County.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

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