“For years there were discussions about restoring the Black Officers Club on Fort Huachuca. Have we given up?
Over the years a lot of money has been raised and spent on this with little to show for it. A local tribe of natives donated a large sum of cash to the association and local contractors were asked to donate time and materials to what so far has turned out to be a bottomless pit. There were fancy balls and parties, trips to Washington D.C., pitches to black movie stars, big plans for a museum, etc. I’m just wondering what happened to all of that.” Kurt Obermeier
More than two decades into the effort to restore and rehabilitate the historically-significant building for reuse, real progress may finally be on the horizon.
Under garrison commander Col. Jarrod Moreland, who assumed office in June, the Mountain View Officers Club that had once been placed on an excess list and faced demolition may receive a new lease as a mission-critical property.
Fort Huachuca spokeswoman Tanja Linton confirmed that the fort is “in the very initial stages of looking for an army use for the building.”
“That the MVOC continues to be a building that serves the needs and supports the mission of Fort Huachuca is the best possible outcome,” said Christina Morris, senior field director at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, one of the main organizations behind the restoration project.
Past restoration efforts had centered on finding outside partners to lease the building since “initially, the Army did not have a use for the property,” said Morris, calling the new developments a “very exciting and positive path.”
Years in the making
Despite more than $575,000 received in public grants and $50,000 in donations from the Pascua Yaqui tribe and other sums from local Buffalo Soldier organizations, the building previously known as building 66050 today sits as empty as it was when left in 1998.
Throughout the years, numerous efforts and more than $200,000 were poured in to rehabilitate the deteriorating property, with the Southwest Association of Buffalo Soldiers sponsoring volunteer clean-up sessions and construction companies working pro bono to remove asbestos and lead-based paint.
Preservation architect Corky Poster of the Tucson-based firm Poster Mirto McDonald emphasizes that “restoration” of the building to its former glory is a priority, including removing several “ahistorical” additions that have been made to the building over time. Poster has been involved with the project since 2006.
Mock-ups from 2017, with plans for a dance hall and restaurant, recalled the club’s heyday as a socializing space for Black soldiers where legends like Duke Ellington were known to perform. But those plans never materialized as talks with developers waned.
Morris admits that changes in Army leadership have led to some stalling in the progress.
“While it is challenging to work with new leadership every two years, we have always strived to maintain the continuity of the project. That is why we are so thrilled that Col. Moreland is committed to an Army use. The Army will maintain ownership over the property and will continue to invest in it for the future,” she said.
While the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office had received $500,000 in public grants toward facade restoration, the funds have yet to be used, said Billy Kovacs, spokesman for Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, has made securing funding for the MVOC’s restoration a priority since being elected in 2018.
“That’s really what this project needs, is federal funding,” Kovacs said. “We wanted to make sure that our office and this project were good stewards of public dollars. We really sit in the middle and make sure that individual taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and projects are pushed forward in a timely manner.”
Kovacs said the next step for Kirkpatrick’s office is finding more legislative solutions for funding the project and seeing it through.
“Our legislative office will start going through the process of finding additional money for that project so that the military construction budget could be more competitive and it has the funding to succeed,” Kovacs said.
“A lot of the times when you get some of these projects, there’s not many dollars associated with it,” he said, mentioning Department of Defense budget cuts. “We want to make sure we can go through our roles as appropriators to go through with this project.”
“This rehabilitation project has seen many directions and hurdles over the years, but I’m confident we are moving in the right direction now and I am committed to doing everything I can to see this project through,” Kirkpatrick said in a statement. “The rehabilitation of the MVOC means so much to so many in our community, and it’s time we deliver.”
For Poster, there could not be a more pressing time for progress to be made. “With everything that’s going on in the world, including systemic racism, it’s important that we work to preserve this building and what it signifies,” he said.