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Q&AZ: Why are historic buildings in downtown Globe, Arizona, just sitting empty?

Through KJZZ’s Q&AZ reporting project, a listener asked: “Who owns all those big, beautiful, historic buildings and schools in old downtown Globe? Are they just sitting there empty?"

The city of Globe, which sits about 90 miles east of downtown Phoenix, was founded as a mining camp in the 1870s. It was once a bustling Wild West town full of saloons and outlaws, known for clashes between ranchers, miners and neighboring Native American tribes. But with the mining days long gone, Globe is now a quiet area with about seven thousand residents and dozens of hundred-year-old structures looking for a second life. Some have been continuously occupied, but others are not so lucky, like the Hill Street School, built around 1920.

The three-story, 39,000-square-foot, concrete building stopped serving students in 2005. It’s since been vacant and deteriorating with more windows busted out with each passing year. But it won’t be that way much longer.

Dan Klocke is the senior development project manager for Gorman and Company in Arizona. The company is restoring the building to its former glory so it can be used for senior housing.

“We are excited that we’re gonna be able to make this old gem shine again," said Klocke.

There really hasn’t been a lot of construction in the city of Globe for about 10-15 years.

“So there’s a need for housing of all price points,” Klocke said. “There’s also a need for seniors that are in single family homes that maybe can’t manage that quite so much anymore.”

Klocke said the 64 new units at the former Hill Street School will help older adults downsize while freeing up some of the single-family homes for other residents.

“We’re gonna try to keep as many of the features as possible in the school,” he said.

That includes the old wood floors, high ceilings, molding, doors and indoor track.

“So it’s gonna look and feel a lot like the old Hill Street School when it’s all done,” Klocke said.

Gorman broke ground on the project earlier this year and it should be finished in late 2024.

“Clearly there’s a lot of warm feelings for this building," Klocke said. “There’s a couple of women who have cared for the garden in front of it for probably 15 years just to make it look nice.”

Other historic buildings in town are getting a face lift. Tom Thompson owns several of the old structures in Globe and neighboring Miami.

“I’ve always bought ‘em because I just love old buildings," Thompson said. “A lot of people have thought over the years that I’m crazy for buying some of these buildings, but I take a lot of pride in our community.”

One of those is the Elks Building, which was built in 1910 and has a small claim to fame.

“It supposedly is the tallest three-story building in the world in the Guinness Book of Records,” Thompson said.

He’s working to stabilize the roof and windows of the 100-foot-tall brick structure, which has been a lodge, a theater, and a mortuary. Thompson also bought the JC Penney building, which was once managed by George W.P. Hunt, Arizona’s first governor.

“It became the JC Penney building back in 1924 and then ceased being [a JC Penney] probably around 1998,” he said. “It’s been a number of things. I’ve sold it and got it back a couple of times.”

That’s because Thompson doesn’t usually buy the buildings to profit from them. Molly Cornwell is with the Globe Downtown Association. She said Thompson is modest, but it’s because of him that Globe hasn’t lost more of its historic structures.

“A lot of small businesses wouldn’t have it in their budget or wouldn’t even — an artist wouldn’t even know how to fix a roof or do it properly,” she said. “He gets the buildings to a state where they can thrive as something else.”

One that needed a lot of saving was the old Globe Cafe building. At one point, the entire back end of the building was falling off and the main street director at the time begged Thompson to step in and buy it.

“They were able to put the whole back end of the building back on and structure it and I don’t think he made a dime on that thing, but it was a labor of love,” she said. “He sees things that are still savable in a state where other people are like ‘just tear it down.’”

The town also has a lot of buildings that still look the same for the most part, but are used for new purposes. The train depot gets rented out for weddings, the old jail acts as a museum, and the original courthouse has been turned into a center for the arts.

“The old buildings have something to say, each one of them has something special to say,” Thompson said. “There’s such a down-home feeling that you have here in this area that I can’t even fathom to think that you’d ever get out of a Phoenix or a Tucson.”

That’s exactly why he and other residents will continue to preserve and revamp the town’s historic buildings for years to come.

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Senior field correspondent Bridget Dowd has a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.