Keith Anderson, English, Mesa Community College—Red Mountain Campus
7110 East McKellips Road/ Mesa, Arizona 85207
ON RELICS AND RUST: WHAT THE SUN BELT COULD LEARN FROM HISTORIC PRESERVATION
Six months after graduating from college in 1983, I passed my civil service examination and took my first full-time, professional job as a probation officer. My acceptance of the position required that I move to Augusta, Georgia. There I located an apartment in an antebellum mansion that I had been divided up into six rentals in an area known as the Hill, so named because it marked the point at which the Piedmont dropped a few hundred feet to the Coastal Plain. It was there that I befriended Butch Guisto, a jazz musician who had moved into the rectory of the old Sacred Heart Church in the Downtown Historical District so to keep its sanctuary from being overrun by homeless people and its stained glass windows imported from Munich, Germany from getting broken or growing legs. Together we helped form a non-profit organization to maintain the property and eventually persuade Knox Limited, a construction company specializing in historic preservation, to restore the complex, the doors to which had been closed at that time for over ten years. Since that time the church has been included in a survey of historic American buildings by the National Park Service. I returned to graduate school before this work was completed, but the experience sparked my continuing interest in and awareness of historic buildings and preservation.
In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, while working on my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, I was to live in an antebellum mansion much like the one in which I’d lived in Augusta. In Tucson, Arizona, while working on my doctorate in Comparative Cultural and Literary Studies, I rented a home in the historic Sam Hughes neighborhood just east of campus, and in Crownpoint, New Mexico, while teaching at Navajo Community College, I photographed Anasazi ruins and abandoned hoghans, and recruited students to help reconstruct a traditional hoghan for a class project. When I moved to Phoenix, I immediately gravitated toward the historic districts. The first home I ever purchased was located in one—F.Q. Story. It was an adobe structure built in 1932 with a cedar shake roof—old by local standards. Two years ago, I devoted an entire summer to the development of an online section of HUM208: Arts and World Views of the Southwest, which, among other things, surveyed and celebrated the architectural diversity of the region, and highlighted some of Phoenix’s historic districts.
In regards, then, to the stated aim of the NEH Summer Workshop, Along the Shore: Changing and Preserving the Landmarks of Brooklyn’s Industrial Waterfront, as saving historically significant structures from being torn down by overzealous developers anxious to wipe the slate clean, I get it. Just beneath the surface of the Sonoran desert surrounding Phoenix lie the relics and ruins of the ancient Hohokam people. Much of what understanding and insight they might have provided us has been lost. During the boom years, the construction of new homes took place at such a pace in the Valley of the Sun that there was hardly ever any time to conduct thorough archaeological surveys of the areas beforehand. Even though I might get it, my students, many of whom will have assumed leadership positions by the time I’m headed for the nursing home, may not. I especially find this to be true among those who enroll in my ENH275: Modern Fiction class. They have grown up in a largely post-industrial, service economy. Manufacturing never played an enormous role in Arizona. As a result, they have a particularly difficult time grasping the concept of modernity, dependent as its understanding is on having some familiarity with the Industrial Revolution. There are few physical remnants of the era in the Phoenix metropolitan area. If chosen to participate in this summer’s workshop in Brooklyn, I hope to remedy that lack virtually by way of building an interdisciplinary, multimedia learning module specifically dedicated to Modernity and its remaining structural manifestations. My personal experience in Brooklyn will lend considerable authority to my presentation and discussion. There just might come a time in the not-so-distant future when a fuller appreciation of “by-gone eras” will serve students well. After all, they just might want to reconsider their unquestioning allegiance to the global economy, especially given its devastating effects on employment and industry in this country.