History Lessens

Trouble's a-brewin' at the museum north of town. Old-timers don't cotton to newcomers who want to turn the desert historical center into a Western theme park.

The case was thrown into arbitration. A short time later, the men showed up at a board meeting, accompanied by their attorney.

"Mildred asked them, 'How much would it cost to get you two to leave?'" one board member says. "They said, '$50,000.' So she took out her checkbook, wrote them a check, handed it to them and said, 'There's your money. Now get.'"

Helm describes his first meeting with May as cordial, but says he does not think she would support his proposals if they came up for a vote. May would not comment.

In addition to the eruption over the bailout offer, the Helms, along with Loveless, have also drawn fire from the historically faithful for being more concerned with the bottom line than with history.

LeAnn Argenbright publishes the Arizonian, a small historical review out of Cave Creek. After serving on the board for just seven months, she resigned in a huff because of the liberties she felt the Helms were taking with history.

"I got so mad I busted a vein in my eyeball," she says.
What drove her to such a frenzy, Argenbright says, was what she saw as the Helms' attempt to turn Pioneer into another Rawhide, north Scottsdale's highly commercialized cowboy complex. She points to some of the plans the Helms have proposed in order to raise money, including turning the town's carpentry shop into a salon where tourists can have their pictures snapped while wearing Western duds. The dress shop, another staple at Pioneer, is also slated for conversion. Instead of period outfits, it will soon contain a concessions stand.

"Pioneer is being systematically destroyed by these well-wishers who have a lot of money," says Argenbright, who has since petitioned the board to allow her back on, without success.

Argenbright and Phil Carlins, the gunfighter, say scores of volunteer reenactors have stomped off as a result of such changes. Carlins says Loveless has told many volunteers they are no longer welcome, which Loveless disputes.

Loveless says he was forced to lay down some rules because many volunteers had grown accustomed to using the Pioneer grounds as "a weekend clubhouse." Today, reenactors must call ahead to book time there.

And they are no longer allowed to stoke fires in many of the buildings. "That was one of the big things people liked to do--to come out and cook in the traditional ways," Carlins says.

Loveless points out that he only banned fires because most of the buildings' roofs are so dried out, and most of the stovepipes are so rusted, that disaster is certain. Last year, in fact, one of the museum's uninsured buildings burned down after a volunteer stoked up a fire on a cold morning.

One chilly mid-November afternoon, Loveless made the rounds at Pioneer. First stop: the carpenter's shop, soon to be a photographic studio. Through the open door, he points to the woodworking equipment, which sits idle.

"This stuff is all great, but what is it doing for the museum right now?" he asks.

In Loveless' mind, "doing" means making money. He talks about how, though not historically accurate, the photo setup would at least be self-supporting.

"Who knows?" he says. "If it does well enough, we might be able to use some of that money to build another carpenter's shop--one that actually has carpenters working in it."

Loveless' next stop is the print shop. A small, shedlike building, the print shop has become the locus of a heated debate over what, exactly, constitutes history. Before it burned down, the shop was built from 12-inch wooden planks, a common lumber dimension during the 1800s. The new version uses four-foot-by-eight-foot sheets of plywood, which did not exist during territorial days, as Loveless is well aware.

"Basically, each one of those 12-inch planks, which we would have had to have custom-milled, would have cost the same as a sheet of plywood," he says.

Loveless heads across the grounds to the schoolhouse, an original structure imported from the Payson area, authentic in every detail. Except for the shiny new wooden deck built out of two-by-fours that runs around it.

Like the print shop, the deck has been singled out for criticism by Argenbright and others because it has been stained to a reddish hue that clashes with the weathered wood of the schoolhouse. Loveless concedes that a more neutral stain could have been used. But, he adds, just about anything new added to the schoolhouse would have clashed anyway. He points to the old, graying lumber.

"When this thing was still being used 100 years ago, do you think it actually looked like this?" he asks.

Argenbright has also complained that the deck is held together with shiny, galvanized wood screws, which did not exist when the schoolhouse was originally constructed. Then again, neither did two-by-fours. Loveless says the screws were used because, unlike nails, they don't work their way out of the wood and pose a hazard.

Argenbright and the other purists have identified dozens of other gripes all over the grounds, like newly planted oleanders and bougainvillea--plant types which did not exist in Arizona during the 1800s. Loveless is aware of all of the complaints, but says Pioneer is in no position to be overly picky right now.

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