B.B. Moeur Activity Building

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Survey Number: HPS-207
Year Built: 1936 / 1939
Architectural Style: Federal Moderne

The Moeur Activity Building is significant for its architecture and for important historical associations. The combination of the Moderne style in conjunction with adobe brick makes this building unique and the only example of its type in Arizona. The building is historically associated with Dr. Benjamin Baker Moeur, a physician and Tempe businessman who served two terms as Governor of Arizona (1933-1937) and with the prominent architectural firm of Lescher and Mahoney who designed it as a women's gymnasium. Large public buildings utilizing adobe construction were rare in the 1930s, and the Moeur Activity Building is the best-known and largest example of this construction type in Arizona. The building is also distinguished as the largest structure of its kind to be built in Arizona by the labor of the Work Projects Administration.

The Moeur Activity Building is a large, flat-roofed, one-story structure with a frontage of 177 feet, a depth of 123 feet, and a height of over 25 feet. Federal Moderne in appearance, the building faces north and is constructed of concrete, wood, and adobe. More than 50,000 adobe bricks made on site were used to infill the concrete post and beam frame. The building is symmetrical and H-shaped with the east and west wings extending approximately 20 ft. to the north and five ft. to the south. The entry features four pairs of flush doors with nine-light openings, and 30-light transoms. The doors are separated and flanked by Moderne pilasters with polychrome brickwork between the pilasters over the transoms. Similar pilaster and brickwork appear on other facades of the building. The body of the building is stucco scored horizontally on adobe bricks made by students and community members from earth excavated for the basement. Internally, the building features a 22-ft. by 40-ft. two-story foyer and the original recreation room/auditorium space (68 ft. by 100 ft. by 20 ft. high). Interior remodeling has altered some spatial features, although most spacing, including the original auditorium/recreation room, remains intact.

Constructed during the Depression as a Works Progress Administration project, the building has been described as one of the most important architectural accomplishments of the Depression period in Arizona. Designed by the prominent architectural firm Lescher and Mahoney as a women's gymnasium, the interior decorations (including hand-made pine furniture and hand-woven fabrics for curtains and upholstery) were supervised and executed by workers on the Arizona Art Project of the WPA. Original WPA murals from the 1930s included work by Taliesin student Bruce Richards, who painted a modern-dance themed mural on the west, north and east walls of the central recreation room, and John Leeper, who painted a mural on the south wall of the lounge for non-resident women students depicting women in sports and art activities. Leeper's mural actually was painted on canvas and attached to the wall, and ASU graduate Daniel August Hall, in his 1974 thesis "Federal Patronage of Art in Arizona From 1933 to 1943," notes that "this canvas may have been removed during remodeling and stored. If so, this mural may still be in existence." The building has been well maintained and today retains most of its original integrity and spatial configuration despite functional changes and loss of original wall murals.

The Story of Construction (from The Arizona State University Story by Hopkins, p. 239-40)

“How the Moeur Activity Building was constructed was a story long told. Only $7000 has been provided for this structure in the PWA loan. Yet it was a women’s gymnasium that actually cost $155,000, and was worth many times that amount. First, WPA pick and shovel workers excavated the basement and piled the earth outside. Next, this earth was hand tamped by WPA labor into large-sized building blocks, using a new process that made the blocks much stronger than ordinary adobe. Next the walls were put up and stuccoed, all by hand.’

“Outsiders grew interested and donations began to come in. The large windows cost nothing, nothing, too, the hardwood floors, and the wiring and fixtures. All were donated by Arizona business firms. So was much of the roofing material. When the inside finishing stage was reached, large curtains were needed, and these were made by hand. Bales of raw cotton were donated by the cotton growers, women who were on the WPA worked inside the building and hand spun that cotton into yarn, great wooden looms were erected and the women wove the curtains on those looms. The work they did was beautiful, and these curtains were the pride of the place. Finally, artists who were on the WPA, as many good artists were, painted the murals.’

“The hand-made Moeur Activity Building gave employment to hundreds, took three years to construct, and thoroughly refuted those architects who had forgotten that a permanent building could be constructed by hand and were apprehensive because there was no steel in its construction. Something about the entire self-help process appealed to Arizonans and the dedication of the building in 1938 became a public event. The Arizona State Teachers College women’s gym became the most famous educational structure in Arizona in the post-depression recovery period… the sturdy building that came out of its own basement.”

The Moeur Activity Building is historically associated with Dr. Benjamin Baker Moeur, a physician and businessman in Tempe, who served two terms as Governor of Arizona (1933-1937). Born December 22, 1869, in Dechard, Tennessee, Dr. Benjamin Baker Moeur was a physician and businessman in Tempe, and served two terms as Governor of Arizona. As a young man, he worked as a cowboy on the Texas plains. He attended medical school in Little Rock, Arkansas, and after graduating in 1896, moved to Tempe and started a medical practice. Moeur married Honor G. Anderson on June 15, 1896. They had four children: John K., Vyvyan, Jessie B., and Benjamin B. Jr. Moeur quickly gained a reputation as a true "country doctor" because of his willingness to make long distance house calls to homesteads throughout the Tempe district.

In the early 1900s, Moeur was also involved in several business ventures in Tempe. He became president of the Southside Electric Light and Gas Co., and president of the Moeur-Pafford Co., a large ranching corporation in partnership with his brother-in-law, J. K. Pafford. In 1906 he joined with with M. E. Curry and George L. Compton to form the Tempe Hardware Company at 520 S. Mill Avenue (See Tempe Hardware Building). When the Tempe Normal School became Arizona State Teachers College in 1925, he offered his services as college physician, and during that time began a scholarship program at the college.

Moeur was always involved in politics. He was a representative for Maricopa County at the Arizona Constitution Convention in 1910, where he wrote the portions of the Constitution pertaining to education creating the basis for development of the state’s educational system. He served 8 years on the Tempe School Board and 12 years as a member of the Board of Education of the Tempe Normal School (predecessor of Arizona State University). Moeur was elected Governor of Arizona in 1932, during height of the Great Depression, and took office on January 3, 1933. He immediately set out to accomplish the things he had promised to do, including submitting a budget to the Legislature with a $4.5 million cut in expenditures. He started the state personal income tax, but reduced property taxes by 40%, while providing relief programs for the growing number of unemployed residents in the state. Governor Moeur served two terms, 1933-1937 (at that time the Governor was elected for a two-year term). He died at his home in Tempe on March 16, 1937, just two months after leaving the Governor's office. B. B. Moeur, a country doctor and Arizona governor was, according to the building's dedication plaque, "a statesman, humanitarian and friend of students and faculty."

The Moeur Activity Building built in 1939 by the WPA as a women's gymnasium is now home to the ASU Mars Space Flight Facility and receives streaming data from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) a special camera on the Mars Odyssey spacecraft mapping and detecting information on the physical and thermal properties of the planet surface.

The Moeur Activity Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

National Register Nomination, 09/11/1985

Tempe Historic Property Survey : : Survey Number: HPS-207

Also known as: NR Building - # 85002171 NRIS (National Register Information System)

Keywords: Lescher & Mahoney; 1936; 1939