A portion of the 1930s-era Leiber house at Steam Pump Ranch gave way and collapsed early last Thursday morning.
No one was at the town’s historic homestead when the adobe and brick wall crashed into a backyard tree.
“Thank God the Leibers’ lease wasn’t extended,” said Scott Nelson, the town’s project coordinator for the historic restoration. “Someone could have been hurt or killed.”
The fallen portion of the building was a non-historic office the family built on a rooftop patio in the 1980s.
The section was slated for removal as part of the historic rehabilitation of the property.
The supporting walls beneath the office slowly had been collapsing for years. Cracked mortar on the exterior has allowed decades of rainwater to seep into the adobe rendering its consistency more like mud than brick.
Even with the corner ripped open, the heavy stench of creosote saturated the office air.
Beams in the addition were once used as telephone poles.
Layers of paint conceal their ruddy color but not their potent oily odor.
“This is something you would have on a first floor with a foundation,” Nelson said. “It wasn’t engineered for that amount of weight.”
Nelson could not estimate the cost to repair the damaged structure.
The compromised building wasn’t the only potential disaster awaiting town workers at the homestead.
Decades of additions and renovations left a complex spider’s web of slapdash electrical wiring throughout the buildings.
Nelson said crews cut power to the house because of the potential dangers posed by the wiring.
At some point during the restoration, crews will have to rewire all the buildings at the ranch and replace most of the water lines, Nelson said.
Three septic systems must also be removed.
In addition to the rubble left from the collapse, town crews have removed from the property 10, 22-foot-long trailers filled with refuse.
Crews also took to recycling more than 500 gallons of used motor oil.
The town recently finalized a long-term plan for the historic residence.
The three-phase plan includes a pre-opening phase, where efforts would focus on stabilization and restoration of the property’s oldest buildings like the original Pusch family house and the crumbling steam pump quarters.
The public would not have access to the property during this phase of work.
Estimated costs to complete work in this first phase are between $300,000 and $700,000. Work on this phase would continue through May 2009.
In the second phase, the opening phase, “a fully-developed Town heritage park” would emerge, according to the master plan.
Work during this $5 million phase would concentrate on infrastructure development, landscaping and building restorations.
At the final build-out phase, planners anticipate the construction of an event center, new quarters for a caretaker, arts and craft stalls, and potentially an equestrian center and office building.
The total estimated cost for the restoration project is estimated at more than $8 million.
Much of the work depends on funding. The town hopes to get much of the money through a 2009 Pima County bond election.