Bullion Plaza Museum front repainted. Photo by: LCGross
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The renewal of Bullion Plaza as a Cultural Center

Just another day in the life of a museum director. We caught up with Foster, who is the executive director of the Bullion Plaza Museum and Cultural Center and discovered just how much has been done by himself and others to preserve this building for future generations.

It took approximately three years of Tom Foster’s life to move an 1882 salvaged steam hoist from the Harqua Hala gold mine in western Arizona to the Bullion Plaza Museum and Cultural Center. In order to do so, Foster, the museum’s executive director, had to disassemble it completely, to the last nut and bolt. In total, Foster estimates that the hoist weighs about 2500 pounds, the base plate alone weighing about 1000 pounds. Any part that weighed less than 100 pounds was moved by hand from 170 feet below ground to the surface. It is likely the museum’s largest exhibition.

Each exhibition requires a level of dedication. If you ask Foster how long it takes to complete an exhibit at the museum, he’ll tell you it takes as long as it takes.

SInce 2001, Bullion Plaza, a 501c3 nonprofit, has housed some of Globe-Miami’s best-kept treasures and stories. Prior, however, it served a different function.

With its tall columns and large white steps, Bullion Plaza must have been intimidating on the first day of school. Situated at the end of Sullivan St., just before the Highway 60 veers out of downtown Miami, Bullion Plaza opened as a grammar school in 1923. Once upon a time, it was the school where Mexican and Apache children got swatted for speaking their native tongue.

Board members Joe Sanchez and Charlie SNow put a new coat of paint on the entryway
Board members Joe Sanchez and Charlie Snow put a new coat of paint on the entryway

The school also produced doctors, lawyers and teachers, remembers Joe Sanchez, who is president of the museum’s board and grew up in Miami.

“Those students were very disciplined, but there was a reason for it,” he says.

During that time, neighborhoods were separated by culture.

“In those days, even when they buried the dead, there was some segregation,” Sanchez says with a laugh. “The Croations have a section, the Serbs have a section, and the Hispanics have a section.”

Bullion was built by architect Henry Charles Trost, whose architectural firm Trost and Trost,  also designed the Divine Grace Church and the Miami High School (demolished) in Miami, as well as the Railway Station, East Globe School, Hill Street School, Elks Building and the Masonic Temple in Globe.

That corner of Miami, where Bullion Plaza sat, was the center of activity. Once, there was a ballroom in front of it. If there was any type of celebration in town, it was in front of Bullion Plaza.

In 1994, Bullion Plaza was deemed no longer safe as a public school, and closed. Three years later the town of Miami bought it in a public bid. The town collectively decided through public hearings and survey that the best use of the building would be a museum. Bullion Plaza opened as a museum and cultural center in 2001.

“When we first started, the whole thing had been abandoned,” says Linda Carnahan, first vice president of the museum. “There was water pouring in from the roof when we got it.”

To this day, there is still water damage upstairs from where it leaked. More than $326,200 later, the museum has since gotten a new roof. Last summer was spent replacing windows, filling holes in the ceiling and painting the exterior of the building. There is still more to be done, however.

“There are places that you can’t even make coffee without blowing a breaker,” Carnahan says.

Tom Foster has been working with Bubllion Plaza since he moved to Miami in 2001. He became executive director in 2009, and now oversees the creation of all exhibitions in the museum.
Tom Foster has been working with Bubllion Plaza since he moved to Miami in 2001. He became executive director in 2009, and now oversees the creation of all exhibitions in the museum.

In addition to Foster’s hoist, the museum houses an impressive Slavic exhibit, put together by members of the Slavic Cultural Center. The walls are covered Slavic flags, encased garb, and professionally-displayed exhibits that include photos and family histories of many of Globe-Miami’s earliest Slavic immigrants. Housed in the same room is the new Rose Mofford collection. The display represents half of the vast collection which has donated to this region and split between Bullion Plaza and Globe’s Center for the Arts.

Other large displays reflect the region’s mining, ranching and military history, with the help of local individuals who contribute their own pieces of history to the museum. A new room is being designed with artifacts, which will soon be exclusively Apache. In the mineral hallway you can spot minerals native to Globe-Miami and San Carlos, like chrysocolla, quartz, olivine and vanadinite, loaned by the Arizona Historical Society. On the way to the hoist is the mining hallway, lined with mining relics, like a coiled air hose, air-powered drills, a clay and shale crusher, a wheel barrow, copper-bearing ore and a pick.

The hoist itself was reassembled onto a subfloor, where the acoustics are different. Upon entry a visitor should feel as though he or she is underground in a mine. There are mine timbers to the side, and life-sized enlarged black and white photos from the Miami Copper Company are arranged on the surrounding walls. The hoist cable feeds from the hoist into a hole pierced in one of the photos, giving the exhibit a sense of a dimension.

Other attractions in the museum include the McCusick tile artwork, as well as an old linotype, the machine used to print newspapers and magazines.

Carnahan is a second generation Globe-Miami resident. She’s been with Bullion Plaza for the last 14 years, and offers her own perspective on the museum.

“We decided to make our museum a ‘people museum’,” she says.

There is no one story to tell, she explains. The story of Globe-Miami, and of Gila County, is a conglomeration of individual stories.

Each exhibit tells the story of what it was like to grow up in a small mining town, which, in those days, wasn’t so small, Sanchez adds.

The Slavic Cultural Exhibit includes authentic dress given to the museum
The Slavic Cultural Exhibit includes authentic dress given to the museum

“We are trying to tell the history of all the different cultures that came here from all over the world,” he says

That includes the Irish, the Cornish, families from Mexico and parts of South America, black families, the Slavs, Asians, and of course the Native Americans who were already here.

Downtown Miami was once a hub of commerce and a magnet for work, with groceries, shoe repair shops, restaurants, the company store and barber shops.

Many immigrants came to work in the mines, Sanchez says, while others opened grocery stores, restaurants and laundromats, or found work in the schools and hospitals. The Italians, great stone masons, came to build the Roosevelt Dam. Others became ranchers.

“I don’t know how they got word from half way across the world,” he says. “But we had a need for a little bit of everything.

Not too long ago a Slavic woman came to the museum from Oregon, Carnahan recalls, looking for a photo of her grandfather. Carnahan left her to the room to find it. When she came to check on the woman, the woman was there crying.

“That’s a success story,” Carnahan says, “because we were trying to elicit that emotion.”

“We should celebrate people who have risen above adversity, the people who had to get beyond that prejudice and work together,” she adds. “When people don’t understand what being Slavic is, they can go in and see.”

None of this would have been possible, Foster points out, without donations of time, money and materials from: Freeport MacMoRan, Gila County Board of Supervisors, Wings Like Eagles Foundation, Arizona Historical Society, United Fund, RAM Specialists and Kino Floors.

To add to its trove of stories, currently the board is planning a Hispanic cultural exhibit, similar to the Slavic Cultural Center exhibit.

Next, the board is planning to expand the museum above and below. Soon, new exhibits on the former schools and local service organizations of the area will be built upstairs. This will include local unions, which brought better working conditions to the mines. Sanchez hopes to develop a full-fledged mining exhibit to imitate how mining was done in the area prior to the 1950s — underground.

“What is most important is the fact that we were able to save the building, because it’s a depository of history for the Globe-Miami community,” Sanchez says. “Beyond that, we have a place where folks can relive history.”

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About Jenn Walker

Jenn Walker began writing for Globe Miami Times in 2012 and has been a contributor ever since. Her work has also appeared in Submerge Magazine, Sacramento Press, Sacramento News & Review and California Health Report. She currently teaches Honors English at High Desert Middle School and mentors Globe School District’s robotics team.

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