A hundred years ago, architects were working on designs for Ajo’s historic plaza (built in 1916). Their vision was Spanish Revival style arcaded buildings surrounding a large palm-lined green space where the town would congregate. They followed the principles of the City Beautiful / Garden City movement placing all the important civic buildings in the town center where – in the case of Ajo – copper miners from multiple cultures, ethnicities, and economic levels who lived, by design, in separate parts of the town, would come together in civility. Critical to this town-design concept is the park in the center of the plaza with its flagpole, bandstand, ceremonies, and festivals.
A two-acre park in the middle of the desert? The story is that the mining company hauled the dirt in from California, enough to cover two acres to a depth of four feet! They ringed the plaza with palm trees and created a bandstand for performers and for the town’s Christmas tree which originally was also hauled in each year.
Thanks to a local nonprofit organization, the International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA) in partnership with the Ajo Chamber of Commerce, plus the work of dozens of dedicated community volunteers who are the Friends of the Plaza, and funding from the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation, the plaza park is now completely renovated. This time renovation required the removal of four inches of dirt from the entire two acres, followed by endless trenching for new irrigation and electrical systems, and removal of the thirty-two historic lamp posts for restoration in Phoenix. But that is now history. When you visit, you will see beautiful new grass, new wide gravel edging around the whole park, trim mature palm trees, new shade trees along the side, drinking fountains, and restored historic lamp posts. And plans are in the works to add a community splash pad next year!
If you are driving to or through Ajo, be sure to stop at the plaza park anytime for refreshment. Or you might want to come on any Second Saturday where beginning at nine in the morning, you’ll find a farmers market under the arcades, lots of arts and crafts tables, and free tours and workshops.
For more information, see ISDA International Sonoran Desert Alliance on Facebook, go to www.isdanet.org, call (520) 387-6823, or visit ISDA in the southeast corner of the Ajo Plaza.