Filed Under Religion

Alma School Station

Settled by Mormon pioneers in 1880, “Stringtown” emerged as one of Mesa's earliest settlements-a linear district running south for a couple of miles along present-day Alma School Road.   

Settlers dug an extension of the Mesa Canal canal bringing Salt River water to their farms. In 1883 they connected to a second irrigation channel – the Utah Extension Canal, which conveyed water from the Lehi community north of McKellips Road up onto the mesa.

Over the years, cottonwood trees proliferated, growing tall along these waterways. Known in Spanish as “álamo,” these trees gave rise to the name Alamo Avenue, which by 1884 had been renamed Alma Avenue for a Mormon prophet. Today the street is called Alma School Road. None of the dwellings from the settlement period survived waves of urban development, but traces of the growth can be seen in the nearby Landmark Restaurant.

Alma Ward Church
The Mission-style Alma Ward Church was constructed by the Mormon community along Alma School Road in 1908 with bricks made on-site, the church congregation existed over 25 years. A growing congregation resulted in the 1908 Alma Ward Church’s substantial expansion in 1937 – an east-west addition appended to the north face of the original building enclosing the earlier entrance into the interior of the new structure. The Church vacated around 1954, selling the structure to the Producers Insurance Company.

Mesa Community College
While constructing a campus at Southern and Dobson, the Maricopa County Junior College opened a temporary Mesa Campus in the old church building in 1963. Continuing a tradition when the congregation's children were educated there, 330 students enrolled in the first class of what is now known as Mesa Community College.

The Landmark Restaurant
After Mesa Community College moved to its new campus in 1966, several tenants occupied the building until 1972 when Rouch's Schoolhouse Restaurant opened. In 1981 the establishment, later known as Rouch's Eating House, was purchased by Don and Candy Ellis who paid homage to the building’s past by renaming Rouch’s, the Landmark Restaurant. More than four decades of a dining use is testimony to the structure’s adaptability. Today, the historic Alma Ward Church remains an excellent example of adaptive reuse – a term describing historic buildings adapted for a purpose other than that for which they were originally intended. A first Alma Ward church, likely built from adobe, was located on the south side of today's Broadway Road just west of Extension Road. By 1894, Ward membership reached 261. In 1904 the entire Nephi Ward (further west along Dobson Road) merged with the Alma Ward. The combined congregations called for a new structure. Today the building has a new life – The Landmark Restaurant.

Images

Alma Ward Church
Alma Ward Church Described by the National Register of Historic Places as having been constructed by the Mormon Church in approximately 1910, this structure at 809 West Main Street in Mesa was first used as the Alma Ward Meeting House. It received substantive additions in 1933 before the church sold the building in about 1954. Source: Mesa Historical Museum Date: ca. 1940s
The Landmark Restaurant
The Landmark Restaurant The site of the former Alma Ward Church has been "adaptively re-used" multiple times over its life. Used as a religious meeting place through the 1950s, it became the first home to the Mesa Campus of Maricopa County Community College in 1962. The building took on a new identity when it became host to Rouch's Schoolhouse Restaurant in 1972. Purchased by Don and Candy Ellis in 1981, the building was renamed the Landmark Restaurant to honor its iconic status in Mesa. Source: Mesa Preservation Foundation Date: ca. 1970s
Kiva Motor Lodge
Kiva Motor Lodge Dick Frank opened his Kiva Crafts and Curios in the 1930s, which would become the Kiva Motor Lodge, shown here in 1946. It is typical of hotels during the American “car culture” of the 1930’s, 40s and 50s. It represents one of numerous “motels” along Highways 60, 70, 80, and 89 that sprang up through Mesa along Main Street. The motel's distinct neon sign – a Great Plains chief in full headdress never worn in Arizona – is this landmark’s most distinctive feature. Source: Pomona Public Library, The Frasher Foto Postcard Collection Creator: Burton Frasher Sr. Date: 1946
Alma School
Alma School Alma School Road is named after the old schoolhouse located on the east side of that road and just north of the old railroad tracks. This 1896 building was the second schoolhouse on the site. The original was a little red schoolhouse, erected in 1885 with lumber hauled from Fort McDowell. It was built to be closer to the children in the new Stringtown settlement adjacent to Mesa.The historic Alma School was torn down in 1970. Source: Mesa Historical Museum Date: 1947
Alma Ward Meetinghouse
Alma Ward Meetinghouse The Alma Ward Meeting House was built in 1908. This portion of the original building is located within what was the main dining room of the Landmark Restaurant before it closed in 2015. The National Register of Historic Places describes how the Meeting House fit into the structure of the Landmark Restaurant: "the thirteen-foot ceilings still have the original tiles and crown molding and many of the original doorways still exist in various parts of the building.This site consists of three buildings which contributed to Mesa's cultural history which is derived from the role that buildings have played in the formation of religious and educational development in Mesa." Source: Mesa Historical Museum Date: 1911

Location

Metadata

The Mesa Preservation Foundation, Jay Mark, and Mark Tebeau, “Alma School Station,” Salt River Stories, accessed March 3, 2024, https://saltriverstories.org/items/show/106.