Friday Q&A: Why doesn't Arizona have a governor's mansion?
Arizona is one of only five states without one. But it's not for lack of trying.
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Today’s question is simple: Why is there no governor’s mansion?
The short answer is, there was a governor’s mansion, actually twice in different places, but there isn’t anymore.
Big shoutout to Susan Leach-Murray at the Arizona State Library who answered our question via their public question form in no time at all. She provided clips to relevant newspaper articles, all of which were excellent reads.
Back when Arizona was just a twinkle in the United States’ eye, it had a Territorial Governor’s Mansion in Prescott.
The mansion was not much of a mansion by today’s standards. It’s a log building that was built in 1864.
A log house would be a bit rustic for a modern-day governor like Doug Ducey, whose Paradise Valley estate sold in 2019 for more than $8 million.
But at the time, the mansion was considered upscale. Many people lived in shanties and tents back then, according to the Sharlot Hall Museum. The mansion is now part of the museum, along with other buildings and exhibits that share Arizona’s history with visitors.
Sharlot Hall, a preservationist of Arizona’s early history and artifacts, made the building into a museum in 1928. The museum now bears her name. It’s located at 415 West Gurley Street in Prescott, if you want to visit.
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Moving into the modern era
So, the territory had a governor’s mansion, but then the state didn’t (except for a brief period in modern Arizona history, which we will get to shortly).
But why? Governor’s mansions are commonplace across the country. Arizona is one of only five states that don’t have an official residence for their top elected official, alongside Idaho, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont.
The state library couldn’t find any specific information about why Arizona doesn’t have one. If you have any insight here, please let us know.
One theory: The state, in modern times, has a penchant for electing people who already live in the Phoenix area. They already have homes here, and thus don’t need to move to a new place to do their jobs.
That takes us to the time when there was a governor’s mansion in recent history. Former Gov. Raúl H. Castro, the state’s first and still only Latino governor, did not live in the Phoenix area; he lived in Tucson. He needed a place to live in the capital city after taking office in 1975.
Castro told Capitol Media Services’ Howie Fischer in 1999 that he was living in a motel when he first got elected. A news clip from the Arizona Daily Star, provided by the state library, says Castro and his wife were living in a “hotel-apartment complex” after his swearing-in.
Enter Tom Chauncey, then owner of TV station KOOL-TV. He ran into Castro, and Castro told him he was entertaining a Mexican delegation at the Ramada Inn because he had nowhere else to take them, according to an oral history Chauncey did with the Arizona Historymakers.
Chauncey said he had a “real nice” house in Clearwater Hills, now part of Paradise Valley, that Castro could have. Chauncey would donate to the state, if Castro wanted it.
“And all hell broke loose. What is Tom Chauncey going to be appointed to by Raul Castro? What does he want with Castro? He's got Castro in his pocket. That's nothing. That's the way it happened,” Chauncey said in the oral history.
Castro lived in the house from 1975 to 1977, when he was appointed U.S. ambassador to Argentina.
Wesley Bolin succeeded Castro, but was governor for only about six months before he died. He didn’t live in the mansion during his short time as governor.
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The governor’s mansion that wasn’t
Then came Bruce Babbitt, who did not want to live in the house. His wife, Hattie, told an Arizona League of Women Voters meeting that the house was “absolutely unsuitable for children,” according to a news clip from the Arizona Republic from 1979. Among the house’s problems, according to Hattie: no parking, no play area, on a cliff, far from downtown, no historical significance.
(The news clip also details how messy Bruce Babbitt was when Hattie met him. She called him an “absolute pig” who wasn’t good at cleaning up after himself.)
Chauncey was surprised that Babbitt and his family didn’t want to stay in the mansion.
“I don't think living in a nice house is going to ruin those kids. I couldn't believe it. They're friends, the whole family are friends of mine,” he told the Historymakers.
Chauncey said the home was then given to an educational fund he set up, which sold the property. It brought in $375,000, a now-quaint price for a home in Paradise Valley. Proceeds helped provide scholarships for state universities, he said.
The real estate agent who handled the sale donated her commission as well, giving the $13,125 she made to Arizona State University to be used for scholarships for real estate students.
So, there’s no governor’s mansion anymore — we tried it twice, and it just doesn’t seem to stick.
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