Judy Cook can’t stop smiling when she talks about the progress the Litchfield Park Historical Society has made on its $3.5 million P.W. Litchfield Heritage Center project despite COVID-19 pandemic challenges.
“We have had a chance to finish design drawings,” Ms. Cook said Thursday, Aug. 20, during a socially distanced interview at the society’s museum at 13912 W. Camelback Road on the grounds of what was Paul W. and Florence Brinton Litchfield’s 365-acre Rancho La Loma estate.
Mr. Litchfield, for whom the city is named, was president, CEO and board chairman of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.
“We’re working on fine-tuning the designs. The place is going to be beautiful, just absolutely beautiful,” said Ms. Cook, a historical society board member, archivist and historian who chairs the project’s Capital Campaign Committee. “We’re now down to the nitty-gritty.”
A three-dimensional animated walk-through showing what the three-story, 11,000-square-foot facility will look like after the historic 5,400-square-foot Litchfield/Denny house is renovated and expanded should be ready in late September or early October, Ms. Cook said.
Nestled on 21 hilltop acres donated to the city in 2009 by the Litchfields’ granddaughter, Pamela Denny Blackford and her husband, John, the center will feature a museum showcasing the history of Litchfield Park, Avondale, Goodyear and Tolleson, archive space, research library, meeting room, gift shop, gardens and community gathering spots both indoors and out.
“It will definitely be a go-to place,” Ms. Cook said, envisioning historical society and other community events held on the grounds, and visitors from around the world meandering through the center’s exhibit galleries exploring 60 years of Southwest Valley history.
The project’s Capital Campaign kicked off in June 2019 after the Blackfords presented historical society officials with a $1 million challenge grant and donated $50,000 for the planning process.
In less than nine months, the campaign raised $1.1 million, putting the historical society at $2.1 million, or 60% of its $3.5 million goal.
During a late February tour of the site, Ms. Cook and historical society President Nancy Schafer, who chairs the project’s Building Committee, said they expected fundraising to be complete by the end of 2020, with construction beginning in early 2021.
It wasn’t to be, however. Fundraising screeched to a halt less than three weeks later, when the pandemic forced the historical society to close the museum, to scrap plans to apply for grants until the stock market stabilized and to postpone public outreach with Phoenix architectural firm Orcutt | Winslow for at least a year.
Thanks to recent pledges from donors, the campaign is at 67% of goal, with $2.33 million raised and $1.17 million still needed. Historical society officials want all the money in hand before breaking ground, both Ms. Schafer and Ms. Cook said.
Ms. Cook began submitting grant applications in August and said the campaign is adding smaller naming opportunities for things like chairs, benches, mannequins and other items at the center to augment large naming opportunities that include galleries, the archive and others.
“I’m hopeful we can start sometime in 2021,” Ms. Cook said of the much-anticipated construction. “I think COVID has bumped us back six months.”
Kelly O’Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-963-1697.