Clovis firefighter Jeff Allen checks his mask as he gets dressed outside the historic Teola Artman house Friday before an arson exercise. City officials say they will demolish the building some time this winter. CNJ photo: Eric Kluth
Clovis City Manager Ray Mondragon said last week the city probably will demolish the Teola Artman Girl Scout Little House, a 64-year-old Clovis landmark, sometime this winter.
As if to underline the finality of the building’s fate, a team of Clovis firefighters lit fires in four of its rooms Friday so they could to use the charred remains for a mock arson investigation.
The decision to demolish the Little House, located at Seventh and Sycamore streets and named in the mid-’80s for area Boy and Girl Scouting legend Teola Artman, is the culmination of a tragic series of events that might have been avoided, but now is probably unstoppable, participants in those events said.
The city commission voted Aug. 7 to accept an offer from the Girl Scouts’ Sangre de Cristo Council, headquartered in Santa Fe, to buy the Little House for $1, tear it down and erect a monument to Artman on the site.
Leslie Duffield, chairwoman of a Clovis committee formed in 2002 to renovate or replace the building, said the Little House probably had deteriorated past the point of renovation. On the other hand, the Sangre de Cristo Council’s seeming haste to unload the building left many in Clovis feeling ignored and angry, she said.
The white and green building, part of which is an old boxcar, has been a fixture in area scouting since 1939, when a group of railroaders placed the boxcar on the site — at that time far out of the city limits — then built on a pine-bark porch.
During World War II, the Little House served as a clubhouse for officers of the 713 Railroad Battalion, who told the Girl Scouts they would finish work on the building if the girls would buy the materials.
The house was remodeled and enlarged in the 1950s and ’60s, continuing as the site of many Girl Scout sleepovers, day camps and troop activities.
By 2002, however, the Little House had substandard wiring, cracks in its walls and roof, split or buckled floor and ceiling supports and black mold, plus a problem with roaches and even wasps, Duffield said.
Two city inspections in 2002 found the house was unsafe to occupy, according to city documents.
But when the Clovis renovation committee began to take steps to deal with the problems, they found the Sangre de Cristo Council had let the house’s lease with the city lapse.
A further inquiry elicited a letter from the council saying it “agreed” with the city that the house should be torn down — even though the city had taken no position on tearing down the house at the time, she said.
Gail Flanagan, executive director of the Sangre de Cristo Council, said the council had not made up its mind about the Little House’s fate prior to the renovation committee’s formation.
But she said council board member Matthew Murray, an engineer, inspected the building in 1994 and reported it would be financially impractical to renovate it.
Jim Sitterly, who was on a public projects committee of the Clovis Building Contractors Association, said the association would have rebuilt the Little House as a volunteer project.
But at a meeting between himself, Mondragon, Duffield and Sangre de Cristo council representatives in July 2002, the council “just wasn’t that interested,” he said.
“The Girl Scout council asked us about maintaining it. They decided they didn’t want to maintain it. They asked me to write them a letter listing other projects I’d completed successfully. They wanted me to jump through a bunch of hoops. I decided ‘just screw it,’” Sitterly said.
“I don’t think the council understood that if the builders say they’re going to do something, they’ll do it,” said Clovis’ Duffield, whose husband is a builder. “When the builders were willing to take this on, it would have saved us a lot of effort. Now that they have moved on to other things, the obstacles are greater than people are willing to take on.”
Flanagan said asking for references, an estimate and a written commitment from the building contractors association was just good business.
She said if the council had gotten those things it might have reconsidered its decision about the Little House.
But she also said owning property is not the council’s first priority.
“Girl Scouting is about programs for girls. Putting money into a house is not the best way to serve girls,” she said.
Area Girl Scouts meet in various churches and private homes today, officials said.
Mondragon said Thursday that when the city tears down the Little House it will preserve its chimney and a mural showing Girl Scout activity.
Someday, he’d like to build a new city youth center on the site, incorporating those pieces of the old building, he said.
“It’s something we need to look at seriously, because we still need a meeting place for Boy and Girl Scouts and other youth activities,” he said.