Pride of place: Latino community church now an historical site
The old Sacred Heart Church sits on a lonely lot at 16th Street and Buckeye Road. An historic relic of one of Phoenix’s first Latino neighborhoods, it’s the symbolic equivalent of the Alamo – a former church converted into a bastion of struggle by people against an invasive government – in this case, the City of Phoenix.
On the Saturday morning, October 12, an official ceremony will take place recognizing the inclusion of the building on the National Register of Historic Places and marking it as such with a plaque. There will be a color guard from American Legion Post 41 and a gathering of former and current residents of the area. The church building was added to the Phoenix Historic Register in 2007.
“It took us years and years and, at one point, the city had condemned it as not historic,” says Abe Arvizu, Jr., board chair of the Braun-Sacred Heart Center. “But, as a non-profit and as a community, it has historical value to us. I just wished it would have happened sooner, so the former residents who have died could have appreciated it.”
According to the book, Progress and a Mexican American Community’s Struggle for Existence by historian, Pete Dimas, the church was built by the Golden Gate residents over two years under the direction of the Rev. Albert Braun. The Catholic church was deemed a parish in 1962, the same year Braun retired.
The nearby community was decimated in the 1970s when Phoenix officials expanded the airport. The city bought many of the homes and those residents scattered to West Phoenix. Some people fought the city for years and still live in the area, helped by Arvizu and others.
“It’s been a hard, long battle with the city,” Arvizu says, “but, the historical designation proves to us and to all the community that this building has historical significance on a national level. And, for the people who lived and died through the struggle, this church building is still standing because of them.”