A recent visit to Superior left me of the opinion that the town is both falling apart and being reborn. Which process will win is not certain by any means, but the visit was fascinating for that very reason. If imagination and creativity have anything to do with it, though, I will vote for rebirth. I’ve never seen such density of murals, decorated facades and all around artistic expression; it seems that given the choice between cans of cheerful paint or mundane signage the Superians will choose the paint every time.
Superior is a copper-mining town whose old mine (the Magma) has closed and whose proposed new mine (Resolution Copper, to which there is no small amount of opposition) is not yet open. Once relatively booming with a population of over 7,000, the town is now home to under 3,000 residents (2013). (For a very interesting portrait of the town’s struggles and hopes, see Kari Lydersen’s 2012 article). Declining population does not seem to have put a dent in the town’s optimism or belief in itself, though. A look at the Chamber of Commerce’s website shows a bustling sense of possibility (We Believe in Superior!), expressed in three annual events – a House Tour, a Mining Festival, and a Prickly Pear Festival.
Hiking Buddy E rounded up a couple of her young friends and me and took us all off to the House Tour a month or so ago. What a wonderful eye-opener it was. The homes we visited were modest (with one exuberant exception). They were built, by and large, in the 1920’s and years following to house miners and their families. Most of them were rescued from various levels of decay and restored, either to their original state or a more modern version of same. They lay in all the neighborhoods of Superior, sometimes bracketed by boarded up neighbors.
Here are some photos of the homes we visited that day, of hopeful Superior, and of the unique surroundings of this struggling town.
Superior lies between the steep mountains known locally as Apache Leap on one side and the old copper mine on the other.
High School at the base of Apache Leap
Mine chimneys and slag on the other side of town
Many houses that were not on the house tour are creatively painted.
Store signs are, for the most part, painted, with the major exception of the Save Money Market (which always makes me think of Lake Woebegone). What a great name – direct and to the point.
It’s hard to read, but the sign above says Zapeta Shoe Repair.
Like the storefront signs, the murals in town are in various states – some are fading and need repair, others are fresher. All are full of movement and interest.
Well, it was a house tour, so it’s probably time to show you some photographs of the homes. Each has been snatched from the jaws of decrepitude and lovingly restored.
Visitors wait to enter “Abandoned Creek House”
The “Abandoned Creek House” – photos of before and during restoration
“Abandoned Creek House” original adobe brick under the plaster
If it’s crooked, turn it into art
Low ceilings, small doors, tight quarters – common threads in Superior homes like “The Decade House”. Later additions to this house are more spacious.
Teeny tiny toilet in “The Decade House”
Fireplace in “The Decade House”
Beautiful wall treatment done by Mrs. Melville in the kitchen of “The Home on Pinal”
Bedroom in the Melville Home
Exterior of” the Lasch Home”
Entrance to “The Lasch Home”
“Lasch Home” bedroom
Lasch Home” terrace
“Copper Cottages” kitchen
Two of the “Copper Cottages” share this terrace
The shower is one big room in this “Copper Cottage”
The house tour in Superior was a shining example of what elbow grease, optimism and a lot of love can accomplish to rejuvenate a house. But here’s my ugly truth: in many ways I found the abandoned and boarded up properties every bit as interesting as the restored homes.
Right on Main Street there is a boarded up section of wall with a hole in the boards – what lies on the other side?
What a great opportunity for a budding capitalist – perhaps you could build to suit your needs exactly!
Grifters Market, all boarded up
Not everyone tidied up for the house tour
The town is full of “Welcome” signs on homes, as well as “No Trespassing” and “Beware of Dog” signs.
Turns out he wasn’t such a fierce pup after all. He and his daddy, driving the truck, were both quite sweet.
I loved this house for combining the No Trespassing and Welcome philosophies of Superior
Exploration of window treatments
The residents are the best part of any town. I’ve visited Superior any number of times and, No Trespassing signs notwithstanding, have always been made to feel welcome. Here are a few portraits from House Tour Day.
Mrs. B takes a break before the noon rush. Her fish tacos were so delicious she had to run out for more supplies half way through the noon hours.
I can rarely resist asking to photograph a dog. Throw some great body art into the mix and it must be done. This man was having a good play with his dog outside his lavender hexagonal house.
What stories this man could tell.
Leroy has lived in Superior his whole life. He told us about some good hiking trails nearby.
This man’s tee tells you all you need to know about the downside of mining.
This young man was so animated as he played and chatted with his friends next to Mrs. B’s.
Everyone calls this lifelong Superior gentleman ‘Teflon.’
‘Teflon’ could not be prouder of his son, a college-educated man and Superior resident.
A calm resident surveys the passing scene.
There’s a lot more to Superior than what I’ve shown you here. Main Street hosts several charming shops, and there are no fewer than nine eateries in the town. The bustling public library is bursting with materials and with people using them. The senior center appears to be very active, and Headstart has a fine modern building near the elementary school.
When is the best time to visit Superior? Any time! HBE and I visit several times a year, just to walk around, admire the colors and see if any new murals have appeared. The House Tour, Prickly Pear Cactus Festival and Mining Festival are special weekends, making the trip even more worthwhile, but truly, it’s a good visit no matter when you go. If you visit let me know afterwards if you think the town is coming or going. My vote and hope is for the former.