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Marfa nonprofit launches effort to preserve, restore historic adobe gym

Carlos Morales
Marfa Public Radio
A view of the Hunter Gym in Marfa, Texas.

A nonprofit group in Marfa is launching efforts to preserve and restore a historic high school gym in the town.

Hunter Gym was built during the federal Works Progress Administration program in the early 20th century.

The Friends of Hunter Gym group is now hoping to bolster the aging adobe building and manage its upkeep into the future.

Marfa Public Radio spoke with local architect Mike Green, who has helped spearhead the effort.

Interview Highlights

On the building’s history

According to Green, who has researched the adobe building and others like it extensively, Hunter Gym was built in 1940 by the WPA with funding help from the Marfa Independent School District.

In his research, Green said he hasn’t come across another example of an adobe WPA project that is still standing today.

“I have found several that have been demolished,” he said. “And that’s been our fear, that that might happen to Hunter Gym, but thankfully, we feel comfortable that’s not going to happen.”

On the nonprofit’s origins

Green said he and other locals have worked on the project for “a number of years.”

“We have been meeting with the school board over the years to emphasize the importance of saving this building,” he said.

About two years ago, Green said, school district representatives and the group came to an agreement about having a nonprofit take on the “restoration, preservation and long-term maintenance of the gym.”

On what preservation work the gym needs first

According to Green, the most urgent need for the building is to address moisture issues that have developed over decades.

“The building’s gone through a number of revisions over the years that have caused some of the moisture and some of the damage,” he said.

A view of the Hunter Gym interior’s condition as of August 2023.
Friends of Hunter Gym
A view of the Hunter Gym interior’s condition as of August 2023.

Originally, Green said, the building had 35 windows that helped circulate fresh air and were crucial to keeping moisture out, something he said adobe buildings need. But those were sealed up in the early 1980s.

“So that’s created a moisture problem, it’s retained the moisture under the sport floor that is currently causing some of the wood floor to buckle,” he said.

On why a nonprofit group is handling this vs. the local school district

“The school district has got their hands full, and that’s understandable,” Green said. “They need help.”

Green said the goal of the collaborative effort between the nonprofit and the district is to create a space the district can use for things like robotics classes without having to worry about the building’s maintenance and upkeep.

On the cultural importance of old adobe buildings

Green is also involved in efforts to preserve the Ruidosa Church in Ruidosa, Texas, another historic adobe structure in the Big Bend region. He said his involvement in such projects is motivated in part by a desire to preserve “the memories, the human experience” of the buildings.

“I think that it’s the right thing to do, when you love your community, to protect and restore our historic buildings,” he said. “And it takes a lot of work.”

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.