Fiorello H. LaGuardia, Former Prescott Resident and Mayor of New York City: Part 2

by Worcester P. Bong

Autographed photograph of Mayor LaGuardia (SHMRC 1700.1018.0000)

Last week’s article outlined the visits to Prescott by Fiorello and Marie LaGuardia in April 1935 and September 1938. Grand celebrations were held during each visit. They were greeted by Prescott’s dignitaries and former Fiorello classmates.

On September 20, 1947, at 64, Fiorello died from pancreatic cancer. His passing prompted the Sharlot Hall Museum to have a memorial exhibit at the Old Governor’s Mansion. The October 1, 1947 edition of the Prescott Evening Courier noted the exhibit included several photographs and a worn set of cowboy boots that Fiorello wore when living in Prescott.

 LaGuardia’s name is honored throughout the world. LaGuardia Airport in New York City is familiar to many and numerous parks and buildings in the city were named in his honor. Additionally, streets in Tel Aviv, Israel and Rijeka, Croatia were named after him.

In late 1989, a group of Prescott citizens wanted to honor LaGuardia with a permanent memorial. Prominent community leader Lester “Budge” Ruffner spearheaded efforts to permanently display a bronze plaque honoring him. Two locations were suggested by the group: the bandstand gazebo at the courthouse plaza or the proposed bridge spanning Granite Creek as the extension of Montezuma Street northward connecting with Whipple Street. Budge, from a pioneer Arizona family, was very influential in the community and a long-time columnist for The Prescott Courier and was well respected for his involvement with numerous state and civic organizations.

LaGuardia Bridge roadway in Prescott (courtesy Worcester Bong)

At the December 1989 Yavapai County Parks and Recreation Commission’s meeting, Ruffner proposed a bronze plaque on the bandstand gazebo at the courthouse plaza. The proposal was tabled for further discussion because the commission did not have a set of policies to determine what should be permanently installed on the plaza. Later, as reported in the January 26, 1990 edition of The Prescott Courier, the proposal was disapproved. Ruffner then sought the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors’ approval to override the commission’s decision. This plan backfired as the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors placed a two-year moratorium on any new statues, plaques, signs, banners or other permanent fixtures at the courthouse plaza until the commission could develop an official policy regarding these installations. Undeterred,  Ruffner then pursued the idea of naming the proposed new bridge after LaGuardia.

LaGuardia Bridge plaque (courtesy Worcester Bong)

In 1990 construction began on the bridge as part of the Whipple/Third Street project. Spanning 375 feet across Granite Creek at what is now A.C. Williams Granite Creek Park, the new bridge was the longest built within city limits.

In June 1990, the City of Prescott approved having the bridge dedicated to LaGuardia and a plaque installed. On August 15, 1990, The Prescott Courier reported that the final steel beam had been placed for the bridge and that the project was scheduled for completion in January 1991. Ruffner reported in the November 29, 1990 Prescott Courier that a dedication ceremony was scheduled for early spring.

The front page of the February 22, 1991, edition of The Prescott Courier announced a dedication ceremony scheduled for Saturday, March 16, 1991. A concert by the Mesa Territorial Brass Band (Arizona’s official historical brass band) was among the planned activities.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature did not cooperate; the night before the ceremony up to 6 inches of snow fell on Prescott. The ceremony was postponed to Saturday, April 13, 1991. The April 14, 1991, Prescott Courier reported that, under clear blue skies, the dedication ceremony and unveiling of the LaGuardia Bridge plaque was a success.
The LaGuardia Bridge has been well-traveled since opening to traffic on February 11, 1991. The plaque is located on the south abutment of the bridge and can be easily viewed when visiting A.C. Williams Granite Creek Park.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at archives.sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles/1 The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to dayspast@sharlothallmuseum.org Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at archivesrequest@sharlothallmuseum.org for information or assistance with photo requests.

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