Governor Benjamin B. Moeur House

 

Survey Number: HPS-148
Year Built: 1892
Architectural Style: Western Colonial Box/Bungalow

SUMMARY
The B. B. Moeur House was originally a simple two-room frame cottage built in 1893 which was expanded over a 40-year period to a large, prestigious home of 2,800 square feet that represents a unique evolution of additions, modifications, and stylistic interpretations. Moeur began the additions and changes in 1901. The current appearance of the house shows major changes that were made in 1912, which gave the house a more formal appearance representing the then popular Neo-Colonial Revival Style that is of architectural significance today. Additions and renovations continued to transform the house into a more contemporary Western Colonial Box-style home with a bungalow-style porch. More changes were made in 1929, when new brick veneer walls enclosed all of the original exterior frame walls of the building. The residence is a locally significant example of early twentieth century residential architecture.

Dr. Benjamin B. Moeur, a physician from Tennessee, came to Tempe in 1896 and became the town's only full-time physician. In 1896, Dr. Moeur purchased the property and moved his family into the house at the corner of Myrtle and 7th Street. Many years later, when he served two terms as governor of Arizona, he still lived in this house in Tempe. The Moeur house was occupied by Dr. Benjamin Baker Moeur from 1898 until his death in 1937.

In 1993, the City of Tempe adapted the five-bedroom, 2600-square foot house for reuse as offices for the Tempe Community Council using Federal Community Development Block Grant Funds. At that time, the Hatton Hall community building was added for City committees, nonprofit community meetings, and events. The B. B. Moeur House has been determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, but has not been officially listed at this time.

ARCHITECTURAL ASSOCIATION

DESIGN

As originally constructed in 1893, the B. B. Moeur House constituted a simple two-room frame cottage; however, it underwent several subsequent structural expansions over a forty-year period until becoming a large, prestigious home of 2,800 square feet, exhibiting a unique evolution of additions, modifications, and stylistic interpretations.

Moeur began renovating the property in 1901 following the births of his first two children. The current appearance of the house shows major changes that were made in 1912, giving the home’s façade a more upscale appearance representative of the then-popular Neo-Colonial Revival architectural style. As years went by, additions and renovations continued to transform the house into a more contemporary Western Colonial Box-Style home with a bungalow-style porch. More changes were made in 1929, when new brick veneer walls enclosed the building’s original exterior frame walls. With all of its renovations and structural expansion, the residence is a locally significant example of early twentieth century residential architecture and reflects the changing styles of Arizona’s homes over a period spanning forty years.

By all accounts Honor Anderson Moeur dedicated herself wholeheartedly to the proper maintenance—inside and out—of the home. One visitor, conducting an interview with Mrs. Moeur in the 1930s, wrote a newspaper editorial praising her as a homemaker. The visitor found Mrs. Moeur “in her large rambling red brick house, with its colorful checkered roof which bespeaks coziness within and its cool green shrubbery artistically bedecking its walls. Inside . . . attractive furniture and deep, soft rugs give more than an impression of good interior decorating.”

MATERIALS AND WORKMANSHIP

The Governor B.B. Moeur House exhibits a wide variety of materials and workmanship as a result of its thirty-year transformation from 1901 until 1937, a time that saw the house evolve in many ways as a result of structural additions and architectural modifications. All of these evolutionary traits are exhibited, in various fashions, in the present house as the result of a careful and meticulous adaptive reuse activity that restored the property to its 1929 appearance, arguably the period of greatest significance inasmuch as this date roughly coincided with Moeur’s rise to statewide political prominence. The Governor B.B. Moeur House features:

- Western Colonial Box/Bungalow Stylistic components
- Late 19th/Early 20th Century American Architectural Style Movement components
- Masonry piers
- Brick exterior walls
- Exterior veranda/porch on the south side
- Double-hung wooden windows
- Bellcast eaves
- Wood shingle roofing
- Original brick fireplace
- Fully restored interior complete with tongue-in-groove wood flooring
- Landscaped yard consistent with Mrs. Moeur’s original garden landscaping

ARCHITECTURAL RESTORATION DETAILS

After many decades of private ownership the City of Tempe acquired the property and, in 1993, slated the five-bedroom, 2,800 square-foot house for adaptive reuse as Tempe Community Council offices. At that time, the Hatton Hall community building was added next door for nonprofit community meetings and City of Tempe-sponsored events. All told, the City of Tempe invested approximately $2.2 million in the restoration and rehabilitation of the Moeur House and surrounding property. The B. B. Moeur House has previously been determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places by Arizona State Historic Preservation Office personnel, but no nomination has ever been written and it has not been officially listed at this time.

BENJAMIN B. MOEUR BIOGRAPHICAL CONTEXT

EARLY LIFE

Benjamin B. Moeur was born on December 22, 1869 in Dechard, Tennessee (about seventy miles from Nashville) to John Moeur, a French-born doctor, and a mother from a pioneer Tennessee family. They moved to south Texas in 1873 to join other family members in a ranching business and to provide his father with a suitable location to establish a medical practice. Between the ages of six and twenty, Ben worked cattle on the family ranch while attending school and, according to one historian, “was one of the original cowboys.” In his late teenage years he began working for a local cattleman with the surname Anderson, who showed Ben a photograph of his daughter. He supposedly remarked that he would like to marry that young lady, but Anderson assured him that his daughter would never marry a cowboy. “According to family legend, it was then that Benjamin B. Moeur decided to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather [and father] and become a doctor.”

In 1889 the nineteen-year-old Moeur enrolled at Arkansas Industrial University, but later transferred to the University of Arkansas, where in 1896 he graduated at the top of his class with a medical degree. During his studies he occasionally traveled back to Texas, where he met and began courting his former ranch boss’s daughter. She taught grade school for two years until Moeur finished college, completing his studies at Rush Medical College in Chicago, Illinois, where he conducted his post-graduate work. He then returned to Texas, where he married the young lady in the photograph—Honor Glint Anderson—on June 15, 1896. They would go on to have four children: John Kelly, Vyvyan Bernice, Jessie Belle, and Benjamin B. Jr. The rapidly growing family necessitated numerous structural additions and modifications to the existing house, and Moeur subsequently added on to the home four times: in 1901; 1911; 1912; and 1929. Honor Moeur maintained extensive gardens surrounding the home, including citrus trees, roses, and various exotic plants, providing a welcoming atmosphere in a parched desert environment.

MOEUR IN TEMPE

Moeur began his medical career by following his older brother William to Arizona. He first practiced medicine in Tombstone, but soon moved to Bisbee, where he became Relief Physician for the Copper Queen hospital. However, the air pollution from the smelter caused Honor Moeur’s asthma to worsen, and in November 1896 the family moved to Tempe where her health rapidly improved. Although he worked as a physician in Tempe for many years after his arrival there, Moeur did not receive his license to practice medicine in Arizona until October 24, 1913. Initially Moeur maintained offices for his medical practice on Fifth Street (between Mill Avenue and Maple Avenue) and at 12 West Sixth Street. Between 1918 and 1929, Moeur moved his office to the Tempe National Bank building on Mill Avenue. Ultimately, upon partnering with his son John, the pair occupied one of the “most up to date” offices in the Salt River Valley, located at the corner of Sixth Street and Myrtle Avenue, less than a block from Moeur’s home.

As his practice grew in Tempe, Moeur quickly became known as a true “horse and buggy country doctor” because of his willingness to travel long distances to make house calls. He often endured severe hardships in making such calls, especially in his earlier years when transportation and roads remained primitive. On an 80-mile stage coach trip to Payson to attend to a patient, for example, Dr. Moeur and the other passengers had to push the coach through Fish Creek in pouring rain. On a trip to see a patient at the Roosevelt Dam construction site, Moeur had to be transported across the canyon in a cable bucket. Perhaps it was his willingness to undertake such harrowing endeavors that he became renowned throughout Arizona for having “a big, big heart” and for being “a servant to all who needed medical attention.” During his years as governor, whenever time permitted, he conducted free medical clinics at the state capitol building, and every year he sent Christmas cards to indigent patients with his bill marked “paid in full.” It has been said that Moeur never charged a widow or a preacher for his medical services, and during World War I no serviceman or his family was ever billed. Even as governor, Moeur took time off to tend to war veterans in need of medical care.

Doctor Moeur’s successful medical practice was augmented by his involvement in several profitable business ventures in Tempe. He was president of the Southside Electric and Gas Company and part-owner of the Moeur-Pafford Company cattle operation (in partnership with his brother-in-law J.K. Pafford). In 1906 he partnered with M.E. Curry and George L. Compton to found the Tempe Hardware Company at 520 S. Mill Avenue, and at one time he also owned the Broadway Moeur Drug Store. Moeur dabbled in real estate as well, building two rental cottages, at 29 and 31 E. 6th Street, in 1916.
Always interested in education, Moeur served eight years on the Tempe School board and twelve years on the Tempe Normal School’s board of education. During that time he acted as the college physician, began a scholarship program, and sponsored a medal for speech competitions. Examples of his community-wide benevolence were shown by treating students for free and giving loans to aspiring young teachers. In 1912 Moeur combined his interest in education and politics by serving as a delegate to the Arizona Constitutional Convention, acting as chairman of the education committee. Pursuant to advice from Dr. Arthur Matthews of the Territorial Normal School, the committee drafted the educational provisions of the new Arizona Constitution. In spite of adamant objections from segregationists, Arizona’s 1912 Constitution contained no provisions for school segregation, something quite rare for that time period. Moeur’s role in the committee debates remains somewhat uncertain: many available sources praise him for playing a critical role in the passage of the anti-segregation measure; however, at least one primary source indicates that Moeur, with Southern roots, told the committee to “do what you please,” but assured them that he would never allow his children to attend schools with non-Whites. Indeed the drastic differences in published sources make it difficult to determine exactly where Moeur stood on the issue of public school segregation.

MOEUR AS ARIZONA GOVERNOR

In 1932 Dr. Moeur saw Arizona firmly in the grip of the Great Depression. The state could not pay its debts; with a $7.5 million revenue shortfall, state warrants were being accepted for only 80% of their value and 21,000 Arizonans found themselves jobless. Seventy-three year old Governor George W.P. Hunt, an eight-term incumbent, suffered from poor health at that time and had been saddened by the recent death of his wife. His low spirits, coupled with the widespread economic crisis surrounding the Great Depression, spelled certain defeat for Hunt in the election; indeed, countless incumbents across the nation found themselves being ousted from office by frustrated, desperate voters in need of rapid and widespread economic reform.

In the general gubernatorial election Moeur faced J.C. Kinney as his Republican opponent. His campaign expenses totaled a mere $75.80. On November 8, 1932, he was elected Governor of Arizona by a plurality of 33,000 votes and was inaugurated on January 2, 1933. Moeur’s ascension reflected a national trend in the 1932 gubernatorial election, with Democrats defeating nine Republican incumbents nationwide. Within the state of Arizona, an astounding number of long-serving politicians failed to achieve reelection, including not only multi-term Governor Hunt but also several others who had served at least seven or more terms. Clearly, the ravaging economic effects of the Great Depression took their toll on the nationwide status quo and resulted in the ascendancy of innumerable relative newcomers to political positions.

Upon taking office Governor Moeur immediately began working to return Arizona to fiscal solvency. He slashed state government expenses by $4.5 million dollars and instituted both a personal income tax and a sales tax; he also supported luxury taxes on liquor, beer, wine and tobacco, proclaiming that, “It is far from being a perfect bill, but I realize that Arizona must have additional sources of revenue if we are to preserve the financial integrity of the state.” At the same time, however, he reduced property taxes. Aided by Arizona’s Congresswoman Isabella Greenway’s friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, Moeur instituted relief programs for the unemployed which brought over 14,000 federal works projects jobs to Arizona. In all, $22.5 million of New Deal federal program funding came to Arizona, and by the end of Moeur’s first term, the state could claim solvency and its warrants were selling for 100% of their face value.

Moeur moved into a penthouse atop a downtown Phoenix hotel during his time as governor and shuttled back and forth between there and his Tempe home on weekends. He retained his fiery temper even while in office, reflecting the waning days of the Wild West in which he had been raised. In 1935, at a banquet in a “fashionable” downtown Phoenix hotel, an attendee, one Arthur Crowell, took exception to one of Moeur’s comments and punched him “flush on an eye, closing it and sending the governor to the floor.” Moeur immediately arose and returned the favor “with a hard right to the mouth,” at which point intermediaries jumped in and broke up the melee, “though the Governor was held only with difficulty.” The next morning, Moeur wryly ordered police to “release him [from jail] and give him a cigar,” instructing that all charges against Crowell be dropped, much to the astonishment of law enforcement personnel.

Moeur announced that he would seek reelection as governor on December 20, 1933. After earning the Democratic Party’s re-nomination in the September primary he went on to achieve reelection to a second term as governor on November 6, 1934 (at that time the governor was elected for two-year terms). In the 1934 election Moeur handily defeated his opponent by a margin of over 5,000 votes. On being elected, Moeur reportedly commented in a private conversation that he “didn’t give a damn whether or not I was elected, and don’t give a damn whether or not I am ever elected again, but here I am.”

That Moeur was a controversial governor from the onset cannot be denied; his initiation of numerous statewide taxes on businesses and private purchases, as well as his legislative maneuvering relative to certain New Deal programs, met with disfavor among some Arizona citizens. As early as April 1933 various activist groups began calling for Moeur’s recall. In some instances, former state appointees within his own party called for his recall simply because they had been displaced upon his ascendency to the gubernatorial position. In other instances, business interests vowed to pursue his removal if the state legislature approved the new sales tax measures. Most of the unrest, however, emanated from the contrivances of disenchanted persons with mostly personal grudges and, to be sure, no recall vote ever transpired.

In October 1934, in further perpetuation of citizens’ anger, residents in nearby Paradise Valley burned in effigy Governor Moeur, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, and State Representative Isabella Greenway following the rescinding of a Verde Irrigation Project Loan. This overt act of aggression on the peoples’ part foreshadowed further turmoil to come during Moeur’s second term as governor, which saw the eruption of intercultural chaos between Anglo-American and Japanese farmers in the Salt River Valley and the implementation of martial law in response to the Parker Dam dispute with California. Both occurrences catapulted Arizona—and Governor Moeur—to the forefront of national attention.

Doctor Moeur had easily won re-election in 1934, but by 1936 the lingering effects of the Great Depression and the sales tax he had implemented began to cut deeply into his popularity. Moeur continually claimed that he had little interest in running for reelection, perhaps becoming frustrated with the burdens of political office and his continually deteriorating health, a condition partially attributable to the stress accompanying his chaotic second term. Still, he entered the Democratic primary, citing the necessity for a “continuance of the sound policies which have been inaugurated,” and the need for Arizona to “grow in material and social aspects.” In June the incumbent governor appointed Don C. Babbitt as his campaign manager and John B. McPhee as director of publicity, gearing up for what promised to be an uphill battle towards reelection. Ultimately, despite his wholehearted efforts, he lost the nomination to fellow Democrat R. C. Stanford, who was easily elected in the primary by a margin of over ten thousand votes and went on to win the governorship in the general election. A gracious loser, Moeur showed his compassion by being the first Arizona Governor to welcome his successor to office and also attended Stanford’s inauguration.

Moeur left office on January 4, 1937 and 71 days later, on March 16, 1937, he died in his Tempe home from heart trouble at age 67. Indeed Moeur had suffered from heart-related ailments for the duration of his two gubernatorial terms, having a mild heart attack in October 1934 while attending a ceremony in Tucson. He was buried at Double Butte Cemetery in Tempe. The strain of the 1936 campaign, the death of his son, and the countless cigars had taken their toll. Like many doctors, Moeur dedicated so much time to treating others that he largely neglected his own health.

Benjamin B. Moeur’s contributions to Arizona history were profound and widespread, spanning a period of more than forty years and involving a multitude of professional capacities. As a physician, Moeur tended to thousands of patients during his lifetime, going to any length to ensure the well-being of others and frequently offering free services to those in need. As a civic leader, he led the charge for local education and helped draft a segregation-free Arizona State Constitution in 1912. When his state faced tough times during the Great Depression, Moeur once again stepped forward and offered his services, this time as governor. Serving two terms in that capacity, he helped alleviate the state’s deficit burdens, defused intercultural crises, and upheld Arizona’s rights in the conflict with California over Parker Dam. Through all of these undertakings, Moeur exhibited arguably one of the most unique and captivating personalities in Arizona, a cigar ever-present in his mouth, profanities streaming forth in every sentence, all the while acting as a humanitarian who cared more for others than for himself. Indeed, few Arizona personalities can claim such a diverse range of contributions to the state’s early twentieth century history.

SOURCES
Tempe 1997 Multiple Resource Area Update

LINKS

Tempe Historic Property Survey

Tempe Historical Museum Biographical File

Tempe Historical Museum Research Library File Contents for HPS-148.

Governor B B Moeur Residence National Register Nomination draft for SHPO review