Flinn-Brown Fellow Kathryn Leonard works to conserve and enhance Arizona’s rich heritage

August 23, 2021

By Matt Ellsworth

Kathryn Leonard

Kathryn Leonard 
State Historic Preservation Officer, Arizona State Parks

1. Can you please describe your work and how public policy impacts how you manage your organization?

I currently serve as the State Historic Preservation Officer, appointed by Governor Ducey in September 2016. The State Historic Preservation Officer is a bit of a unicorn position in state government, as it draws authority under both state and federal statutes. Under the State Statute, I administer the State Historic Register and the State Historic Preservation Act—a series of statutes that prescribe the manner by which state agencies consider the effects of their actions on historic properties. My office also certifies eligibility for participation in several financial incentive programs for owners of commercial and residential historic properties. Lastly, we also coordinate the very popular Site Steward program, which provides state and federal land managing agencies with over 600 trained volunteers to assist them with monitoring archaeological sites to prevent looting and destruction.

At the national level, I work with federal agencies under the National Historic Preservation Act to ensure that they are complying with regulations involving consultation with stakeholders and tribes with regards to potential impacts to historic properties—including archaeological sites and sacred sites—for federal undertakings occurring in Arizona. Under the National Historic Preservation Act, I also administer a program to review and list nominations of significant properties to the National Register of Historic Places. In partnership with the National Park Service, the SHPO administers grant support to local communities who have certified historic preservation programs and also serves as the state liaison for certifying the eligibility of qualified rehabilitation.

I love the fact that the work of the SHPO touches all levels of government with such diverse program offerings. As you can imagine, I am constantly monitoring a wide range of urban and rural public policy issues ranging from transportation, energy and water infrastructure development and public land use (i.e. ranching, mining, recreation) to downtown revitalization, affordable housing, and economic development. And all of this policy work occurs through the lens of conserving and enhancing Arizona’s rich heritage. 

2. How has the Fellows Network been useful to you?

My work at SHPO has benefitted tremendously from the Fellows Network. The wide reach of historic preservation work makes it so that there is hardly a project that I engage in that DOESN’T have some sort of connection to another Fellow. I was thinking about this just the other day, as I sat around a table at lunch in Sierra Vista with Mignonne Hollis, Billy Kovacs and Demion Clinco who are all active players (at the federal, regional, and local levels) on the long-term effort to provide for an adaptive reuse of the Mountain View Officer’s Club at Fort Huachuca, one of the last remaining properties nationwide that tells the story of segregation in the United States armed forces. Of course, as an appointee of the governor, I am always engaged with the Fellows that work in his office, including Daniel Ruiz, Sarah Pirzada and Matthew Gress.  And wouldn’t you know, this week I even found myself on the phone with Dana Kennedy, talking to her team at AARP about partnership opportunities with the Site Steward program, which draws its volunteer base from Arizona’s extremely active retirees.

I’m fortunate to work in a field that has broad appeal to many of the Flinn-Brown Fellows. I routinely work with Sharon Carpenter at the Legislature to assist her with answering any questions legislators have about SHPO’s regulatory programs. I’ve also worked with Cheyenne Walsh at Heritage Alliance and Rep. Joanne Osborne, who led the successful effort to reinstate and FUND the popular Heritage Fund grant program through which SHPO will distribute up to $3 million for qualified historic preservation projects this year.  

Even the most casual of conversations with Fellows can lead to significant policy developments. At one of our Friday sessions, fellow classmate Fred Lomayesva and I talked about federal funding for tribes to assist them with historic preservation review.  A year or so later, Fred called me up and said that his employer, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, was ready to take the first steps to becoming an NPS-certified Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Fred and I worked together to write the application and in 2019, Pascua Yaqui joined the 10 other Arizona tribes who have federally-recognized tribal historic preservation programs.

3. What do you see as potential opportunities strengthening civic health in Arizona?

Would I be too transparent if I proposed that Arizona’s civic health could be improved through enhancing the public’s engagement with heritage assets that convey Arizona’s unique story?  I have found through my experience working with diverse constituencies, that—politics aside—most people agree that we have a beautiful state with rich history that is worthy of preservation. Using the preservation of Arizona’s heritage sites as the locus for discussion of issues—about education (e.g. the Dunbar School, Old Main at UArizona), healthcare (the Bertram Goldberg tower at Banner University, the Lescher and Mahoney-designed State Hospital), science and technology (Lowell Observatory), justice and incarceration (the city of Phoenix Courthouse), the military (Fort Huachuca), mining (the Lavender Pit in Bisbee), tribal government (the Navajo Nation Chapter House), and housing (the Coffelt Lamaroux Homes in Phoenix)—has the potential to defuse contentious dialogue on policy issues by contextualizing them within a historical framework. Arizona’s story is ultimately a place-based story of adaptability and resilience. I firmly believe if we can get people off of their devices and discussing policy issues in spaces that matter, we will have opportunity to “elevate” civil discourse through an understanding of our shared history. Historic Preservation projects and initiatives provide the perfect backdrop for civic engagement as the very enterprise of preservation is to make the past relevant for the future.

4. Can you please share your favorite historic places to visit in Arizona?

There are just too many to choose from!  But here are a few of my favorite itineraries:

In the North:

Stay at La Posada Hotel in Winslow. Mary Colter designed this masterpiece for the iconic Fred Harvey Company.  It was lovingly rehabilitated in the 1990s using Historic Preservation Tax Credits.

While you’re there, check out the Painted Desert Complex at Petrified National Monument, designed by noted modern architect Richard Neutra and the well-preserved ruins at Homol’ovi State Park, an ancestral village of the Hopi Tribe.

I find that these three properties provide the visitor with a wonderful snapshot of Arizona’s diverse heritage assets.

Heading South:

I have a special place in my heart for Casa Grande Ruins, as I worked for a year or so doing archaeological data recovery on an ADOT project nearby. Tucson has so many great historic places. You could stop for lunch at Hotel Congress or Maynard’s, which is located in the old Southern Pacific Train Station, take a picnic lunch to the funky DeGrazia Gallery of the Sun, or explore some eclectic historic districts like Barrio Viejo, El Presidio, or the postwar Sunshine Mile. Driving south, you can visit two National Historic Landmarks that tell very different stories of Arizona—the Church at San Xavier del Bac and the Titan Missile Museum. Stay overnight in Tubac to experience the history of the Spanish presidio (and do some shopping and art gallery browsing) and then head over to Tumacacori Historical Park in the morning to experience an NPS-interpreted mission, located along the beautiful Santa Cruz River.

I could keep going… The Verde Valley has some amazing historic destinations, and Cochise County is an absolutely treasure trove of history.


If you missed a Fellows Spotlight, you can view them on the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership website now.