Originally Published: October 11, 2000 7:15 p.m.
This is a pop quiz. Where is the La Guardia bridge?
• Is it in San Francisco?
• Salerno, Italy?
• Prescott, Arizona, or
• New York, N.Y.?
Time's up and if you guessed Prescott you got it right. But why?
Why name a very common bridge named for a man who was a three-time New York City mayor, served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, was a U.S. Army Air Service pilot in World War I and chief of the U.S. Civil Defense Department during World War II? It's a long story.
It isn't really difficult to establish a connection between Fiorello La Guardia and Prescott. His parents brought the "Little Flower" to Prescott at the age of 10, before the turn of the last century, because his father became bandmaster at Fort Whipple. For six years, young Fiorello lived in Prescott and attended school here. The La Guardia family lived in a little red frame house where Yavapai College now stands.
In his adult years, Fiorello La Guardia often referred to Prescott as his hometown.
"My memories of Prescott are that it was the greatest, the most comfortable, and the most wonderful city in the whole world, whatever anybody might say about New York or Paris," he once said. "People are so nice. Father was popular in town, and as children of the Army bandmaster, my sister and I, though little kids, played for all sorts of benefits. I played the cornet and Gemma the violin, while Father accompanied us on the piano."
Obviously, Prescott impressed La Guardia, and he made quite an impression on Prescott. He returned at least twice, in April of 1935 and Sept. 15, 1938. During the latter visit, the community had a parade in his honor, and he spoke to a Prescott High School assembly. Jack Ogg gave him a Navajo blanket to show the student body's appreciation.
That same afternoon, Mayor LaGuardia attended the dedication of a point in Granite Dells to honor his father, Achilles La Guardia, where he took the baton and led the school band in a march. Then he signed the bass drum as a remembrance.
Shift now to 1982. The late Budge Ruffner, who wrote a column for the Courier for many years, asked his readers for ideas to note the 100th anniversary of Fiorello La Guardia's birth. Readers responded. One reader suggested renaming and dedicating the plaza bandstand, which already existed of course, for La Guardia. The man who suggested it, Charles Link, had come across an old band concert program in the archives at Sharlot Hall Museum. Leader of the concert, that night, was Fort Whipple bandmaster Achilles La Guardia and a cornet soloist was his son, Fiorello.
Ruffner thought it was an exciting idea. The publisher of the Courier did, too, and agreed to supply a bronze plaque. Now all they needed was the cooperation of the Board of Supervisors.
But wait a minute. Sometimes the words "cooperation" and "Board of Supervisors" don't fit into the same sentence.
Budge wrote to the board about the idea, but two months passed without a reply. He then asked the Chamber of Commerce to support the effort and though he got a prompt reply, it said that the board of directors declined to take a position on the issue.
Budge didn't give up. He went back to the supervisors again, this time sending them a Mailgram. Finally he got an answer. Permission denied.
So, sadly, this idea that required no expenditure of funds, and was so timely because it would have occurred on the 100th anniversary of La Guardia's birth, dies aborning. This high-spirited leader, whose name graces one of the largest airports in the world, not get his name on the bandstand in our courthouse plaza where he performed so often as a youth.
But don't fret; he did get his name on a nondescript bridge spanning Granite Creek, even though few people passing over the bridge slow down enough to read a plaque that says, simply, La Guardia Bridge.
(John Schwartz is a longtime area resident and a freelance writer.)