Crumbling Tombstone buildings present problem

Vogan's Alley Bar has been closed for months. The bar is in need of a new wall, roof, and structural restoration. Photo by: Kethia Kong/Arizona Sonora News Service
Vogan’s Alley Bar and Grill has been closed for months. The bar is in need of a new wall, roof, and structural restoration. Photo by: Kethia Kong/Arizona Sonora News Service

It was supposed to be a busy Labor Day weekend for the Tombstone Oil and Vinegar Co. The holidays always brought a surge of tourists into the old western town. But when the wall of a next door business collapsed, so did the oil company’s revenue for the weekend.

“We were forced to close because we were missing a side of our wall,” said Christine King, owner of the Oil and Vinegar Co. “It hurt us pretty bad because we lost out on a lot of profits.”

But, the wall between the Vogan’s Alley Bar and the oil company isn’t the only neglected structure in town. Look around Tombstone and you’ll see dozens of weathered, abandoned buildings. Some like the Bella Union restaurant have been deserted for more than a decade. Others like the Tombstone Gourmet restaurant, located on Allen Street aren’t just missing a wall. It’s missing a whole half of its building. 

It’s an issue that has made many wonder, why haven’t the city stepped in to repair its historic district?

A Lack of Progress

It’s a question that King is asking herself.

Nearly three months later, her business is still missing a wall. The only thing that’s changed is that the exposed wood is now covered in plastic wrap.

What used to be beautiful, separate displays of the different oils and vinegars the store offers is now just a mixture of both on the lone wall.

It’s a problem that’s getting increasingly hard to ignore. Not only for her, but for customers as well.

“It’s an eyesore,” said King. “Sometimes people come into the shop, see the wall, and just walk out.”

But not only is the lack of repair continuing to hurt her sales, it’s also made King worry about the safety of her own shop.

“I just don’t feel safe inside this building anymore, I really don’t,” said King. Isn’t there a program or service that’s offered by the city that will help business owners with repair?”

City Rules and Regulations

Unfortunately, the solution is not that simple.

“The city never takes over because they can’t legally do so,” said Mac McMillan, the city’s building inspector. “It’s private property so it’s up to the property owner.”

In other words, it means change can only come from the owners. But what happens when an owner fails to maintain their property?

The city can force their hand.

“If we’re inspecting a building and we find something, then we’ll file a notice. If they don’t fulfill it, then they get another notice. If they ignore it, then we take legal actions and they’ll be charged for a misdemeanor charge from the marshal department,” said McMillan.

Tombstone’s City Codes says failure to comply with these building regulations can result in fines up to $300 or imprisonment for up to six months.

But, this is a rare occurrence. That’s because buildings are not inspected very often.

“Inspection only happens when there’s an event, construction, or a complaint,” said McMillan.

In other words, numerous buildings that are falling apart have remained uninspected for years. If they get bad enough, the city will simply condemn the building as unusable, says McMillan.

A view of the back of the Tombstone Gourmet restaurant. Like Vogan's Alley Bar and the Bella Union, the business have been out of commission for a while. Photo by: Kethia Kong/Arizona Sonora News Service
A view of the back of the Tombstone Gourmet restaurant. Like Vogan’s Alley Bar and the Bella Union, the business have been out of commission for a while. Photo by: Kethia Kong/Arizona Sonora News Service

The Business Owners

Irresponsible business owners failing to take care of their property is nothing new to Bob Love, owner of the O.K. Corral and The Tombstone Epitaph. He’s seen many come and go throughout the years.

“The problem is that these owners come in, rush into buying, and try to resale for a big profit,” said Love. “It’s not how it works.”

But that’s exactly what happened to the owner of the Bella Union, according to Love. It’s what ultimately led to its bankruptcy.

Love reasons that buyers have to be in it for the right reasons. And his reason for buying The Tombstone Epitaph was to preserve Tombstone’s rich history.

“You have to appreciate this town’s history and try to protect it,” said Love.

Steve Goldstein, owner of the Café Margarita, Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, The Longhorn Restaurant, Tombstone Harley-Davidson and Shady Lady’s Closet shares the same philosophy.

“I wanted to buy and restore these places because I love Tombstone. I love its history and I want to preserve it,” said Goldstein. “These other businesses fail because they don’t dedicate enough of their life to their businesses.”

Looking Ahead

In the near future, it seems this is a problem that won’t be resolved any time soon. It’s a solution that requires responsible business owners who are dedicated to investing a large sum of their time and money in to restoring these old, historic buildings.

But it’s not just restoration, it’s restoration with authenticity in mind.

If buildings become too modernized, the city as a whole may be in danger of losing its status as a National Historic Landmark.

In the meantime, many are looking for change. And just like the old buildings in town, something’s got to give.

Kethia Kong is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at 

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos. 

6 comments Add yours
  1. If you can’t afford to improve/preserve the structures, sell it and go elsewhere…You don’t deserve to be a part of history…
    Thank you Mr. Love and Mr. Goldstein for your dedication in preserving what some others are destroying…

  2. Wonderful job bringing attention to a serious issue. Well written and complete reporting!

  3. I discovered this site today. I enjoyed the article. But, as a former journalist myself, I want you to know that the typeface is much too small (especially for older people like myself), and sans serif doesn’t flow well. Many web sites have your clean, modern look. But if the article can’t be read, the look is competing with your content.
    I’m not the Mayor of Kearny, and the content is very relevant to me. Our town, though not historic like Tombstone, is similar in terms of the inspection/enforcement question. I hope you can borrow a page from classic “front page” newspapers in making a more readable site. Content? Excellent. Presentation? Needs work.

  4. Christine King is not the owner of the oil and vinegar store she is just a part time employee.The city is not responsable for slum landlords.Talk to the owners and ask them why they collect the rent from 2 buildings and make no repairs.Maybe they will tell you that they will PRAY for the money to make repairs.You show a picture of Vogens and this wall had nothing to do with vogans.Sure wish you would get your facts straight before you make this look like a city problem and not putting enough blame on the building owners.

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