Tucson is attempting to save five historic buildings in Udall Park that were once used for scientific research, some of which date back to 1909.

The city does not know how it will pay to rehabilitate them or what it will use them for after they are repaired.

But it has decided to preserve five of the 15 buildings that were part of the U.S. Coastal & Geodetic Survey's former Tucson Magnetic Observatory, which has conducted scientific work there since the early years of the century.

Ken Scoville, a local historian who pushed for the buildings to be saved, said three of the buildings are adobe, two of which were used for housing and one for offices.

The other two buildings to be saved are wood-frame structures. One was used for magnetic seismic testing and the other for atmospheric testing, including research on lightning, city officials said.

The site is at the edge of Udall Park, near the new dog park. Once Udall Park is built out, however, the preserved buildings will be pretty much smack in the center of the park.

"It shows how important scientific research is to Tucson," Scoville said. "Tucson was really a center of scientific history in the early 20th century."

He cited other scientific history, such as the Desert Laboratory, astronomical studies and sanitarium work on such diseases as tuberculosis as other important scientific work being done in Tucson at that time.

At the time it was built, the observatory was eight miles outside Tucson.

The site was chosen by officials who wanted an isolated spot to limit urban encroachment and the electrical interference that came with it.

The site was abandoned and turned over to the city in the early 1990s, replaced by USCGS with an automated seismic station at Saguaro National Park East.

Since then, many of the buildings have been vandalized, and one was even set on fire, said Councilwoman Carol West, who represents the area.

Some of the buildings are underground, and police contend they represent a threat to children who could get trapped in them, West said.

As a result, West said, "We're going to save some of them; we can't save all of them."

Tucson Parks Director Fred Gray said the city is going to save only five of the 15 buildings, and it hasn't yet figured out how to fund the preservation.

His best guess is grant money from the state or the federal government, he said.

"Were going to have to write some grants for preservation because there isn't money in the city budget," West said.

"We made the commitment; we'll honor it, but it's going to take some time."

West said she thought two of the buildings could be used as clubhouses and meeting space for the park, and another could be used for a small museum to detail the scientific work that went on at the site.

Scoville said the buildings could be used as an anchor in the middle of the park, after the park fields are built out.

He said he would like to see a band shell built there to help create a community space with the preserved buildings.

"Originally, the city wanted to demolish it all," Scoville said. "It's still going to be a struggle to preserve them and keep them safe."

Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4240 or at rodell@azstarnet.com.