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vertex May 9, 2007 6:10 PM

The Metro Phoenix History & Preservation Thread
Tired of clogging up the phoenix development thread with flame wars? Here's your chance to discuss the status of historic buildings in metro Phoenix.

Use this thread to discuss anything related to pre-war or post-war architecture. You're encouraged to post links, articles, and photos of buildings that are threatened.

I have some links to websites that may be of interest. Many of these have been previously posted elsewhere in SSP.

The Arizona Preservation Foundation, including its' list of Arizona's most endangered buildings.

The Philidelphia Architects and Buildings website, which keeps a terrific nationwide database of historic buildings, including over 300 in Maricopa county.

The blog keeps a pretty good record of many of the historic/quasi-historic buildings found there, including the infamous Sun Merc.

vertex May 9, 2007 6:24 PM

Let's begin with the the Modern Phoenix Neighborhood Network, a website featuring (mostly) local, mid-century architecture.

Unfortunately, a lot of the buildings featured are threatened, or have already been demolished. The Valley National Bank branches from the 1960's come to mind.

The Tempe Dome bank is now gone, although ASU intend's to preserve the dome shell.

And there are plans to radically change the branch at 44th st. and Camelback.

Western Savings also contributed some terrific bank branch architecture to the valley. The Washburn Piano building on 20th st. and Camelback was a good example. Unfortunately, that is gone as well.

Hysonk May 9, 2007 7:08 PM

The Valley Bank Building at 44th and Camelback was one of the landmarks that my uncle first showed to us when we moved to Phoenix back in 1968. I had never seen something so amazing. The other cool thing was the Phoenix bird at Town and Country. It's still there and hopefully will remain.

soleri May 9, 2007 8:02 PM

Town & Country is one artifact I fear is doomed. The City Council granted them much greater density, so the owners are no longer committed to its preservation. The rents have skyrocketed in the center not for any market reasons but because the owners appear to be forcing out long-term tenants like Jutenhoops. The rambling, sloping structures are probably more appropriate to Rancho Palos Verdes than Phoenix but it's one of the nicest outdoor public spaces in the Valley. Before Starbucks, the coffee house Dos Baristas was probably the pleasantest of hang-outs.

And don't forget this is where Pizzeria Bianco started (and Rancho Pinot, too).

PHX31 May 9, 2007 8:29 PM

Any pics of the Town & Country you speak of?

I'm starting to come around slightly to mid-century architecture. Like Soleri has mentioned "there is a lag time in terms of public consciousness. We may not care now but we probably will later when the buildings are gone." And that may very well become true, it has already happened with much of Phoenix's pre-war stock.

The only thing is that this mid-century stuff is so damn ugly (again, though, it grows on you), it just looks shabby and shoddy and most likely uses much cheaper styles of materials (as opposed to the pre-war stuff). And to top it all of, much of it is auto-centric, coming about when the car was king, and is non-urban, which again, seems to be what everyone on this forum craves.

To me people on this forum enjoying mid-century architecture is just like having some kind of crazy bed-fellow or mistress. All day you're out preaching the qualities and positives of having an urban society that can embrace non auto-oriented transit or be much more pedestrian in scale, but at night you go home and sleep with your whorish dark-sided mid-late-century architecture slut which goes against everything you stand for.

soleri May 9, 2007 10:44 PM

^if I had to choose, it would be the pre-war beaux-arts style of architecture. Those kind of buildings define the street much better than the car-oriented modernist stuff. But as we all know, Phoenix is one hell of a car town, so we have to celebrate ourselves in context.

You see the midcentury style probably a little better in the downtown Scottsdale area (Valley Ho, Bon Vie, et al). Every now and then I come across a really nice example of a good redo and get a bit of buzz. One of my favorite buildings of this style, btw, is at 1st St and Willetta, the brick Valley National Bank branch, now a charter school. The proportions are perfect and the materials are solid. There's a smattering of buildings on 1st St north of Roosevelt, and some fine examples are Camelback Rd by Al Beadle and Ralph Haver. The building housing the furniture store Red is, by any standard, a beauty.

A mecca for midcentury modern is Palm Springs. LA, of course, has lots of fine stock. Raising the level of consciousness about this style is important, needless to say since so many have been destroyed.

combusean May 10, 2007 1:13 AM

Why anyone would make a case for saving Town and Country is beyond me. Its interior is a dismal maze of courtyards and deadend pathways into struggling small retailers, while the businesses that are lucky to have street frontage do quite well.

I think the new Camelback East plan will leave significant buffers between Camelback and any allowed development, effectively asphalting a massive parking lot out front. But even still, T&C's future on the chopping block is eagerly anticipated for additional height.

The Arches in Tempe, however, they at least stuck the parking in back and I kind of liked the quaintness of it, but most of that is gone now as well as is Hogi Yogi. Gentle Strength was kinda cool as an old lumber yard in the middle of downtown. Club Rio is more the kid's memories than the architecture fan's, but still. I don't even remember the former president's house on College and Broadmor. And one last pause for the old adobe barrios in the suburbs....High Town is one of the last, southeast of Chandler Boulevard and McClintock. Most of Gilbert's have been entirely leveled for the suburbs. At least we have the treasures in Guadalupe, with, what, 86% of the building stock that needs to be substantially renovated or razed. At least they're not likely to go anywhere for a while.

Apache Blvd doesn't look the same anymore--a massive stretch around McAllister, south of Adelphi Commons, was cleared for that American Campus Communities project under construction now. Maybe all the vacant lots weren't quite as nasty back then but after the hard construction its well due for a makeover.

South Scottsdale is the mecca for midcentury apartment sprawl--block after block of one story ranch style apartments, relatively well kept up but absolutely choking on cars and the local retail fare decidedly budget Mexican. From one of my friends who's an apartment manager in one of these places, they talk about developers buying all of say, Cheery Lynn St west of 68th for a few blocks. Sooner or later this stuff will evaporate but a blanket case for saving all of them is silly. If 50 years is the new threshold for preservation, I almost wonder why demolition permits aren't coming in sooner.

But if they can do this in Scottsdale, what kind of future does Phoenix's warehouse district and Grant Park/south of the tracks area have? A bleak one, no doubt. That's why I'm a bit irked that the MCM preservationist movement is getting the attention it is when a square mile or so of the last stuff we have dating back to World War 1 will probably be gone in 5 - 10 years if downtown pans out to how we all want it.

I like the MCM thing, but only for its own quirkiness and the sad admittance that the wacky 60's resort-era stuff that killed the city is really the one last unique thing we can grasp on to. With these circumstances, maybe you do have to shift the preservation ring back till after WW2, but I don't think most of old Phoenix is safe with the patchwork of owners and regulations we have today. Jackson St, Disneylandish as it might look, is our saving grace. The alternative is too depressing to watch; ironically, an endless supply of last chances to snap that building is hardly rewarding as a photographer here.

soleri May 10, 2007 2:49 AM

^context is as important as individual buildings. For example, if Jackson St was largely intact with its old warehouses and Chinatown artifacts, I think a much better case could be made for the Sun Merc building's pristine preservation. An even stronger case could have been made for west Jackson St before the County plundered it for their new jail complex. What we see now are bits and pieces of history washed over and strewn about.

Even with historic registers, tax credits, zoning overlays and whatnot, preservation is never a slam dunk. Sometimes it's just fortuitous. Benign neglect is sometimes the agent of deliverance. Downtown LA is an example here. Much of it was simply abandoned as business moved west to Wilshire, Figueroa and Grand. Now old treasures are being renovated and retrofitted.

Phoenix doesn't have much but that doesn't mean we shouldn't care. We have to advocate for this city's small treasures and architectural legacy because it will have a definite impact on future development. Midcentury modern reveals the autocentric city in its robust youth and optimism. There's an analog in Googie-style architecture, and futuristic kitsch. We can laugh, but these eras and tastes do appear to be unique. That they stake their own claim to our collective interest is a testament to their solid design and construction. Not everything is equally worthy, but even ordinary buildings were often very well done.

Town & Country has been bowdlerized over the years but even with its mazes and warrens, the charm is still there. I won't lose sleep over its demise but I will remember when it functioned better than almost any other public space in Phoenix. It probably hit its peak 10 to 15 years ago. At one point, there was a blend of retail that even made Mill Avenue seem staid: Everything Earthly, The Hemp Store, Pizzeria Bianco, Unicef, Jutenhoops, AMC theaters (a real shame those theaters didn't become independent venues), Trilogy New Age, Dos Baristas. There was simply nothing else like it.

nbrindley May 11, 2007 3:29 AM

The Chase bank at 44th and Camelback is a fantastic building, it's like something out of an old sci-fi movie. I used to bank there regularly when I worked at 40th and Camelback, and I would always just stare around the building while waiting in line. Ten years ago or so I would have dismissed it as old and kitschy and ugly. But since then, I have really gained a sense of appreciation for midcentury modern architecture. Yes, it may be tied to post-war suburban sprawl, but there are so many cheap plywood and plaster muffler shops and whatnot (that look like they were built with a 1000 bucks and 2 days of labor) that it would be a real shame to lose these gems that represent a significant era of architecture. It's not like the city is paved in these buildings, it would be great to see the refurbished and cleaned up to their former glory. I think the biggest reason people don't appreciate these buildings is that they've seen 40 years of use and grime. If we saw them as they were when they were first built, I think people would be much less likely to tear them down.

As for Town & Country, I used to go to movies there occasionally when I was in high school about 10 years ago. I do remember there always being a decent crowd there at the various shops and restaurants, but even then it seemed kind of dark and in it's twilight years. Architectually speaking, I don't really see any reason to keep it, there isn't anything particularly striking about it if my memory serves me.

combusean May 11, 2007 6:18 AM

^ Did you work at Wild Oats by chance? I used to live at that corner ... Stephanie is probably one of the coolest cats I've met at a grocery store.

nbrindley May 11, 2007 11:25 PM

Nope. Worked at Cookies In Bloom directly next door.

combusean May 12, 2007 6:10 PM

I'm copying this article from PDN as it relates to the Palmcroft Apartments on 15th Avenue and McDowell ... a really sketchy complex built as wartime housing and I'm guessing has been decaying ever since.

This complex is amongst many other properties in a multiblock zone that has been on the National Historic Register for years. It is by far the worst of the bunch, and is probably one of the last properties to be built in the Encanto Palmcroft Historic district which basically runs from the 20's to WW2.

The article touches on it, but at the request of GG George--she's really nice but probably one of the most ardent historic preservationists I've ever met--the Phoenix City Council started to add commercial properties fronting McDowell Road to the historic district to the north--too bad you can't just do that and adding properties to a historic district requires a majority vote of the properties affected. None added in, the developer sued, GG George is probably really pissed off over this, but what Phoenix doesn't get through the process is what's missing after it.

The last few historic buildings that have been torn down have actually positive repercussions. Since the demolition of MSG, Phoenix initiated adding a series of historically black and latino properties to a historic register, and after Sun Merc Phoenix is doing the same for the Asian community.

Unfortunately, no such action is pending for a survey of the remaining WW2-era housing complexes built in the Phoenix area. I know that the Palmcroft complex under demolition is not unique--a property I looked at around 16th St and Camelback was built under similar circumstances.


The Business Journal of Phoenix - May 11, 2007 by Jan Buchholz The Business Journal

Residential and commercial developers have plans to invest big bucks in the urban neighborhood near Seventh Avenue and McDowell Road.

For many years, the area south of Encanto Park and north of Interstate 10 has been a hodgepodge of dilapidated housing and run-down retail alongside finely maintained historic homes and a handful of loyal, well-kept businesses.

Now, a California real estate investor and developer plans to build an 87-unit Santa Barbara-style condominium complex on the site of former wartime housing, between 13th and 15th avenues north of McDowell. The four-story Encanto Parkside project, adjacent to both the Encanto and F.Q. Story historic districts, will consist primarily of luxury high-density residences priced between $400,000 and $900,000, with some commercial space, underground parking and an athletic facility.

"I've been investing in Phoenix since 2001, but until now I've only done single-family homes," said developer Scott Haskins. "This is the largest project I've ever done."

The 2.2-acre site has been an eyesore and high crime area for some time. But ironically, Haskins had to fight city hall to get his upscale project off the ground.

After he purchased the property in April 2006 for $5.4 million, the Phoenix City Council overlaid a historic designation on the site. This would have protected the decaying Palmcroft Apartments, built in 1943. Haskins protested the council's actions by filing a lawsuit. Last month, the City Council backed off and Haskins quickly emerged with his redevelopment plans.

"I think this is an A-1 site in the most beautiful and best historic neighborhood in Phoenix," he said. "I think I hit the sweet spot."

Asbestos removal has started on Palmcroft's 33 units in preparation for demolition, which is scheduled to begin next month. Construction will start in early 2008.

When buyers move in around mid-2009, emerging and established retailers will be ready to serve them.

A Starbucks recently opened there, and in June a Pei Wei Asian Diner will open next door in a restored building on the southwest corner of Seventh Avenue and McDowell.

Logan Van Sittert, a Phoenix architect and developer, has owned that property (circa 1930s) for years, but it wasn't until recently that the pieces fell into place for a viable redevelopment plan.

"It was a project whose time had come," Van Sittert said. "People are really happy with it. All we get are nice compliments."

Phoenix-based Indianola Partners is co-developer with Van Sittert Associates.

Besides owning and developing the Starbucks and Pei Wei, Van Sittert owns property to the west, including his architecture offices.

Next door, marketing and public relations company E.B. Lane has been a mainstay in the area since 1971. The company started with one Spanish-style stucco home and kept remodeling adjacent residential properties. Now it occupies 22,000 square feet of rehabbed space.

"We've had the same address for over 35 years. We're very committed to real estate in the area," said E.B. Lane President and Chief Executive Beau Lane.

Although Lane is credited with keeping faith in the neighborhood through tough times, Van Sittert said David Lacy, owner of My Florist Café and Willo Bakery on the northeast corner of Seventh Avenue and McDowell, really has driven the neighborhood's most recent resurgence.

When Lacy purchased the aging retail site in 1993 to start a wholesale bakery, the former anchor tenant, My Florist, had been closed for several years and the building was vacant. The busy corner attracted attention, if only for its tattered facade.

Lacy conceded it was a risky investment.

"I had friends questioning my sanity," he said. "It was pretty forlorn looking." It was, however, "perfect for a wholesale bakery."
The bakery was a success and started attracting retail customers. Lacy then opened My Florist Café, "and little by little others joined in," he said.

More redevelopment is on tap now that Lacy has sold his properties to Tempe-based Lawrence & Geyser Development Corp. He's leasing back the space he uses.

"We actually own now everything from Seventh Avenue to Fifth Avenue on the north side (of McDowell)," co-founder Jeff Geyser said. "Our goal is to create a nice retail center."

The company will preserve many of the structures, including Lacy's businesses.

"Those are wonderful buildings. We're meeting with several (potential) tenants," Geyser said. "There's definitely more excitement to come. We see that intersection as a gateway to the historic neighborhoods."

Don Keuth, president of the Phoenix Community Alliance, believes this is just the beginning of more positive activity in the area.

"That whole area down to the fairgrounds is ripe for development," Keuth said.

He noted that the $900 million city of Phoenix bond program passed last year included more than $2 million for studying what kind of redevelopment would best suit the fairgrounds, Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the adjacent neighborhoods.

"The buzz is occurring all around there. You'll see a lot more of that going on," Keuth said.

soleri May 12, 2007 7:31 PM

I know GG George from my days as a Willo neighborhood activist. She's got that indomitable spirit which is great when you agree with her and irritating when you don't. Encanto-Palmcroft is her passion but the days have long passed when it was under any real danger. The danger now is that it will simply use blind NIMBYism to fight some appropriate development along its borders.

The apartment complex being demolished was "renovated" in the 1980s to look like a slum. Before that, it was modest but attractive. Why anyone would want to preserve it is beyond me although some preservationists will ride any old hobby horse as long as they think they look good in a saddle. The real issue is probably the height of the proposed project. At four stories, it will permit some viewlines into Palmcroft backyards, a trauma for those who thought city living included nude sunbathing.

There was one rezoning case in Encanto Palmcroft that was particularly nasty. A physician had bought a house for her office on 7th Avenue. She was the type who respected the neighborhood and adjoining houses. Her only sin was that she would be caring for a limited clientele. GG George fought her tooth and nail, calling in all her chits in city government and the Council. She prevailed. But the physician was not a substantial corporation and could only afford modest legal representation. This time, it's different and I find myself actually sympathizing with greedy developers. What the inner city needs, even this neighborhood, are more affluent residents. Yes, protect those gorgeous houses. But don't make a principle out of passion. That simply leads to pointless battles instead of strategic accommodation.

combusean May 15, 2007 12:46 AM

I just put the earnest deposit down in a unit at 636 Studios, a very quaint 10 unit complex of studio condos on 4th avenue and McKinley. Built 1930, renovated 2006. There are a few even smaller units left at $110k, but not as good value..either way you have all the luxury appointments, just not the size. :D If you are a first-time homebuyer like myself (or otherwise), they've got a relatively cheap way to get in with no closing costs or down payment, just the earnest deposit. Just get loftlovr as your realtor first as my guy was rather vacant. ;)

Realtor photos:

Phoenix is going to be stuck with me for a while. :D

jvbahn May 15, 2007 9:59 AM

Congrats Sean! We need interior pics when you move in. I saw those about a year ago, when the prices were a tad higher. Thought it was a good investment, like a mini-PHX-Melrose Place, and that neighborhood will be supercool when all is built in the long-run. Cibo will probably see you a lot.

combusean May 15, 2007 1:56 PM

Yeah, I vaguely recall seeing these on the MLS when they were something like twice the price. I took enough time off from looking so I could actually buy and found these quite randomly.

Don B. May 15, 2007 2:05 PM

^ I forgot - where are you living now? Regardless - congrats. Party at Sean's!? :D

You should let me photograph your unit with my wide-angle lens. I can make a small place look positively enormous with it. :)


sundevilgrad May 15, 2007 6:04 PM

Shameless plug... I like it.

Don B. May 15, 2007 8:29 PM

^ Well, not really. More like laziness - it's the only image I have where I have the contrast side by side without having to host up each individual image with an explanation. That and I'm in the middle of my last final - a bitch of a Contracts II exam - and time is limited today.

If someone has a problem with this (most of you aren't my target audience anyways), then I'll be happy to fix it tomorrow. Recrop and rehost.


sundevilgrad May 15, 2007 8:47 PM

I actually like it, and might be contacting you when (if) we put our house on the market...

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