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March, 2012

  1. Vanishing Places and Vanishing People

    March 30, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

    Vanishing Phoenix to me encompasses far more than buildings.

    I feel that this blog is responsible for speaking for all things that could go by the wayside in our great city. And this includes the people.

    As the city expands, evolves, modernizes at every turn, we musn’t forget the people which give Phoenix its true character. We must look around us and allow anyone and everyone to enter into our lives, not just the wealthy gentrifiers.

    Wednesday night, I left the Downtown Devil Discussion on public spaces to inhabit another public space: the light rail.

    Every day I ride the rail to and from my home in Tempe, and I truly cherish it. Not only does the trip provide me with time to prepare for or decompress from a long day of school and work, it places me in an environment which always allows for serendipitous encounters—the true sign of a wonderful, prosperous public space.

    This particular day, it was later in the evening, and I had spent an exhausting day Downtown; I just wanted to get home.

    At this time of night, especially during the week, an eclectic array of passengers is to be expected. Here is when the forgotten people of the city take their leave from the core for the long ride home.

    I had my bike for the day, so I stationed myself amid the bike racks in the center of the rail car. To my right sat a middle-aged black man, missing teeth, clearly weathered by the world he had experienced. At his knees he propped up a soiled mountain bike attached to a toddler trailer, stocked with two sizable djembes.

    Across from me sat a white man in his 30s, laying his head exhaustedly on the window of the train, moving quickly from wakefulness to sleep. Down the car, I spotted a young white boy, heavy and dirty, looking around innocently, though clearly faced with a difficult world.

    As we crossed the bridge over Tempe Town Lake, the boy moved into our section, looking excitedly at the view out the window, leading the middle-aged man to comment on the bridges’ lit beauty in the night. The man added that he was returning from performing at a Downtown march in support of Trayvon Martin, the slain Florida teen who has brought the entire nation to talk once more about race relations in America.

    The man had skipped his usual Wednesday-night drum circle gig at the Lake, dismally noting the minimal turnout at the march. He smiled at my attention, and quickly invited me to come by sometime and view his performance.

    At Mill, with the help of the boy (especially happy to help) and I, the man maneuvered his bike out of the train and thanked us for his service. The train lurched onward.

    Now united by our aid of the man, the boy eagerly began to converse with me, along the way noting his dire state and asking me for a dollar to get himself a bus ticket home, which I happily obliged. Aside, he asked if the rail security had come through, admitting his own lack of a rail ticket.

    By this time, the younger man had awakened, and smiled genuinely at the boy and I. He began asking me questions, initiating a good-natured dialogue between the two of us: me sharing my college life, and he sharing his work at the Banner Good Samaritan hospital near Downtown.

    Most times he asked a question, the precocious boy chimed in with his own answer, illuminating his own life in the process.

    The man elaborated on his joy in working with the people at the hospital; that despite the busyness of his job, he knew he was providing something valuable, and was able to interact with truly invested people.

    The train stopped once more, and in stepped two security guards, ready to check tickets. The boy fearfully exited before they could expose his sad lacking, my dollar in hand.

    Further along, the man noted the architecture of the hospital in which he worked, seeming to pick up on my mention of urban planning earlier.

    “A lot of people criticize it, but it’s really pretty functional. It has a clover design from above with an elevator tower in the center.”

    There was clearly more to this man than met my (weary) eye.

    “It was actually done by a very famous architect [Bertrand Goldman and Associates, Chicago] and its blueprints are in the Chicago Art Museum.”

    He certainly had my attention.

    From there, our conversation continued on the topic architecture. He brought up the current Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum. The man effortlessly moved from one loving description to another, expressing awe at the incredible array of original drawings of Wright’s on display, lingering on his amazement at the full city plans [Broadacre City] put together by Wright during his creative peak.

    I couldn’t help myself. I probed more deeply into his interest in architecture. At this, he sheepishly backtracked, recounting a bit of his family’s story, noting the perspective it provided in his life, and lamenting his need for practicality.

    Sadly, as the rail requires, my stop arrived, and I was forced to take my own leave. He shared his name, and I departed with a wide grin.

    As Phoenix modernizes and (hopefully) re-imagines its history, there are many things to keep in mind.

    As the new condos arrive, and the multi-million dollar re-models return to market, we must not forget about those around us.

    A thing that vanishes is first forgotten. And throughout our history, Phoenix has repeatedly let that tragedy occur with its buildings. But we cannot afford to let that happen with our people.

    The people will be the ones which hold our true history, and will pass it on to those that arrive next.

    That is the mark of a truly great city: a place which does not let its past vanish.

  2. Odds and Ends

    March 23, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

    For this week’s post, we’ll be covering a little bit of everything.

    This year being Arizona’s centennial, numerous tours and events are showcasing the history of the state, with many long-dormant structures seeing their first activity in years.

    First, in preservation and renovation news, Tovrea Castle and Hayden Flour Mill

    Tovrea Castle

    Photo Courtesy of Flickr user koiart71

    What is that? Is that Wrigley Mansion? Mystery Castle?

    These are the questions I often hear from tourists and retirees (and even natives!) on the light rail as they pass this fabled cake-like structure near 52nd Street and Van Buren in Phoenix.

    The property’s true origins lie in Italian immigrant Alessio Carraro, who arrived in Phoenix via San Francisco in 1928 as a successful sheet metal manufacturer, gold miner, and land developer. Carraro purchased the Castle’s current property with aspirations to turn it into a high-end resort and housing project, banking on the area’s potential for growth.

    After two years of construction, the crown jewel of the development was completed: what we now know as Tovrea Castle.

    Sadly though, a change in fate caused Carraro to sell the central structure and surrounding land to E.A. Tovrea and his family, who kept the property as a private residence.

    In 1993, after falling into disrepair, the Castle was purchased by the City of Phoenix; a property that had since become a locus for lore in the city.

    Beginning in 1998, the City began restoring the gardens surrounding the property to their former grandeur. 13 years and thousands of dollars in private donations and public bonds later, Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights is open to the public for the first time ever.

    Since the beginning of March, the Castle has been offering two tours each Saturday and Sunday of the historic structure’s ground floor and basement, along with the surrounding gardens. Most recently, as the tours have gained popularity and recognition, the Tovrea Carraro Society (the non-profit which oversees the property) has issued a call for volunteers to provide tours for the thousands of curious Phoenix residents, tourists and passersby who have long marveled at the Valley’s most famous “cake.”

    Hayden Flour Mill

    Photo Courtesy of Flickr user kevin dooley

    Since 1874, a Hayden Flour Mill has stood along the Salt River (along today’s Mill Avenue) in Tempe.

    Town pioneer Charles Trumbull Hayden brought industry to the land near the roaring river in the late 19th century, rebuilding his mill from scratch twice following devastating fires, eventually ending up with the property’s current cast-in-place concrete structure, completed in 1917. Across three generations, the mill remained in continuous operation, finally ceasing operations totally in 1998.

    Since the mill’s closing, the City of Tempe has fielded numerous proposals to redevelop the Downtown landmark and make it a true icon for the city.

    After several development failures and another fire on the property, the City and Downtown Tempe Community Inc. decided to take matters into their own hands, helping fund a facelift for the building’s exterior and grounds, creating a temporary use for the property as a public space and events venue.

    Over the past few months, construction crews have been working on the ground floor of the Mill, making it viewable to the public, while putting in public art and making room for the Tempe Urban Garden—previously located adjacent to the City Hall parking garage.

    The facelift is aimed to reignite interest in the property, and engage the public in what should be a major historic landmark, rather than an eyesore for visitors to the vibrant Mill Avenue district.

    Upcoming Events

    The Reincarnation Tour

    March is Eco Month for the American Institute of Architects. To celebrate, the AIA’s Arizona chapter has programmed an entire month of events, culminating in the Reincarnation Tour of adaptively reused properties throughout Downtown Phoenix.

    The daylong event begins at 11a.m. at FilmBar with an hourlong community panel discussion on adaptive reuse in Phoenix, featuring such luminaries as Michael Levine, Taz Loomans, and Cindy Dach. Following the discussion, attendees will be led through dozens of historic structures across Downtown for drinks, food and entertainment. See all the details for this FREE event on Facebook.

    Check back next week for a review (with photos!) of the tour and discussion.

    Modern Phoenix Week

    Eight years running, Modern Phoenix Week is back in the Valley! Beginning tonight with an art opening at Phoenix Metro Retro, Phoenix and Scottsdale will be alive with midcentury modern design.

    Numerous tours, lectures and openings will all culminate in the annual Expo and Seminars on Saturday the 31st, and the Home Tour on Sunday the 1st. The festivities will be taking place all over town, so make sure to check throughout the week for updates and programming information.

    Check back in two weeks for a full review of the Modern Phoenix Expo and Seminars.

  3. The Historical Significance of Art Detour

    March 16, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

    This weekend represents the arrival of the 24th edition of Art Detour. This annual gallery and studio tour brings out the best work of the year from the top Downtown artists alongside visitors from across the state, region, and even the country.

    What began as a small gathering in a largely-dormant downtown has turned into an annual attraction, drawing thousands to the city for what has now become known as an extended First Friday of sorts, due to the soaring popularity of the annual tour’s monthly offshoot.

    In honor of the event’s return, and the return of Vanishing Phoenix, I’ll be throwing the spotlight on the two oldest galleries left in the city: The IceHouse and Alwun House.

    Alwun House

    (Photo by Connor Descheemaker)

    It could be said that the entire Downtown arts scene was built on the back of the Alwun House.

    Over the past 41 years, the Garfield District bungalow has played host to the most outrageous, boundary-pushing art the Wild West has ever seen. And though it’s been an arts fixture for so many decades, it’s been an historic plot of land for even longer.

    The property at 1204 East Roosevelt Street began as the sole stately residence of a neighborhood now in transition. Built for German immigrant and merchant John Sedler in 1912, the house spurred the so-called “Sedler’s Addition” in what is now the Garfield Historic District, just outside the core of Downtown Phoenix. The Sedler House was the only property in the area, overlooking acres of alfalfa fields to the south of the homestead.

    By 1948, Sedler and his family had sold the house to Earl Brown and his family, with whom it remained until 1971.

    Though the house began in a wealthy, well-regarded fashion, in Brown’s hands the property began to blend in with the growing neighborhood, which after World War II became home to increasingly large numbers of African-American migrants from the South. The property sadly decayed along with the rest of the neighborhood until a new set of visionaries arrived to take the masterpiece home into its next golden era.

    In 1971, Alwun House Founder Kim Moody purchased the historic home, aiming to make it a hub for alternative arts of all kinds in Phoenix.

    The first decade featured massive retrofitting, with Moody and others cleaning and refurbishing the house, and establishing the gardens for which the House has become famous. Formed as a non-profit, the space was able to pursue multiple angles at once, becoming a contemporary art gallery on the main floor and a theater and performance space in the basement. Additionally, the Alwun House became home to the first downtown coffee shop and the first staging of performance art ever in the Valley.

    The center’s peak came in the ‘90s when Alwun House hosted the Carribean Carnival festivals, which drew as many as 17,000 visitors at locations across the city. But one year, the festival went awry due to inclement weather, leaving the House in foreclosure and Downtown’s alternative arts legacy hanging in the balance.

    Luckily, thanks to a few fortunate grants and donations, Dana Johnson and original owner Moody were able to regain the House and put it back on stable footing.

    41 years in, the “Sedler House” has been the Alwun House for more years than any previous incarnation. Placed on the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office’s Inventory of Historic Properties in 1993, and listed as a registered historic property in 2005, the Alwun House is here to stay.

    The IceHouse

    (Photo by Connor Descheemaker)

    This massive, raw industrial building has been captivating artists and art enthusiasts for over 20 years, but it is its historic purposes that are truly amazing.

    Though there is some argument over the date of the building’s construction, the property owners lay claim to two separate periods of building: 1919 and 1921. At this time, the facility went by a different name.

    In 1919, Constable Ice Storage was founded and the loading dock was constructed. From there, large blocks of ice would be hauled onto passing train cars in the era before refrigeration, keeping vital food stores cold for trips to the east and west.

    In 1921, the building was expanded with into what are now known as the Cathedral, Silver, and White Column Rooms. Constable expanded its production of ice, utilizing numerous rooms enclosed by foot-thick doors to manufacture and preserve the ice it so vitally provided.

    Once refrigerated rail cars arrived, Constable Ice Storage was transformed into another kind of storage: crime storage. For several decades, the Phoenix Police Department used the space to store crime-scene evidence. Most notably, the facility was said to have held the remains of Don Bolles’ car, the Arizona Republic reporter who died in an alleged mob hit while he investigated the mafia’s presence in the Valley.

    In 1990, the space was converted to its current use: experimental arts wonderland. The trailblazing David Therrien and Helen Hestenes, formerly of the infamous CRASHarts space on South Seventh Avenue, bought the building, which played host to a wild array of arts-related antics throughout the ‘90s.

    Famously, the venue housed two CRASH Grand Prix’s (a parade of heavy-metal art cars), the CRASH Culture Awards, the first-ever Phoenix-Mexico artist exchange under NAFTA with X-Teresa in Mexico City, and two shows from Mark Pauline and his legendary Survival Research Laboratories.

    After a setback during the couple’s divorce, the venue returned strongly for awhile before falling on hard times along with the economy. However, over the past year the space has experienced a resurgence, putting it once again at the forefront of the Downtown Phoenix arts scene.

    Both spaces will be open all weekend long for Art Detour. Be sure to visit for all the details.

  4. Welcome

    March 16, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

    Welcome to the all-new Vanishing Phoenix.

    Two years ago, this blog was founded by some of Phoenix’s most engaged advocates, aiming to shed light on the largely-disregarded history of this young city. Through dozens of posts, the authors documented Tovrea Castle, No Festival Required, the Arizona Preservation Foundation and many other buildings, groups and events dedicated to the same cause.

    Similarly, at the Downtown Devil, my colleague (and current Managing Editor) Jack Fitzpatrick took a keen interest in Phoenix’s history upon his arrival in the city. Each week, he documented a different historic building, detailing its past, present and future, taking care to show its vitality and importance within the context of the city.

    Consider this the culmination of all that came prior.

    A few weeks ago, the authors of Vanishing Phoenix came to the Downtown Devil with a proposition to take over the dormant blog, and give it new life on our blooming array of sub-sites. As a long-time reader myself, I jumped at the opportunity to contribute to the ever-growing dialogue of preservation and understanding in Phoenix.

    This blog will be a hub of information for all things Phoenix history, with an emphasis on Downtown and Midtown. Through weekly posts, Vanishing Phoenix will feature various historic buildings and their current uses, interviews with preservationists and architects, previews and reviews of building tours and other events and much, much more.

    The site will evolve over the next few weeks as we add archived content from both the previous incarnation of Vanishing Phoenix and PHX History to provide a veritable compendium of information on Phoenix’s historical background.

    Phoenix is rising yet again, but this time with its history intact. I hope you’ll join me.