Vanishing Phoenix is back!
This week we return with a brand-new profile on one of the few remaining structures in Phoenix’s historic Warehouse District: the Chambers Transfer & Storage Co.
Not to be confused with the other Chambers Transfer & Storage Co. on Jackson Street between Central Avenue and First Street (built in 1925), this particular structure sits almost against the also-historic Union Station, on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Jackson Street.
Built in 1923, Chambers Transfer & Storage was one of the many cottage industries which sprung up Downtown with the arrival trains in the city. Built before the completion of Union Station and the connection of the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific rail lines, the structure anticipated the economic boon the rail was sure to be.
Named for the Chambers Co., the structure is said to have been built on spec by the O’Malley Lumber Company. Phoenix historical record, however, never confirms whether the lumber company ever actually occupied the space, as the structure was used by Chambers beginning in 1924.
The style of the structure is known as Spanish colonial revival, a style very rare within the Warehouse District. This Spanish influence is most clearly reflected in the tower-like structures which dominate each edge of the building, with the most prominent one placed right on the corner, prompting passersby with a commanding stimulus to visit. The over-100,000 square-foot structure is the only known project both designed and built by T.B. Stewart Construction Co., a highly-regarded contracting firm during the ‘20s. The company utilized reinforced concrete for the building’s structure, then coating it with tan brick to enhance its visual appearance.
As was the case with many commercial structures built in this era, the Chambers Building (as it is known locally) was constructed as a mixed-use development. Warehouse space would dominate the back of the building and the upper two floors, while the main floor facing the street would feature prominent retail, drawing visitors just exiting the train at Union Station.
According to an early newspaper ad for Chambers Transfer & Storage, the company occupied “four modern warehouses” in the area, along with the 126,500 square feet of storage space offered at the Chambers Building. The warehousing operation of the company integrated with the freight and distribution needs of the train station, with Chambers Co. specifically focusing on importing goods to Phoenix from far-off locales.
Till the 1990s, The Chambers Company (later renamed Chambers Moving & Storage Co., before merging with Mayflower trucking) remained the property owner and main tenant. But, after seven decades of continuity, new plans were eventually put in place.
During the 1990s, with the arrival of America West Arena (now US Airways Center) and Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field), the Warehouse District experienced a brief renaissance. Artists displaced by the sports stadiums’ construction filled the remaining warehouse and loft spaces, and a group led by the IceHouse art space proposed redeveloping the entire area into an arts district, similar to Roosevelt Row today but on a grander, city-supported scale. With the Chambers Building’s proximity to the marquee Union Station, it garnered a large amount of hype to be transformed into a hip, new housing or studio complex.
However, as reported by a 2000 Arizona Republic op-ed column, it was not meant to be. As part of a reported $150,000 exterior renovation, the building’s magnificent windows were “filled in with concrete” and the interior was leased by Telecom Center, a telecommunications company who chose the building due to its sturdy construction.
In the decade-plus since, the Chambers Building has remained a telecom center, with the property owned by Maricopa County, notorious for its decades of abusing and tearing down historic properties.
But small signs of life exist. For decades, the property has been listed on both the Phoenix Historic Property Register and the National Register of Historic Places. To this day, the property remains occupied by the Telecom Center, and in solid ownership by Maricopa County.
Blogger’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that the new Ra-Apparel clothing company was occupying the upper floor of THIS Chambers Building. Upon further research, the upstart business is working in the upper floor of the OTHER Chambers Building on Jackson Street near First Avenue. Vanishing Phoenix apologizes for the misleading information.
Blogger’s Note: All information in this post, unless noted, came from the 1984 Junior League of Phoenix Historic Phoenix Commerical Properties Survey, never replicated. The study documented all current and potential historic properties in the Phoenix area. A big thanks to John Jacquemart and the Phoenix Historic Preservation Office for their help in accessing this invaluable material.