At the corner of Central and Roosevelt streets just north of the downtown Phoenix core, sits a sizable old warehouse. The vague remnants of a sign signaling “Antiques” appear on its southern wall. With a collapsing roof, plain brown paint job, and patches of its skeleton exposed to the elements, to the untrained eye the DeSoto Building’s beauty escapes many.
Earlier in 2012, after roughly a decade of dormancy, a banner appeared briefly on the building’s West façade: Motley Design Group.
The prominent local architecture and preservation firm’s involvement in the building’s preservation brought cheers from across the community. And almost immediately, speculation began as to what form the structure would take in its next incarnation.
Earlier this year, I sat down with Motley principal architect and co-founder Robert Graham, who told me all about the streetside wonder’s past, present, and plans for its future.
Constructed in 1928, the building was exactly its namesake: a DeSoto car dealership, specifically C.P. Stephens DeSoto Six Motor Cars. With massive street-facing windows and a sizable indoor showroom, the shop was a distinct part of Central Avenue’s emerging car culture, joining numerous other dealerships and repair shops between Van Buren and McDowell.
Through about 1955, the building served as a car dealership, with business owner Stephens eventually adding Plymouth cars to his offerings.
Over time, with the decline of the Central Corridor, the building was adapted into other uses, leading to the division of its interior, the covering of its street-facing windows and the addition of garage doors on its northern and western sides.
More recently, the building was an antique shop, with pioneers of the Phoenix arts community like Beatrice Moore recalling its assorted wares.
The front façade peels. The southern part of the roof is partially collapsed. The interior is gutted and what remains of its former offices is fading fast. But its great hope remains.
Its location could not be more central, beckoning visitors from Central into the ever-vibrant Roosevelt Row arts district, celebrating the strength and character of the past while integrating into the blooming present.
Now, the building is owned by a man who made his living in trucking, and has begun investing in real estate.
After wintering in Phoenix for some time, and maintaining a private, historic garage along a funky stretch of Grand Avenue, this man decided to invest in something more permanent, “want[ing] to get more involved,” in the words of Graham.
And so he hired Graham and his firm, Motley, to rehab the facility as a sort of “hobby project”.
According to Graham, he wants to save the interior as much as possible, and to that end, the trusses inside the structure have held up remarkably well.
Now, with plans and renderings beginning to appear, Graham says there are three options for the space:
1. Find photos and rebuild the structure just as it was.
2. Construct a sort of “placeholder” design, adding certain modern features.
3. Remodel in a totally new light, while still maintaining compatibility and the historic integrity of the building.
In analyzing what to do next, Graham asked himself, “What are the essential elements of the building?”
For a veteran of preservation and architecture, character is the foremost concern.
Currently, the interior of the building is being stripped of its non-essential parts and any remaining detritus, with plans being shown to the Evans-Churchill Community Association and the City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission as they emerge. Even temporary uses for the external walls have been discussed as the building undergoes its transformation.
For the time being, the structure remains dark, but through propinquity, it has already been claimed for art.