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Phoenix Preservationists Move Forward Amid National Attention

October 26, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

A week removed from the demolition of the Madison Hotel, and the preservation community is still reeling.

The remains of the Madison Hotel sit glaring into the still-growing core of downtown. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

Since then, the eye of the national preservation community has once again zeroed in on Phoenix.

On Sunday, The New York Times ran a lengthy feature piece in its New York print edition on the precarious-at-best position of historic buildings in Phoenix, making distinct note of both the David & Gladys Wright House and the Madison Hotel.

Then a few days later, veteran arts and architecture writer Robrt L. Pela contributed a post to the Phoenix New Times, articulating exactly why, in particular, the Wright House is “architecture worth saving”.

And just yesterday, several sources reported the re-listing of the Wright House for sale, though the property’s owners have been quoted as saying that if the house is awarded Landmark status by the City Council, they will simply sit on the property for the requisite three years, and demolish it anyway.

Ironically, this past weekend also marked the arrival of the informal season of historic building tours, beginning with the Grand Avenue Historic Commercial Building and Adaptive Reuse tours.

Looking down Grand at Bragg’s Pies and the Lodge, two historic spots renovated and repurposed in the name of art. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

Back for their fourth year, the tours showcased rarely-seen buildings on lower Grand Avenue, guided by a variety of Phoenix historians, including Marshall Shore, Douglas Towne, John Jacquemart and Will Novak. This year, the featured buildings were the 1935 Phoenix Laundry and Dry Cleaning (still active as Milum Textiles), the 1917 OS Stapley Hardware Store buildings and the 1940s masonry building at 1205 W. Grand, now a working law office.

The tours themselves though, are but a few of many adaptively reused properties along Grand. Galleries, studios, shops and even residences occupy such structures as the 1920s Shaugnessey buildings, 1930s Piggly Wiggly, 1930s Bragg’s Pies and 1930 Foursquare Gospel Church, among others.

Compared to nearly any other street in Phoenix, Grand cares about its historic properties.

Thanks to the stewardship of artist and property owner Beatrice Moore since the 1990s, Grand has established its legacy of preservation, leading others (including architecture and preservation firm Motley Design Group) to locate on the Avenue and bank on its continued growth.

Bordering parts of Grand is the F.Q. Story Neighborhood, which will host its own 28th annual historic home tour and street fair.

Ten homes of varying design and age will be open to the public over two days, showcasing architectural styles including Spanish Colonial Revival, English Tudor, Craftsman bungalows and Transitional Ranch, according to the tour’s website.

Over the years, Story has positioned itself as one of the best-preserved and best-organized neighborhoods in Central Phoenix, fighting tooth and nail for the cause of preservation in the face of big-money development, and the encroachment of the I-10 freeway in the 1980s.

Students in the ASU Community Encounters class begin their tour of downtown at the Louis Emerson House. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

Also on November 2nd, just a few blocks away, the Evans-Churchill Community Association is holding its second Interesting Interiors Tour, offering public looks inside of the neighborhood’s most architecturally-significant buildings.

Though Evans-Churchill has faced much harder luck than its neighbors over the years in regard to preservation, it still plays host to a variety of significant structures.

Among the dozen-plus properties on display are the pre-statehood Louis Emerson House, the Brockway House, Combine Studios, monOrchid and 300M.

Even as Phoenix at large struggles to find its footing to preserve its most significant structures, individual neighborhoods continue to fight the good fight, proudly displaying their victories to the public at every opportunity.

For those who think this city has no history, one only needs to venture to one of the tours listed above to see the pride in the past that remains among Phoenix’s more passionate souls and in its more unique neighborhoods.


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