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Preserved Beauty on Display

April 6, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

As the spring wraps up and temperatures start to rise in the Valley, festivals and tours attempt to get in one last outdoor hurrah.

These past two weeks were prime examples of such festivities, featuring two major historic property tours, one hosted by the AIA’s Arizona branch, the other the legendary Modern Phoenix Expo + Home Tour.

Each event brought out dozens of attendees, with one catering to more industry-centric folks, and the other welcoming anyone interested in the Phoenix’s midcentury design peak.

The Reincarnation Tour

Restoration Place/Cannon Design a.k.a. Knights of Pythias Phoenix Lodge #2, built 1928 (Photo courtesy of Connor Descheemaker

March is labeled Eco Month for the Arizona component of the American Institute of Architects. To commemorate the occasion, each year the AIA-AZ curates a full month of events flaunting the importance of “green” building and eco-friendly design.

The main event of the month’s activities was the Reincarnation Tour, a daylong fete centering on the key phrase, “Reuse is the Ultimate Recycle,” which guided the entire day’s festivities.

The event featured a panel discussion with four major figures in the world of adaptive reuse in Arizona, followed by a full-day self-guided tour of local success stories of adaptive reuse.

The discussion itself took place in the celebrated FilmBar, a ‘60s stamp factory-turned-indie movie theatre, performance space and bar, designed by local AIA architect Taz Loomans (who also happened to be sitting on the panel for the day). Other panelists were Michael Levine of Levine Machine Development, LLC, owner and renovator of numerous buildings in Downtown’s Warehouse District, including The Duce and Bentley Projects; Brendan Mahoney, Senior Advisor for Economic and Community Development to Mayor Greg Stanton; and Cindy Dach, Acting Director of Roosevelt Row CDC and property owner/renovator in the Roosevelt District.

Topics for the discussion swirled from speaker to speaker, including notable rants by the ever-intriguing Michael Levine, long-known for his hard-nosed Brooklyn-born attitude.

Some choice quotes from the day:

On Phoenix’s inability to fully grasp adaptive reuse—“What we need to [ask is] how do we create a structure that makes adaptive reuse the most economically sensible choice.”—Brendan Mahoney

On the inherent qualities of old buildings—“These buildings embody a lot of character that hard to generate…you can’t fake history…No matter how great of an architect you are, you can’t fake it.”—Taz Loomans

On temporary reuse generating economic activity in Roosevelt Row—“The businesses reported such an increase in traffic with the sunflowers!”—Cindy Dach

On how to get people to understand the need for preservation—“[We need to learn] how to give some intrinsic value to the land.”—Michael Levine

Crescent Ballroom a.k.a. F.L. Hart Garage, built 1917 (Photo courtesy of Connor Descheemaker

Following audience questions and some mingling, the group of 60+ dispersed to the city to view Downtown’s greatest examples of adaptive reuse. Due to prior commitments, I was only able to view the first of five “zones” of buildings grouped around the light rail. However, in just that short time, I was able to view the Phoenix Public Market, Crescent Ballroom, A.E. England Building in Civic Space Park, Restoration Place/Cannon Design (built as the Knights of Pythias Phoenix Lodge #2) and Matt’s Big Breakfast, all decades-old structures which have found new life thanks to visionary architects and business-owners.

Modern Phoenix

In 2003, Modern Phoenix was founded as a massive web resource bank and message board documenting midcentury design in Phoenix, especially in relation to architecture. As time went on and interest in the site grew, founder Alison King sought a new way to reach the many fans of midcentury modernism in the Valley.

After much deliberation, King made the decision to hold the first annual Modern Phoenix Home Tour + Expo in 2005, hosting 120 of the Valley’s biggest “MoPho’s”, a term coined to represent fans of Modern Phoenix and midcentury modern design.

Fast-forward to 2012, and Modern Phoenix is in its eighth year, now drawing over 1,000 design enthusiasts spread out over a week’s worth of activities.

Hundreds attend the Expo held at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, which features midcentury-style artisans, historic preservation groups and authors alongside a half-dozen presentations on various issues related to architecture and modern design. And hundreds more gobble up tickets many weeks in advance to attend the Best of Phoenix award-winning Home Tour, centering on a different historic neighborhood each year.

At Saturday’s Expo, the highlight of the day was the keynote lecture, which explained the enigmatic history of the long-developed-but-short-lived Rose Pauson House, built by Frank Lloyd Wright for a woman of the same name. Though the house burned down under two years after its completion, its remains stayed put for decades and the iconic design became part of the lore of Phoenix and Wright.

The lecture was led by Pauson’s own great-nephew, who presented his great-aunt’s many photos of the home alongside Wright’s many designs and architectural plans. However, adding a unique twist, the lecture featured a two-person performance utilizing some of the many letters (personal and professionl) exchanged by Pauson and Wright during the years of the house’s construction.

Sunday’s Tour focused on the Marion Estates development and its surrounding area near Phoenix’s Arcadia neighborhood. Major highlights from the tour included:


Frank Lloyd Wright’s Boomer House, 1953 (Photo Courtesy of Connor Descheemaker)


Ralph Haver split-level Evertson House from 1959 (Photo Courtesy of Connor Descheemaker)


Alfred Newman Beadle’s 1959 Healy/Fearnow Residence, updated by Beadle himself as one of his final project before his death. (Photo Courtesy of Connor Descheemaker)


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