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Posts Tagged ‘Downtown Phoenix’

  1. Clock Ticks Out for Historic Madison; Hope for St. James Remains

    October 18, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

    Downtown Phoenix awakened yesterday to the sound of construction equipment rending the walls of one of the Warehouse District’s oldest remaining commercial structures.

    Around 10 a.m., an excavator belched to life on the grounds of the historic Madison and St. James Hotels, clawing its way into the exterior of the pre-statehood Madison.

    The excavator makes its first mark on the pre-statehood Madison’s East wall. (Jack Fitzpatrick/DD)

    Just Monday evening, at the monthly Historic Preservation Commission inside City Hall, Acting Director of the Historic Preservation Office Michelle Dodds reported that the City of Phoenix was in talks with the property owners, Suns Legacy Partners, to preserve at least part of the historic structures. However, she made sure to note that the Suns could demolish the properties at any time.

    But much to the surprise of many on the Commission board, earlier that same day, chainlink fencing went up around the perimeter of the hotels. And the following day, the fateful excavator made its way into the alley of the buildings.

    Throughout Wednesday, dozens passed Madison Street across from US Airways Center to say their final goodbyes to the Madison Hotel.

    Across the alleyway from the hotels, Margie Falls has sat for ten years as the Manager of Downtown Mini Storage, an Ed Varney-designed storage facility dating back to 1947.

    “It’s kind of hard to watch. I’ve been here [in Phoenix] since 1928. [There have been] too many old teardowns.”

    For nearly every year of her 84-year life, Falls has resided in central Phoenix and witnessed the immense changes that have taken place in the area.

    “I’d like to see it almost like it was after World War II…When the Second World War happened, everyone moved East. If you wanted to better yourself and you had money, you moved out of this place.”

    Of the historic hotels’ clientele and reputation during their final years of operation, Falls said “The hotel and bar always catered to the homeless and very poor. It’s always been a district that [you] wouldn’t come into after dark.”

    A rare peek into the front door of the St. James Hotel (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    In a phone interview during the demolition’s proceedings, City Manager and preservation advocate David Cavazos made clear the City’s role in the historic properties’ life.

    “Several years ago, the Historic Preservation Officer at the time recommended the [Madison and St. James] for designation, and the City Manager agreed. The City Council, though, did not approve (historic) designation.”

    This was largely due to a policy enacted by the City Council in the wake of Prop 207, by which the council will not approve a property for historic designation without the owner’s approval.

    In the words of Mr. Cavazos, “Historic preservation is an encumbrance on property. Based on the way it’s designated, it’s valued differently.”

    In effect, this means that the City cannot place such a burden of historic-ness upon a property owner without their full agreement.

    But in this particular case, due to the Suns’ unique position as tenants of City property and partners with local government in a number of ways, Mayor Greg Stanton was able to step in and ask the Suns to delay the demolition at least temporarily, so that a healthier solution might be reached.

    “Sarver and others have a longstanding relationship with the City. They’ve been excellent partners and (Sarver) [has] held up his end of the bargain,” stated Cavazos in regard to Phoenix’s past with the Suns.

    With the St. James Hotel specifically being included on the National Register of Historic Places, the City was provided with some minimal leverage for the preservation of at least one of the structures.

    Cavazos said of the negotiations with the property owners, “The Mayor and [City] Manager looked at all options, and based on that encouragement, made a proposal to the Suns.”

    Further, Cavazos noted “When you have a partnership, [you] must have an entire partnership, and consider all factors and maintain transparency,” in regard to the Suns’ private property rights in the negotiations.

    But despite the talk of transparency, no details of the final preservation agreement between the Suns and the City were announced until after the demolition of the Madison Hotel was completed.

    In a prepared statement released to the media, Suns President Jason Rowley declared the change of heart experienced by the owners through their talks with the City:

    “After weeks of discussions, we are pleased to announce that through the leadership of Mayor Stanton and our management, we have reached an agreement that will save a significant portion of the St. James Hotel while allowing us to repurpose property which was, for the most part, unsalvageable.

    Our original plan was to raze both the Madison and St. James Hotels to meet the increased parking needs of the arena and surrounding downtown businesses. The Mayor contacted us and asked that we put our plans on hold so that we could explore other options, which we agreed to do. In the end, we were able to get access to additional parking and save the most architecturally significant portion of the St. James Hotel, preserving a piece of Arizona’s history for future generations.”

    According to suppositions from several sources, the plan is to preserve the St. James’ lobby and front façade, though the entirety of the structure remains in place as of press time.

    Though still claiming a minor victory, Mayor Stanton was less jovial in his prepared statement.

    “The Suns agreed to save a portion of the St. James, a hotel that is on the National Register of Historic Places, and I appreciate that the Suns changed their plan and accommodated my request. This instance highlights a larger policy issue our city faces. The city’s current investment in historic structures is inadequate, and if we really want to be serious about preserving historic buildings in the future, we need to find better financial solutions.”

    (Jack Fitzpatrick/DD)

    In a week that has seen the continuation of the David Wright House saga and the destruction of a century-old adobe structure in Higley, the Madison serves as another snapshot of Phoenix’s history, vanished.

  2. Chambers building seeing new life?

    April 20, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

    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.

    The historic Chambers Transfer & Storage Co. as it is seen today (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    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.

    The structure's high windows, now filled with concrete (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    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.

  3. Busy, Busy, Busy!

    April 13, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

    Photo Courtesy of Connor Descheemaker


    All week, Phoenix Urban Design Week has been taking control of Vanishing Phoenix. Unfortunately, that means no real new post for the week.

    However, that doesn’t mean the week is without preservation and history news!

    Make sure to check out all of the week’s Phoenix Urban Design Week coverage here. Especially take note of this story on Monday’s events, which included lectures by the authors of Images of America: Downtown Phoenix, and Sloane McFarland, principal of Martha + Mary, a local development firm devoted to fine-grain adaptive reuse projects (you might know him from this project best).

    Thanks for your understanding, and we’ll see you back next Friday!