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Posts Tagged ‘Historic Preservation’

  1. Lawyer’s Claims on Wright House Less Than Accurate

    October 5, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

    At the beginning of June, the word began spreading through the preservation community of a threat to one of our state’s (and possibly our nation’s) most significant homes.

    The City of Phoenix approved a lot split for a property in the Arcadia neighborhood of Phoenix. The particular arrangement of the split (right down the middle of the house on the property) effectively approved demolition.

    The house in question was the David and Gladys Wright House, built in 1952 by arguably the world’s most famous and prominent architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, to house his son and his family.

    An image of the David & Gladys Wright House during an open house this past weekend. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    The home had been recently purchased by the high-end, McMansion-producing development firm 8081 Meridian, who aimed to tear down the house and build two more houses in its place across the massive lot, effectively doubling their money.

    The historic home was constructed and designed entirely by Wright himself, from the structure to the carpets—one of roughly 30 such buildings in the United States. The home is especially noted for its curvilinear design, echoing the world-famous Guggenheim Museum design in New York, which wouldn’t be completed for another seven years.

    But I’m not here to tell you about the history of the house and what’s happened up to this point. You can check out The New York Times, NPR, CBS or The Arizona Republic to hear those stories.

    The reason I’m writing today is to address something brought up just a few days ago at the Camelback East Village Planning Committee meeting, where the Wright House narrowly was approved to go forward in the landmark designation process.

    (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    Thanks to some tips from a few attendees, and a recording of the meeting, it came to my attention that the lawyer for 8081 Meridian, in his defense of the developers’ property rights, referenced an article of mine from earlier this year on the process to save downtown’s historic Madison and St. James hotels.

    In his comments, Christopher W. Kramer noted a quote of from Michelle Dodds, Acting Historic Preservation Officer for the City of Phoenix. The quote in question read as follows:

    “According to Acting Historic Preservation Officer Michelle Dodds, there are no legal means available to prevent the buildings’ teardown, as “neither structure is [listed] on the local [historic property] register. Had they been listed, they would have three days with the Historic Preservation Office to approve or deny [the demolition].””

    Responding to the quote, Kramer said of the situation, “When we’re talking about the Phoenix Suns, well we can’t do anything about that because the owner doesn’t consent to its designation as an historic property…but when we’re talking about 8081 Meridian…building houses one house at a time, we can play with them, we can take their private property rights.”

    But upon further research, it became apparent that this case and that of the Hotels are completely separate. While the Hotels were seeking a spot on the city’s Historic Property Register, the Wright House is in the process of Landmark designation. And from there, the cases become even more disparate.

    I consulted with Ms. Dodds on the situation just the other day. She stated that with the Hotels, there had been multiple attempts to get the properties added to the Register, and each time they were denied by the City Council due to lack of property owner support. But, “On this house, the Council has no precedent. The Council has never had the opportunity [to hear the case].”

    Additionally, in pursuing Landmark designation (a designation initiated by the Zoning Department rather than Historic Preservation), there is no need to obtain the property owner’s consent, as long as at least one of the five criteria listed in the zoning ordinance are met.

    According to Grady Gammage, Jr., land-use attorney and son of the namesake for one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most notable buildings, Kramer first “cited the wrong section of the ordinance. [If it had been] Historic Preservation Policy they won’t initiate—but this wasn’t initiated by Historic Preservation. [It has become] city council policy that they won’t approve [landmark designation] without owner consent, which won’t become an issue until the November 7th city council meeting.”

    At the meeting itself, Gammage made his case even more clear.

    “…owner consent is required by the ordinance. It’s not. Owner consent is a policy that was adopted by the city council, and is therefore applied at the city council level in the post-[proposition] 207 time frame. You heard a claim that it is not possible for initiation of this kind of designation without the owner’s signature on the application form. That is clearly wrong…It specifically says that the historic preservation commission or the planning commission can initiate.”*

    The developers then argued that the state’s use of the property would be considered a “taking” under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.

    Mr. Gammage again refuted this claim, citing the Penn Central Transportation Co. Vs. New York City, a Supreme Court case which in effect ruled that historic property designation was not a “taking” under the Constitution.

    In Arizona, a Landmark designation only provides a three-year stay of demolition. In Gammage’s words at the meeting, “No, it’s only a three-year delay, which doesn’t rise to a Constitutional taking.”

    There was still yet more to 8081’s argument, claiming that the designation, under Prop 207, would leave the owners entitled to compensation from the City because such a ruling would hurt their property values.

    Mr. Gammage again responded in kind:

    “[The owners] didn’t close [on the property] until after the landmark process was begun. [And they] have had offers [on the property] predicated on it being designated historic. Clearly the landmark status isn’t hurting the land values of it at all. In fact, it’s probably helping its value since so many people know about this.”

    At the moment, the developers have multiple offers on the table from those looking to preserve the House, including one reportedly offering over $2 million in cash, giving the owners a profit of over $200,000, basically invalidating any claim of economic hardship.

    The overall confidence though of the developers remains.

    In his closing comments at the meeting, lawyer Christopher Kramer stated, “You can’t allow it. We won’t allow it. The courts won’t allow it. So you’re buying a lawsuit, basically, by approving this. By pushing it up the chain. You’re buying a lawsuit for the City of Phoenix. And we’re going to win. And the house is going to come down anyway.”

    We shall see.

    (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    *Blogger’s Note: Mr. Gammage’s Proposition 207 reference refers to a law passed by the public in 2006, which puts the state’s money in the balance if a particular land use law affects the property value of a private piece of land, among other factors. (The complete text of the proposition can be read here.)

    Blogger’s Note: A huge thank you to Jim McPherson, Will Novak, Michelle Dodds and Grady Gammage, Jr. for tipping me off to the content of the meeting, and helping with the research for this post. Also, an even bigger thank you to Dan Mitchell of the “Save the David and Gladys Wright House” Facebook group, who graciously provided me with a recording of most of the Village Planning Committee meeting.


  2. The Historical Significance of Art Detour

    March 16, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

    This weekend represents the arrival of the 24th edition of Art Detour. This annual gallery and studio tour brings out the best work of the year from the top Downtown artists alongside visitors from across the state, region, and even the country.

    What began as a small gathering in a largely-dormant downtown has turned into an annual attraction, drawing thousands to the city for what has now become known as an extended First Friday of sorts, due to the soaring popularity of the annual tour’s monthly offshoot.

    In honor of the event’s return, and the return of Vanishing Phoenix, I’ll be throwing the spotlight on the two oldest galleries left in the city: The IceHouse and Alwun House.

    Alwun House

    (Photo by Connor Descheemaker)

    It could be said that the entire Downtown arts scene was built on the back of the Alwun House.

    Over the past 41 years, the Garfield District bungalow has played host to the most outrageous, boundary-pushing art the Wild West has ever seen. And though it’s been an arts fixture for so many decades, it’s been an historic plot of land for even longer.

    The property at 1204 East Roosevelt Street began as the sole stately residence of a neighborhood now in transition. Built for German immigrant and merchant John Sedler in 1912, the house spurred the so-called “Sedler’s Addition” in what is now the Garfield Historic District, just outside the core of Downtown Phoenix. The Sedler House was the only property in the area, overlooking acres of alfalfa fields to the south of the homestead.

    By 1948, Sedler and his family had sold the house to Earl Brown and his family, with whom it remained until 1971.

    Though the house began in a wealthy, well-regarded fashion, in Brown’s hands the property began to blend in with the growing neighborhood, which after World War II became home to increasingly large numbers of African-American migrants from the South. The property sadly decayed along with the rest of the neighborhood until a new set of visionaries arrived to take the masterpiece home into its next golden era.

    In 1971, Alwun House Founder Kim Moody purchased the historic home, aiming to make it a hub for alternative arts of all kinds in Phoenix.

    The first decade featured massive retrofitting, with Moody and others cleaning and refurbishing the house, and establishing the gardens for which the House has become famous. Formed as a non-profit, the space was able to pursue multiple angles at once, becoming a contemporary art gallery on the main floor and a theater and performance space in the basement. Additionally, the Alwun House became home to the first downtown coffee shop and the first staging of performance art ever in the Valley.

    The center’s peak came in the ‘90s when Alwun House hosted the Carribean Carnival festivals, which drew as many as 17,000 visitors at locations across the city. But one year, the festival went awry due to inclement weather, leaving the House in foreclosure and Downtown’s alternative arts legacy hanging in the balance.

    Luckily, thanks to a few fortunate grants and donations, Dana Johnson and original owner Moody were able to regain the House and put it back on stable footing.

    41 years in, the “Sedler House” has been the Alwun House for more years than any previous incarnation. Placed on the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office’s Inventory of Historic Properties in 1993, and listed as a registered historic property in 2005, the Alwun House is here to stay.

    The IceHouse

    (Photo by Connor Descheemaker)

    This massive, raw industrial building has been captivating artists and art enthusiasts for over 20 years, but it is its historic purposes that are truly amazing.

    Though there is some argument over the date of the building’s construction, the property owners lay claim to two separate periods of building: 1919 and 1921. At this time, the facility went by a different name.

    In 1919, Constable Ice Storage was founded and the loading dock was constructed. From there, large blocks of ice would be hauled onto passing train cars in the era before refrigeration, keeping vital food stores cold for trips to the east and west.

    In 1921, the building was expanded with into what are now known as the Cathedral, Silver, and White Column Rooms. Constable expanded its production of ice, utilizing numerous rooms enclosed by foot-thick doors to manufacture and preserve the ice it so vitally provided.

    Once refrigerated rail cars arrived, Constable Ice Storage was transformed into another kind of storage: crime storage. For several decades, the Phoenix Police Department used the space to store crime-scene evidence. Most notably, the facility was said to have held the remains of Don Bolles’ car, the Arizona Republic reporter who died in an alleged mob hit while he investigated the mafia’s presence in the Valley.

    In 1990, the space was converted to its current use: experimental arts wonderland. The trailblazing David Therrien and Helen Hestenes, formerly of the infamous CRASHarts space on South Seventh Avenue, bought the building, which played host to a wild array of arts-related antics throughout the ‘90s.

    Famously, the venue housed two CRASH Grand Prix’s (a parade of heavy-metal art cars), the CRASH Culture Awards, the first-ever Phoenix-Mexico artist exchange under NAFTA with X-Teresa in Mexico City, and two shows from Mark Pauline and his legendary Survival Research Laboratories.

    After a setback during the couple’s divorce, the venue returned strongly for awhile before falling on hard times along with the economy. However, over the past year the space has experienced a resurgence, putting it once again at the forefront of the Downtown Phoenix arts scene.

    Both spaces will be open all weekend long for Art Detour. Be sure to visit artlinkphoenix.com for all the details.