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Posts Tagged ‘Motley Design Group’

  1. DeSoto Building Begins Long Journey of Renewal

    November 30, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

    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.

    Facing Central Avenue, the DeSoto Building’s former grand entry (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    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.

    The rapidly-eroding final sign of the DeSoto Building’s last life. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    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.

    The historic structure’s crumbling facade. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    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.

    An anonymous wheatpaste, perchance left to care for the building. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

  2. Forgotten Bowling Alley Glows Once More

    September 14, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

    Walking along the east side of Central Avenue, more astute observers have long noticed the unusual glass block tiles amid the sidewalk, peeking through at those above.

    For most, it was merely an interesting aesthetic touch, something to admire in passing, thinking it solely a little bit of flair provided by the City of Phoenix on the usually-mundane sidewalk. But for those in the know, it was something representing memory—a memory of our city’s vibrant past.

    Just below the path, in a closed-off basement the Gold Spot Bowling Alley’s long-forgotten shell sat, awaiting its fate as the city rapidly evolved above it.

    The current vault lights, sitting vacant before being lit. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    In 1927, the Nielsen Radio and Sporting Goods Company arrived at the southeast corner of Central Avenue and Pierce Street, offering the latest luxurious radio receivers alongside more affordable sporting goods. Simultaneously, the structure held one of the Valley’s very first radio stations, first known as KFCB (“Kind Friends Come Back”), and later KOY.

    In those days, radio shops served as more than just locales for purchase. Due to the massive expense involved in owning a radio at the time, these stores were equally important for community gatherings, as shop owners hosted events around important radio broadcasts.

    Though the radio station vacated the premises in 1937, the location continued to have a social presence, becoming home to the site of much downtown lore: the Gold Spot Bowling Alley.

    From 1939 to 1950, the Gold Spot played host to everything from late-night revelry to church gatherings. One article even notes the beginning of a 50-year marriage taking place at a church outing for teens at the alley during the 1940s.

    The alley itself was accessible along Pierce Street, and was serviced by a team of pinboys who set up the pins and returned bowling balls to patrons prior to the invention of pinsetting machines in the late 1940s.

    According to many, the basement alley contained a secret passageway, connecting it to another underground speakeasy (reportedly used by cops and mobsters alike) underneath the Westward Ho hotel across the street.

    In 2003, city officials explored the bowels of the Ho in preparation for construction of the light rail. The trek reportedly unearthed only a series of extremely narrow hallways going north and south along Central, thought to be used for cooling the hotel, with nothing connecting the hotel to the Gold Spot. However, the rumors of a pathway remained.

    Through the decades following the Gold Spot’s closing, the building was occupied by various auto repair shops and dealerships.

    During the 1970s and ‘80s, the basement was rumored to have held a series of underground parties tied to such figures as Kim Moody and DJ Ariel, inhabiting the same arts scene as CRASHarts, Gallery X, Alwun House, Metropophobobia and the Faux Café.

    In 1991, the Nielsen Radio building was torn down, and has since remained a parking lot, known to ASU students and visitors as the appealing “$5 lot” (now $6!).

    From that point on, the only sign of the area’s former life was the remaining vault lights in the sidewalk. Once a common fixture of city streets, providing natural light to the space below, the Gold Spot lights are now the only known lights of their kind in Phoenix.

    A glow illuminates the new face of the sidewalk. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    The City and its denizens left the former destination to languish in a struggling downtown as it faded into the memories of elderly residents.

    In 2011, when the City of Phoenix received a streetscape improvement grant, an historic survey was conducted, revealing once again the Gold Spot’s presence.

    Although parts of the basement were filled in to maintain the above road’s structural integrity, a select few people were able to explore the bowels of the alley, taking note of the decaying pin mural and a sign declaring “Please Stay Back of Foul Line”, the only pieces remaining of its former life.

    Around the same time, the Phoenix New Times was doing work on its annual “Best of Phoenix” issue, this time theming it around Phoenix’s “underground”.

    Understandably, the alt-weekly immediately gravitated to the Gold Spot’s history, leading writer Claire Lawton and photographer Dayvid Lemmon to venture to a hole in the vault lights, sinking a camera underground and taking a brief video of the alley’s remnants.

    After rediscovering the building, the City partnered with local architecture and preservation firm Motley Design Group to restore the vault lights and create an interpretive plaque to share this quirky piece of Phoenix’s history.

    The new interpretive plaque, declaring the site's history. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    For the project, Motley removed the mostly-shattered glass blocks, cast them, and created a new set of vault lights to pair with the few blocks that remained undamaged. To indicate the former glow of the basement, LED lights were installed below the glass to be lit at night, beckoning passersby forward.

    This past Friday, Robert Graham of Motley and City employees welcomed the public to the new display’s unveiling, sharing a brief history of the property and the combined groups who made this latest tribute possible.

    Though still properly unused, the Gold Spot now has a permanent place in downtown Phoenix’s collective history, standing alongside a block-sized parking lot to help residents and visitors understand what once stood.