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Posts Tagged ‘preservation’

  1. Phoenix 2013: Reeling, But Bearing Down for What’s Next

    January 14, 2013 by Connor Descheemaker

    (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Radley

    To begin a new year in Phoenix is often to pick through the waste of the past, and salvage what you can.

    The past year of preservation has been one of endless fights. To be entrenched in Phoenix’s history, especially as it relates to its properties, is to be ready for anything, to be hyper-aware of potential courses of action, and be prepared to engage in a defense of every act you take.

    Three tremendous tasks faced the Phoenix preservation community this year, leading to city council meetings, petitions, articles, and even international attention.

    Coming first at the end of April was the saga of Circle K. First emerging at a Garfield Organization meeting, Circle K announced a partnership with the successful local development firm Vintage Partners to build a 16-pump station across the street from its current location on the northeast corner of Seventh and Roosevelt streets.

    In the process, Circle K planned to demolish a decades-old warehouse on the southeast corner of the street to make way for its new, massive structure.

    According to the developer, the building (which most recently served as a tire and service shop) was beyond being saved, and held no architectural significance. The community was simply made to accept that the structure was a lost cause.

    Rather than fighting for the integrity of the building, people were made to argue on the best way forward for the development, and either stop the new gas station entirely or ensure that it would serve the community in the best way possible.

    Over time, as Circle K and the developer moved through the permitting process, community opposition to the development increased and public meetings became ever-more-full.

    Mounting pressure on Circle K, and increasingly fierce rhetoric between the two parties led ultimately to a last-minute withdrawal of their liquor license application, the day it was to go before the Phoenix City Council.

    As of this writing, all plans for Circle K’s development have been cancelled, and the community is left with another vacant building, full of potential.

    Talk among the community has been of possibility, with many eagerly looking at a vital corner along an active thoroughfare going straight to the heart of the city.

    Preservationists have begun to talk of an assessment being done on the former tire shop to see whether it can be salvaged and transformed to a new use, or whether a new structure must be put up in its place.

    Things previously thought impossible are now viable options for downtown development.

    Just a few months after the Circle K proposal hit the community, one of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s most remarkable structures became threatened by a lot-split permit from the property’s newest owners.

    The David and Gladys Wright House
    , as thousands around the world now know, was built by Wright for his son and his wife in a style that was comparable to only one other design in the internationally-renowned architect’s oeuvre, the Guggenheim in New York.

    Again, the fight proceeded through all levels of government and community, with tens of thousands around the world signing a petition to preserve the property, and local efforts to get the site declared a landmark, which would prevent the property from being demolished for three years.

    Months of failed offers to buy the property and preserve it alongside conflicting press statements from the ill-fated developers created a universally chaotic situation, leaving onlookers wondering at what the truth of the situation really was.

    Then finally, just before Christmas, a mysterious buyer emerged, closing on the house, creating a “Christmas miracle” of sorts for the Phoenix preservation community.

    This buyer, though still anonymous, plans to preserve the house through a nonprofit foundation which would make the house a permanent fixture in the city, a beacon of hope to a beleaguered city known best for its propensity for destruction.

    (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Radley

    But the celebration of the holidays was short-lived for many, as the Phoenix Suns followed through on their months-long promise the day after Christmas, tearing down all but the façade of the nearly century-old St. James Hotel.

    The teardown was the culmination of months of threats to the once-promising historic block, almost entirely intact at the beginning of the year and marked most prominently by an Ed Varney-designed warehouse (still standing), and the Madison (fully demolished) and St. James (partially standing) hotels.

    And the vision for the property? A VIP parking lot for Suns season ticket holders.

    A magnificent present for the community, indeed.

    Although the community prevailed in the cases of Circle K and the Wright house, another gaping hole was created in downtown Phoenix thanks to the Phoenix Suns.

    With preservation currently relegated to a reactive role in local politics, advocates have been wondering aloud at how to get a more powerful seat at the table with regard to lobbying and education.

    Currently, statewide preservation is championed by the Arizona Preservation Foundation. Neighborhoods are represented by their respective associations, and cumulatively by the Phoenix Historic Neighborhoods Coalition. Cities like Mesa and Tempe each have their own preservation foundations, protecting such landmarks as the “diving lady” sign in Mesa, and the Eisendrath House in Tempe.

    But Phoenix proper has no such group, and a few determined souls are aiming to change that, with rumors abounding of the formation of a Phoenix nonprofit dedicated to preservation.

    Though the vision and effects of such a group remain to be seen, to have another group working toward a more historically-conscious future holds nothing if not promise for the city.

    After a turbulent 2012, Phoenix preservationists no doubt are aiming for a more stable, proactive 2013.

    (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Radley)


  2. With neighboring Madison gone, Hotel St. James faces its final days whole

    December 12, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

    A few months after its sister similarly lost its right to a future, the St. James Hotel is facing its own demise.

    An excavator and cherry-picker loom atop the former foundation of the Madison Hotel. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    The dotted lines have been cut into the building, just behind its entry section—its carcass picked apart and exposed to the elements to ensure just the right pieces are preserved, and the “wrong” pieces taken apart.

    Monday, the first workers were spotted on the site, on its second floor, removing bricks well over 80 years old from their long-nested locales. Simultaneously, an excavator and a cherry-picker were brought to rest on the grave of the neighboring Madison Hotel, leering at the St. James’ withering form.

    In their initial press releases, both the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Suns promised the preservation of the front façade of the St. James Hotel, which was deemed by each to be the only part of the neighboring hotels that was “architecturally significant”.

    But in October, when the Madison came down, the press seemed to neglect the fact that although only the St. James’ front face was promised a savior, its entire skeleton remained following two days of demolition and cleanup.

    The last rows of bricks from the Madison Hotel, slowly being peeled away. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    Though the Suns (the property’s owners) seem to be in a major hurry to tear down the structures, with the basketball season already begun it seems odd that the holders are so eager to see this through to its conclusion.

    According to neighboring property owner and preservation advocate Michael Levine, it was only a matter of time before the variables of cost, demolition team availability and stabilizing architect lined up to take down the St. James.

    Even more disheartening, word has emerged that city officials in 2010 changed an ordinance forbidding the demolition of a property such as the Madison or St. James within a block that was at least 67% intact—a qualification which this particular block easily met prior to the demolition of the two hotels.

    In the world of preservation, buildings are revered for the presence of tremendous design flair and the names associated with their history, whether that is the building’s architect or a famous tenant.

    The endgame of this is a city built by the winners; just as history is written by the winners, so too is the architectural record. But just the same, this leads to a city with only one set of voices.

    The Madison and St. James hotels never hosted celebrities. Neither was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. And neither was a keystone of any particular era of the downtown Phoenix community.

    But the stories within their walls still deserve a place.

    The more famed Luhrs Building and Jefferson Hotel peek through the negative space of the St. James’ former rooftop garden. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    Even dating back to their respective grand openings, the Madison and St. James were home to transients of many sorts: travelers, salesmen and new arrivals to the city, as well as prostitutes, addicts and the destitute.

    Though none of those “types” obviously shape the agenda of a city, especially one as ever-evolving as Phoenix, they remain a presence—a reminder of the reality of life in a diverse community.

    Largely arriving via train, the customers of the hotels weren’t looking for the largest or most picturesque accommodations. They were merely seeking a place to lay their heads.

    As downtown transitions into its next grandiose phase of development, the power of this simple desire is one that cannot be lost. These people deserve to be remembered. Their voices and hopes and dreams and even failures hold just as much weight as those of the Goldwaters, Hensleys and O’Connors.

    Neither of the hotels rose to prominence concurrent with their neighbors at the Luhrs and Jefferson hotels. Neither experienced a boom with the arrival of the Phoenix Suns in downtown.

    But till the end of the 20th century, the hotels’ tenants lingered in the periphery of the thousands who scrambled in and out of our city’s core for the glory of sport.

    What once stood as the last threads of connection to Phoenix’s laborers and hard-luck passersby now will stand as a brick-clad ornament for the VIPs of the city’s longest-running athletic tenant.

    Surveying the scene of the demolition on Tuesday, workers had begun to remove bricks from the back edge of the building’s entryway, marking the point of no return. Long-boarded windows were exposed and smashed to show the excavator where to begin its rending.

    The St. James Hotel’s emaciated and faded form is now most indicative of the many who wandered its halls.

    Though forgotten and swept aside, their strong bones and bricks held strong to the march of time.

    (Connor Descheemaker/DD)


  3. 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.


  4. Historic Hayden Mill Returns to the Public

    October 12, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

    This last week was a big one for Vanishing Phoenix, with the story of the Madison and St. James hotels (which we broke early in September) getting press across the city.

    After its mention at the Camelback East Village Planning Committee by the developers of the David and Gladys Wright House, the story of the Phoenix Suns and the historic Madison and St. James hotels hit the local press.

    The current face of the Madison & St. James hotels (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    First, The Arizona Republic put the story on the front page of its Valley & State section. Then, the Phoenix Business Journal covered it, even citing my original article in its research. ABC15 and KTAR also did reports, and local 3TV spoke of the future potential of the buildings, interviewing me for their article and video piece.

    During that same time, developer and property owner Michael Levine released a series of architectural renderings on Facebook, detailing how the buildings could be reused while still accommodating the Suns’ needs for the land.

    Although the Suns are still free to pursue any option with the property, the story seems to slowly be attracting a groundswell of support from the community. Talks are even in the works to start a Change.org petition to save the buildings, matching the current MyPlanPhx idea to keep the historic hotels intact.

    The Madison and St. James hotels are run-down and long-abandoned. But clearly, there is more beneath the surface with these historic structures.

    Just last week, the city of Tempe officially welcomed the historic Hayden Flour Mill back into the public eye.

    First constructed in 1874, the Mill fell victim to two fires, with its current structure being completed in 1918 and finally made fireproof.

    According to the official Tempe website listing for the building, it is currently the “oldest cast-in-place, reinforced concrete building in Tempe”. And upon its closing in 1998, the Mill was the longest continuously-in-use industrial building in the Valley.

    The building had sat vacant and abandoned to the elements since its closing, even falling victim to yet another fire.

    Prior to the real estate crash of the mid-2000s, the Mill was the subject of a failed adaptive-reuse project, which would have developed the area into a highrise complex, rivaling that of West Sixth just off Mill Avenue.

    With prospects for redevelopment slim in the still-sluggish local economy, the City of Tempe chose to partner with the Rio Salado Foundation and Downtown Tempe Community, Inc. to give the iconic Mill a slight facelift and a temporary use.

    After a few months of construction, the Mill has reopened as an events venue and public space, complete with new public art and interpretive displays and lighting to highlight the structure’s past.

    Vanishing Phoenix was present at the reopening celebration, and was lucky enough to get a peek inside the first floor of the building. Below are the photos from the tour of the premesis.

    The exterior of the Hayden Flour Mill during its grand opening. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    Tom Jones of the Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission led tours of the first floor of the building throughout the evening. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    Though only the first floor was open to the public, visitors could peer into rooms at the periphery of the Mill, used for production. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    The main portion of the ground floor was used for office space during the Mill's years of operation. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)


  5. Madison & St. James Hotels: Downtown Landmarks or Soon-To-Be History?

    September 10, 2012 by Connor Descheemaker

    On August 30, a demolition permit was issued for property along Madison Street containing two of the Warehouse District’s oldest buildings, the Madison and St. James Hotels.

    The two buildings, bought by Suns Legacy Partners LLC (owners of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns) in 2005 for a rumored $7 million, have sat vacant for over a decade after being in constant use as hotels since early in the 20th century.

    The sign of the Madison Hotel long ago vanished, possibly foreshadowing the building's upcoming fate (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    In regards to official plans following the demolition, Suns Legacy Partners did not comment in time for this story.

    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].”

    In 1990, the St. James was proposed to be added to the City of Phoenix Historic Property Register, a measure which failed due to opposition from the Hotel’s property owners. Then in 2000, both buildings were put up for inclusion on the register. The measure failed though, again due to opposition from the property owners.

    Both proposals took place prior to the passage of Prop 207 in 2006 which, according to Dodds, effectively prevents the City from declaring private property as historic without the full support from owner.

    Only the St. James Hotel, known for its now-catawampus wooden shades and long-dimmed neon sign, is on the National Register of Historic Places, though the honor is largely ceremonial.

    Up to this point, the permit’s issuance has gone unreported due to uncertainties regarding the owners’ plans for the property.

    Brendan Mahoney, Senior Policy Advisor in the Mayor’s Office, said of the issue “In a big city, the mere fact that someone applies for a permit doesn’t mean it will filter up higher [in the government].”

    But, due to the buildings’ perceived historic value, rumors and news spread more quickly. Mahoney articulated that, upon hearing the news, Mayor Greg Stanton “called up the owners, asking ‘Why are you doing this? What are your goals? What is your motivation?’” in trying to gain an understanding as to the Suns’ decision.

    The Mayor asked the Suns to agree to a brief, monthlong moratorium on demolishing the buildings, to which they agreed, allowing the City assess its resources and hear from the community on what to do with the two former hotels.

    The Madison and St. James Hotels each have long and storied histories, mirroring the boom and bust of downtown Phoenix: First growing to prominence following the arrival of trains at Union Station; falling into disrepair with the exodus of residents and travelers in the city’s core; closing and facing an uncertain fate with the arrival of new investment and the destruction of many nearby historic structures.

    The Madison Hotel as it stands today, boarded up and awaiting its future. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    The Madison Hotel was built in 1909, reflecting a simple “20th Century Commercial” style in the words of the Arizona State Historic Property Inventory.

    Currently, the Madison is one of very few pre-statehood buildings left in the state, and one of even fewer in the Warehouse District.

    Though the building was constructed of brick, relatively early in its history the façade was covered with stucco, giving it a more plain appearance in the face of downtown’s more ornate architecture of the day.

    According to an Arizona Republic article from 1939, the Hotel was run by Mrs. Elizabeth Lauver and her husband Clinton from its inception. Elizabeth herself was noted for being “prominent in activities at the First Presbyterian Church”, contrary to the Madison’s later reputation as a notorious flophouse.

    The more ornamented St. James Hotel, though on the National Register of Historic Places, ostensibly stands in the same place as its neighbor. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

    Next door, the Hotel St. James was built in 1929, arriving six years after the completion of Union Station to welcome travelers from across the country.

    The St. James was designed by Lloyd LeRaine Pike, a well-regarded local architect of the day, and built by the A.F. Wasielewski Construction Company. The latter was especially notable, as the same company was responsible for the construction of the Luhrs Tower, Brophy College Preparatory School and St. Mary’s School.

    The building’s presence on the National Register of Historic Places is likely related to its more ornate design, reflecting a Spanish Colonial influence.

    An Arizona Republican notice from 1929 announcing the Hotel’s construction explains the developers’ plans for the building, highlighting its 50 rooms and proposed roof garden.

    Although each hotel began with good intentions, their final decades were riddled with scandal and danger.

    Longtime Warehouse District advocate, preservationist and property owner Michael Levine spoke most candidly of the Madison and St. James’ later years, noting “they seemed to pull a dead body out of [the hotels] almost every day. Every week there were stories.”

    To many eyes today, the two buildings are largely unremarkable compared to more opulent structures like the Luhrs Tower and Building. In fact, “The only reason they didn’t get demolished is because they were making money,” according to Levine, charging $8 for a half a day, and $10 for a full day to drifters, transients, druggies and all manner of undesirables.

    However, with so few original structures remaining in the historic Warehouse District, some argue that the hotels’ mere presence is enough reason for preservation. In the words of Levine, “[Those] buildings [were] a witness, for better or for worse, to everything…It’s not high architecture, but it’s part of Arizona’s history.”

    From the construction of U.S. Airways Center, Chase Field and CityScape, to the destruction of Barrow Furniture, the Luhrs Hotel and Madison Street Studios, the Madison and St. James have remained in place.

    And now, with the demolition permit approved, they could be no longer.

    Mahoney says the Mayor’s Office is currently examining the City’s resources, “meeting again [this] Tuesday with members of the community to come up with solutions to meet the Suns’ needs.”

    Of the overall process, Mahoney notes that “For brainstorming purposes, the best way to start is with a relatively small group and identify key pillars, [then] turn it over to a big group and refine those pillars.”

    Due to the interests of the property owners, Levine says of the situation, “The only way to really save [the buildings] is if you come up with a creative solution.”

    Blogger’s Note: Vanishing Phoenix will continue to follow this story in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned for updates.