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.
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.
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.