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Posts Tagged ‘Warehouse District’

  1. 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.

  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.