Viewpoint: Why preserve a mid-century downtown Phoenix motel?

[Source: Rachel Dawn Luptak] — The historically relevant Sahara Motor Inn has an entire city block’s worth of eight possible retail spaces, café/bar, enough commercial kitchen space to accommodate additional dining and lounge facilities, gift shop, two large terrace suites for hosting meetings and parties, 175 guest rooms, and two apartment penthouses.  One of these penthouses accommodated Marilyn Monroe during the filming of her movie “Bus Stop.”

This hotel was built in 1955 by our valley’s own mid-century mover and shaker in the commercial real estate and construction industry.  His name was Delbert E. Webb, who was also a part owner of the motel at the time.  His name might also sound familiar to you because it is also the current name of ASU’s own Del E. Webb School of Construction, which boasts of its collaboration that created ASU’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.  How ironic, because we all know that the most “sustainable” use of a built environment is to re-use and re-cycle what is already there, instead of adding more debris to our landfills.

Our Sahara/Ramada structure was designed by a talented mid-century modern architect, Matthew E. Trudell, who used period style materials that you couldn’t afford to use today in a roadside motel: red brick, colored art glass details, mosaic tiles, floor to ceiling glass, cast-in-place concrete, solid block, and patterned block.  This is a structure that has stood the test of time and will continue to do so if allowed the opportunity.  There are still original drawings that depict the detailing of this mid-century design.  There is also a report created just last year by a group of architects and engineering professionals on the existing facility’s structure and systems, and what it would cost to bring everything up to today’s functioning standards and codes.

If the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Del Webb aren’t enough of a history to save this structure, hopefully the history of our motor inns and the local memories will.  This type of “mini-resort” made Phoenix accessible to the masses and helped put our city on the map during the 50’s.  Many have already been bulldozed, and their historical relevance and place making identities are forever gone.  Our Phoenix locals who are old enough to know this hotel have been coming out and speaking to groups like the Downtown Voices Coalition.  For instance, a grandmother from back East recalled her first visit to Phoenix where she stayed at the Sahara.  It was while she was there, experiencing a day of summer life at the courtyard pool and witnessing the joy being had by the children and all guests, that she decided to move to Phoenix to start her own family.   A UPS driver who used to deliver to the Sahara wrote to us and calls it “an amazing place that deserves to be preserved.” 

Modern urbanites would like to have the opportunity to sip pina coladas by the pool.  The architectural and engineering professionals who have studied the facility feel it has great potential and deserves to be preserved.  It is a one of a kind actual “oasis” in our downtown core and should be valued as such.  And nobody — and I mean nobody — that actually lives and breathes downtown wants to see another parking lot.  [Note: For more information, photos, and design renderings, click here.]

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Posted on March 15, 2010, in Downtown Voices Coalition, Historic Preservation, Downtown Vitality, Sustainability, Architecture, History and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. If this organization is concerned with creating a livable urban downtown, why is it fighting against density? This structure needs to be replaced with a midrise. This is an opportunity for us.

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