Robert Melikian’s “Vanishing Phoenix” is an homage to an array of buildings in the city that have disappeared over the past century, from hotels such as the Bank Exchange Hotel near Washington and First streets to the old mansions that once lined East Monroe Street.
Melikian answered questions recently about the book and his views on historic preservation:
Question: Why did you write this book?
Answer: I wanted to protect what buildings we have left.
Q: Why do you think some residents feel Phoenix lacks historic identity in its architecture?
A: It’s strongly made up of individuals coming in from other parts of the country. They mostly don’t care about local history because they’re from somewhere else.
Q: Since your book was released earlier this year, what has happened?
A: I’ve been so happy that people have just been coming in to look at the old slides (photographs of old buildings).
Q: Was there a certain building that inspired you to write?
A: The Fox West Coast Theatre on First and Washington (streets) built by S. Charles Lee (in 1930). He built an inferior one in Los Angeles that’s considered by people there a marvelous theater. We had a better one. In 1975, the city bought it. The chandeliers bought for $8,000 in the 1930s sold for $250. They (city officials) wanted to replace the theater with a bus station.
Q: Some historic buildings continue to be torn down. Some members of the community believe the Ramada Inn at Second and Fillmore streets should be protected although the city plans to raze it and build there so Arizona State University can use it to house one of its academic programs. What do you think?
A: In 1956, Marilyn Monroe opened that building. But I don’t advocate saving every historic building. If the use of that building is going to be that useful to society, then so be it.
Q: What message do you want people to take from this book?
A: History sells. People want history. Don’t look at the short-term liability (of preservation). Look at the long-term benefits.