[Source: Emily Gersema, The Arizona Republic]
Many visitors to downtown Phoenix rarely step south of the railroad tracks.
But near the backsides of US Airways Center and Chase Field, visitors who do venture there will find streets lined with old brick and brownstone warehouses.
Several of these centenarian structures are vacant and decaying, their walls coated with the grime of neglect and age. A few have been preserved and reopened, such as the Duce restaurant, bar and clothing store near Central Avenue and Lincoln Street.
A Phoenix man obsessed with history, Michael Levine, 41, is determined to save the properties. He bought and preserved the fruit-company building that the Duce occupies.
Now, he is devoting a few weeks to restoring the original facade of the old Phoenix Feed & Seed Co. warehouse near Jackson and Second streets.
Levine said he hopes the building will get more recognition when Arizona celebrates its centennial next year. He is finishing his first phase of renewal for the building, which was constructed sometime around 1900-05.
A full preservation effort will cost about $2 million, which he cannot afford on his own.
Last week, Levine was seen standing on top of a lift, aiming the long nozzle of a pressure washer to blast each brick with 250-degree water at 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of pressure per square inch. Grime and crusts of old paint streamed down the building’s face into puddles on the old seed store’s dock.
Each blast exposed more of the building’s history. Signs had been painted and repainted over each other.
“Phoenix Feed & Seed” of the early 1900s became, in the 1940s, “Arizona Paperbox Company,” where workers manufactured the lightweight paper boxes that bakeries used for packing doughnuts, turnovers and other pastries.
“This building predates the railroad in Phoenix,” Levine said, recalling that the first tracks in Phoenix were laid around 1926.
Levine, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., got the building listed on the Phoenix Historic Property Register in 2004, a year after he bought it. He has scoured old newspaper articles and photos to piece together details of its former owners, tenants and uses.
The building was sold in the 1940s to Monty Mansfield, a Tucson businessman who spearheaded an airport authority in Tucson.
Although Levine often looks back, he also looks ahead.
He said this building will go through another personality change. Within the next year, Levine wants it to become the home of a farmers market, flanked perhaps by a cafe or other eatery. He already has cleared an initial hurdle: Last week, he received approval from a Phoenix Zoning Adjustment hearing officer for the market.