Phoenix officials fail to close deal on Circles building

[Source: Emily Gersema, The Arizona Republic]

The easy-to-spot Circles building on Central Avenue originally was a Studebaker dealership. (Emily Gersema/The Arizona Republic)

Phoenix officials have crossed off the landmark Circles Discs & Tapes building from the list of possible new headquarters for the Arizona Opera because the building’s owners have failed to respond to the city’s requests for further testing on the site.

The downtown midcentury-design building, easily recognizable with its large curved windows, sits on a property that has underground tanks that probably stored fuel when the property was a car dealership, said Jane Morris, acting executive assistant to City Manager David Cavazos.

“When we did the environmental study, no one knew that there were tanks there,” Morris said. During a site visit in January, “we saw a vendor pumping stuff out of the tanks.”

She said city staff asked to do environmental testing on the tanks after seeing that. But the property owners, Leonard and Angela Singer, have not responded to the city’s request, prompting the city staff to search for another possible site for the opera’s offices.

The Singers could not be reached for comment.

“It is not known at this time if the Circles building could be back as an option,” Morris said.

The city has been trying to help the Arizona Opera staff find a new headquarters since 2006, when officials had promised the non-profit opera company the city would pay up to $3.2 million in voter-approved bonds to buy, renovate and lease a building to the opera.

Arizona Opera’s current offices are at 4600 N. 12th St. in Phoenix and 350 N. Mountain Ave. in Tucson.

Organization leaders have said they want to save money by consolidating the offices to operate in one location.

Circles Discs & Tapes history

• 1947: The midcentury-design building was constructed. Designed by architect W.Z. Smith, the building housed Stewart Motor Co. The car dealership was owned and operated by businessmen and brothers Jack and Spencer Stewart. The men sold Studebakers. Passers-by could always see one spinning slowly on a turntable.

• 1972: Angela and Leonard Singer bought the building and opened Circles Discs & Tapes. The store became a hot spot for music lovers.

• 2005: The Singers considered but then rejected applying for historic status to preserve the building. The Phoenix Historic Preservation Office worked out an agreement with the Singers: The city would create a historic-preservation-overlay zone for the property on condition that the Singers would give the city the first right to buy the property if it was put on the market.

• 2010: The Singers closed the store. Internet music purchases had surged, bumping record stores such as Circles out of business.

Source: Phoenix Historic Preservation Office, Arizona Republic archives

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