Blog Archives

Viewpoint: Keep Phoenix’s Historic Preservation Program autonomous and strong

[Source: Arizona Preservation Foundation] — The Arizona Preservation Foundation Board of Directors urges the continuation of an autonomous, community-focused Historic Preservation Program for the City of Phoenix. Without such a strong program and city commitment to preservation, the landmarks pictured in the slide show above would have been demolished or severely compromised.

In addition, Phoenix’s 35 residential historic districts would NOT have historic preservation protection nor would be revitalized and active to the extent they are today. Without the stability of these urban neighborhoods, Phoenix’s central city revitalization would be severely deterred.

Phoenix voters would NOT have invested over $25 million in the city’s unique Historic Preservation Bond Program which has rehabilitated literally hundreds of historic buildings and sites in central Phoenix.

The nationally-acclaimed ethnic heritage surveys of Phoenix’s Asian, Black, and Latino communities would NOT have been completed.

When all is said and done, historic preservation is sustainable “green” development, and development without a historic preservation element is not sustainable.

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Another feature of downtown Phoenix’s Civic Space is historic A.E. England Building

While much of the hubbub of downtown Phoenix’s Civic Space focused on Janet Echelman’s public art piece, “Her Secret is Patience,” another important feature of the park is the historic A.E. England Building.   Thanks to the 2006 Historic Preservation Bond Committee, Phoenix residents who voted for the 2006 Bond Program, local preservation advocates, the City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Office and Commission, and Mayor Gordon and City Council, the building was spared from the wrecking ball (yes, it was threatened at one point).

The interior renovation is not quite done.  While you’re waiting for it to be completed and the “grand opening” later this spring, sit back and read about its history, courtesy of the staff at the Historic Preservation Office:

Locally prominent builder Clinton Campbell constructed the A.E. England Motors, Inc./Electrical Equipment Co. building in 1926.   The Spanish Renaissance Revival style building features three large storefront windows with ornate cast concrete window surrounds and decorative course molding along the roof parapet.  Six original bow-string wood trusses, sandwiched between new laminated beams, support the roof structure.

Originally an automotive dealership, A.E. England sold autos from the Hudson Motor Car Co. (1909-1954) and its less expensive Essex brand.   Cars were featured prominently in the building’s large display windows.   Central Avenue north of Van Buren Street became Phoenix’s first “auto row,” lined with Cadillac, Studebaker, Ford, and DeSoto dealerships well into the 1960s.

England left the auto sales business sometime in the early 1930s.   The Electrical Equipment Co., purveyors of radios, batteries, and Kelvinator refrigerators, occupied the building for the next twenty-five years.   The company’s “Gold Room,” decorated with gold drapes, gold walls and gold wicker furniture, provided an optimal radio listening experience for prospective buyers.  Five Atwater-Kent cabinet radios were on display, ready for demonstration by company salesmen.

The Electrical Equipment Co., along with The Arizona Republican (now The Arizona Republic) newspaper, owned the KTAR radio station.   Initially called KFAD and founded in 1922, KTAR was the first radio station in Arizona.   The Electrical Equipment Co. provided the equipment for the radio station which was originally located in the Heard Building at 112 N. Central Avenue.

In its later years, the A.E. England Motors Co., Inc./Electrical Equipment Co. building hosted a stationery store and an art gallery.   The building’s north wall, which was originally a party wall with another building, now consists largely of glass storefront panels in-filled between the original concrete columns.  The building was listed on the Phoenix Historic Property Register in 2006 and rehabilitated by the City of Phoenix in 2008-2009 as part of the downtown Phoenix Civic Space.

Planning continues on downtown Phoenix Luhrs Block restoration

[Source: Barbara Stocklin, City of Phoenix] — Staff from the City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Office and Development Services Department met with representatives from Hansji Hotels, the property owners of the Luhrs Block downtown, to discuss their site plan for a phase I and phase II project.  Site plan approval for a phase II project, which includes build-out of the entire block other then protected areas, will require design review by the Historic Preservation Commission per the city development agreement with the property owners.  The Commission’s review is tentatively scheduled for January 12, 2009.

Preservation has its rewards, headaches for metro Phoenix developers

[Source: Jan Buchholz, Phoenix Business Journal] — Historic preservation isn’t advised for the penny-pincher or the faint of heart.  It’s a particularly difficult practice in the rugged terrain of real estate development.  Yet for some, it is the most satisfying work they do.   “(Historic preservation projects) are a lot of fun and are very rewarding,” said Stu Siefer, a Tempe architect, who is one of the Valley’s foremost experts on historic preservation.  “They can be very challenging.  And I have seen a lot of nightmares when unforeseen costs have come into play.”

Fortunately, Siefer is both a developer and architect who can plan and analyze projects with a more precise perspective.  Plus, he knows the territory well, having been involved in the Valley scene for decades.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Phoenix HP Commission recommends project for Parks, Preserve Initiative

Winship House, Phoenix, Arizona

[Source: Barbara Stocklin, City of Phoenix] — The City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission formally recommended that the City Council allocate Parks & Preserve Initiative (PPI) funds to rehabilitate historic properties on city parks where there has been substantial prior public investment and additional funds are still needed to activate a historic building and site for a public use, most notably:

  • $12 million for remaining capital, staffing, and operational needs at Tovrea Castle (including funds needed immediately to help open the park and to provide public restrooms).
  • $5 million for Steele Indian School.
  • $800,000 for the Winship House at 216 W. Portland Parkway.

For a complete list of historic resources managed by the city’s Parks & Recreation Department and in need of significant, click here.

HP Commission approves Luhrs Block proposal

Vintage photo of Luhrs Building and Tower[Source: Barbara Stocklin, City of Phoenix] — The City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) unanimously recommended approval of a plan to amend an existing 1993 historic preservation/ development agreement for the Luhrs Block downtown (bound by Jefferson and Madison Streets, and Central and 1st Avenues).  This amendment would release the developer from an existing façade easement on the two-story 1914 Luhrs Central Building at 132 S. Central Avenue in exchange for a conservation easement for the 50-foot depth of the one-story 1929 Luhrs Arcade and 1924 Post Office Station located in between the two historic high rises on Jefferson Street.

The HPC also recommended up to $500,000 of Historic Preservation Bond funds to assist with restoration work on the historic Luhrs Building.  The HPC requested documentation of the Luhrs Central Building prior to its demolition and that the owners pursue National Register of Historic Places listing on both the Luhrs Building and Tower.  City Council action is slated on these items in early June.

Agreement nears on historic Luhrs block

Photo courtesy of Arizona Republic[Source: Barbara Stocklin, City of Phoenix] — The City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Office is close to reaching an agreement on a recommended course of action to amend an existing development agreement pertaining to this historic downtown block (between Jefferson and Madison, Central and 1st Avenue). 

This agreement would address preservation requirements for the block and potential matching historic preservation bond funds for the Luhrs Building Office tower.  The Historic Preservation Commission is slated to take action on this item April 28, 2008, with City Council action anticipated by the end of the fiscal year.

Developer to renovate historic Luhrs sites

Luhrs Tower in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by camerafiend.[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — An Irvine, Calif., developer will save the iconic Luhrs Building and Luhrs Tower, but the fate of other vintage buildings on the downtown Phoenix block is up in the air.  Hansji Urban inherited a 1992 agreement from the previous owner that gives the firm the right to tear down some structures, including parts of the oldest building on the block, the Luhrs Central Building on Central Avenue and Madison, which was constructed between 1913 and 1914, said Barbara Stocklin, Phoenix’s historic preservation officer.  The 1950s parking garage and the one-story 1920s arcade linking the Luhrs Tower and the Luhrs Building are also in question.

While many were relieved when they learned the Luhrs Tower and the Luhrs Building are to be restored, it’s been unclear what would happen to the rest of the structures on the block.  There have been several historic preservation fights in downtown Phoenix recently.  City officials and the developer are negotiating a plan for the area bound by Jefferson Street, Madison Street, Central Avenue, and First Avenue.  The plan could go before the city’s historic preservation commission as early as March 17, Stocklin said.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

City should preserve Sun Merc, Arizona Republic columnist says

In this October 24, 2007 column, Arizona Republic editorial writer, Richard deUriarte, encourages the City of Phoenix to preserve the 1929 Sun Mercantile Building just as it did with another city-owned property, the Phoenix Union High School buildings at 7th Street and Van Buren.

Phoenix Council may testify in W hotel trial; Court to decide if conflicts existed in talks with developer

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — Phoenix City Council members and their top aides may have to tell a court whether they had improper talks with the developer of a proposed $200 million W Hotel project.  Last week, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered a trial to sort through conflicting accounts about how the developer tried to sway city leaders to build the project.  That means council members and top aides may have to testify about the behind-the-scenes lobbying tactics in the controversial project.

Developer Suns Legacy Partners was poised last year to build a 39-story W Hotel near US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix.  A key part of the project was an 11-story office and condo tower that would have been built on top of a historic warehouse, preserving it from being torn down.  Even if Phoenix wins the court case, litigation and other problems have effectively killed the hotel project for now.  Legal wrangling has delayed the project, and the developer’s deal with W Hotel expired because ground was not broken by June 30.  In his four-page Sept. 18 ruling, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Swann wrote that a trial would have to sort out whether Mayor Phil Gordon, his council colleagues, and their aides had improper talks with Suns Legacy Partners, the development group that includes Suns owner Robert Sarver and former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo.

The litigation is just about procedures; it’s not about the City Council’s decision to build a condo tower on top of a historic building, the mayor and the city attorney say.  The city is weighing its legal options, City Attorney Gary Verburg says.  Gordon denies any wrongdoing.  “There was no influence behind the scenes or any type of nefarious-type discussions,” Gordon said.  “Everything was public.”

The preservationists are prepping for trial, although no date has been set.  They filed the lawsuit to protect the 1920s warehouse, the last vestige of Phoenix’s old Chinatown.  “Phoenix can do better with its historic structures.” said Barry Wong, a former state lawmaker who is a spokesman for the coalition of preservationists and Asian-American community groups.

The City Council was essentially sitting as a judge when it overruled the historic-preservation officials who didn’t think the condo tower should be built on top of the historic warehouse, the coalition argued in court.  When acting as judges, council members can’t have outside talks with the parties in the dispute, the preservationists argued.

The warehouse, the Sun Mercantile Building, is owned by the city.  Suns Legacy Partners has a long-term lease agreement.  Lawyers for both sides agree that preservationists and the hotel developer lobbied the City Council.  However, the preservationists argue that council members and their top aides — including the mayor’s senior assistant, Bill Scheel — may have been swayed by undisclosed talks with the Suns Legacy developer.

The contacts included a Dec. 6 letter from the developer’s lawyer.  The preservationists also point to a form letter that Scheel used to respond to several people who e-mailed Gordon about the project.  In addition to replying on behalf of Gordon, Scheel lauded the project as a “reasonable and positive re-use” of the 1920s warehouse.

Scheel, who has helped run Gordon’s election campaigns, downplayed the letter.  Gordon said his staff gives him advice, but ultimately he and the rest of the council made the final call.  In court, the city argued that council members were more aggressively lobbied by residents and groups that opposed the 11-story tower.  The city’s legal team also argued that the City Council avoided communicating with either side after it was clear that issue would be appealed to the full council.

Since council members are routinely lobbied on issues, it would have been impossible for them to know before the appeal that they should be careful about talking about the case, Verburg said.  In affidavits, council members said that they did not talk to the developer after Suns Legacy appealed the decision the historic preservation decision.  Swann, however, ruled that any contact with parties in the hotel fight could fall under scrutiny.

[Click here to download Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Swann’s ruling of September 17, 2007.]