Whether through absent-mindedness or a Kookish desire to obliterate the memory of FDR, the state came very close to tearing down the 1938 administration building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds built by the WPA. The loose-knit community of preservationists — the preservation police, as one called it — went into action and the building was saved.
It's exhausting work done by average people. Phoenix lacks a wealthy steward such as Paul Allen, who saved and restored Seattle's magnificent Union Station and Cinerama. Phoenix lacks a widespread preservation ethic, too. There have been successes, such as saving the Frank Lloyd Wright house. And crushing failures, such as Robert Sarver's demolition of two territorial-era hotels to make...a surface parking lot.
Precisely because of these things, because Phoenix does have a fascinating history worth protecting even if it lacked the abundant good bones of older big cities — this makes the battle so important. Cities with enchanting old buildings and streetscapes also attract the creative class and urban-oriented tech workers and startups.
Our losses are profound. Here are a few of the ones most worth mourning:
1. The Japanese flower gardens along Baseline Road.
3. The old YMCA Building at Second Avenue and Monroe.
4. The Federal Building at First Avenue and Van Buren.
5. The Deaconess/Good Samaritan Hospital, much of which stood until the late 1970s when they were replaced by the ghastly UFO that still stands.
6. The Fleming Building at First Avenue and Washington, demolished in the early 1970s to make way for the cardboard box of a First National Bank (Wells Fargo) tower.
7. The Luhrs Hotel at Jefferson and Central.
8. The mid-century coffee shops that dotted the city, including this Helsing's that stood at Central and Osborn (replaced by a suburban Walgreens box).
9. The Palms Theater at Central and Cambridge. Had it been saved, it would have made a wonderful Midtown art house.
10. The Neon Gateway of delightful small motels and "auto courts" that lined Van Buren, Grand Avenue and Buckeye Road.
11. The Newberry's/Kress block on Washington and other dense, convenient and walkable commercial strips that contained a variety of architectural styles.
12. The Hotel Adams at Central and Adams, a classic of territorial architecture, replaced by a brutal slab. The Adams coffee shop was the unofficial meeting place of the state Legislature.
13. The Encanto Park Bandshell.
14. The Mesa Southern Pacific depot, lost to fire.
15. Superstition Mountain. It's still there, but a preservation zone to prevent building close to the mountain would have protected one of the most magical prominences in the United States.
I could go on. It's a long list — including most of the Produce/Warehouse District — and feel free to add your own in the comments.
There have been successes, too: The Orpheum Theater, Hanny's, City-County Building, Hotel San Carlos, Security Building, Professional Building, Carnegie Library, Luhrs Building and Luhrs Tower, the historic districts, Tovrea Castle, a few Victorians and the buildings assembled at Heritage Square. In the warehouse district, Michael Levine has led the saving and restoration of several valuable buildings. Kenilworth School was saved from the Papago Freeway and a few other inspiring school buildings were sprared the bulldozer.
All of this has been heavy lifting. And for downtown, the loss of cohesive blocks where every few steps led you to the front door of a new shop, the damage has been profound.
(Here's a slide show from the Arizona Republic showing historic buildings).
But the preservation police can't rest and, as the fair building showed, danger is always ready to show up suddenly. Here is my list of the buildings most in danger (please add your suggestions in the comments field).
1. Union Station. It is one of Phoenix's most important and beautiful buildings, but it is privately owned by Sprint, houses telecom equipment, and City Hall isn't famous for paying attention. It should be bought by the city as the hub of commuter trains, restored Amtrak service and a stop on the south light-rail line (WWBIYB).
2. Arcadia. This district replaced citrus groves and offers glorious views of Camelback Mountain. Builder Henry Coerver led the development of Arcadia with large, low ranch houses, cooling lawns, and preserved many citrus trees. It is one of the city's loveliest areas. In the past several years, it has come under increasing pressure with tear-downs for McMansions and ahistorical desertification.
3. The Windsor Hotel at Fifth Avenue and Adams, one of the last of the scores of small hotels that filled downtown.
4. The Golden West Hotel, a two-story building just east of the Professional Building on Monroe. It dates from the 1870s and is the second-oldest commercial building downtown.
5. The oasis integrity of the historic districts. Yes, the water investment is worth it and public policy should encourage it.
Want to know more about historic Phoenix? Read the Phoenix 101 archive.