One of the troubles with Phoenix is that most of the metropolitan area has been built up over the past two decades or so. The result is a deadening sameness of off-the-shelf architecture for house-builders and retailers, the boxes you'd find in newer parts of anywhere, with some faux Spanish-Tuscan crap attached. This is added to plenty of boring cookie-cutter buildings erected from 1960 through the 1980s. And Phoenix has more than its share of prominent architectural disasters.
That's too bad because Phoenix was once known for its great architecture, from office and government buildings to the magical period-revival homes of the historic districts, and especially its effervescence as a capital of Mid-Century Modernism.
Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) established his Taliesin West architecture school and home far out of town in 1937. A few Wright houses are left here, although contrary to popular myth he didn't design the Arizona Biltmore. The great Wright commission executed here was intended as the Baghdad opera house. You know it as Grady Gammage Auditorium (above), built after Wright's death.
But many more applied their calling here. This is an incomplete list, and I'm sure our smart commenters will have more:
The Deco masters and classicists:
Royal Lescher (1882-1957) and Leslie Mahoney (1892-1985) are responsible for some of Phoenix's most majestic public buildings, especially the 1929 Art Deco Phoenix City Hall (Edward Neild of Shreveport worked with them on the Maricopa County Courthouse portion). Lescher & Mahoney also designed the Orpheum Theater, Brophy College Chapel, the U.S. Post Office at Central and Fillmore, El Zariba Shrine Auditorium (former home to the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum), the Phoenix Title and Trust Building (today's Orpheum Lofts), Hanny's, St. Joseph's Hospital, the Phoenix Civic Center, Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the tragically lost Palms Theater and many schools and landmarks.
Lee Mason Fitzhugh (1877-1937) and Lester Byron (1889-1963). The firm of Fitzhugh & Byron was the architects behind such landmarks as First Baptist Church (finally being renovated), First Church of Christ, Scientist, George Washington Carver High School, and the Lois Grunow Memorial Clinic.
Albert Chase McArthur (1881-1951), a protege of Frank Lloyd Wright, moved his practice from Chicago to Phoenix in 1925. Here he designed his most famous work, the Arizona Biltmore. Less well known is that McArthur also was the architect for several houses in the Phoenix Country Club estates and elsewhere.
And some notable out-of-towners from this period:
Claud Beelman of Curlett & Beelman, Los Angeles, is to thank for the 1928 Security Building. Valley Bank President Walter Bimson added the penthouse in 1958.
S. Charles Lee. Based in Los Angeles, Lee is worth a mention for his Phoenix masterpiece: the Fox Theater. It was demolished in 1975 in one of the city's worst acts of civic vandalism.
Morgan, Walls & Clements, yet another LA firm, is behind the 1932 Professional Building, which for many years was headquarters of the Valley National Bank.
Peter Kiewit of Omaha is credited as architect of the Mission revival Phoenix Union Station.
G. Witecross Ritchie, another LA architect, designed the 1928 Hotel San Carlos. The Westward Ho, which opened the same year, was the work of H. Rafael Lake of Fresno and Louis L. Dorr, who, for a time had his office in Phoenix.
Trost & Trost of El Paso was the architectural firm that designed the Luhrs Building and the Art Deco gem of the Luhrs Tower.
The Mid-Century Modern masters:
Al Beadle (1927-1998). "I'm known as the steel and glass man. I won't deviate from that too much. People come to me saying they want a Beadle house," the largely self-taught architect told the Carefree Enterprise in 1988. He designed more than houses, including the Executive Towers. He was known for the International Style and boxy simplicity. His custom houses often had expansive interior courtyards and made much use of light. In 1964, Beadle took part in the prestigious Case Study Homes program, where he created "Apartment One" at 4402 N. 28th Street. It's still there, a now classic Beadle box.
Kemper Goodwin (1906-1997) set up his practice in Tempe and designed some of his most notable buildings there. Most famous is the upside-down pyramid of the Municipal Building, a collaboration with his son, Michael Goodwin.
Bennie Gonzales (1924-2008), a Phoenix native, is best known for his striking city government buildings at the Scottsdale Civic Center, as well as the classical-revival addition to the Heard Museum. Gonzales also executed many commissions for houses. In almost all cases, he used his distinctive Southwest style avoiding 90-degree angles, which was widely influential. The story goes that Gonzales followed his uncle, who made bricks, to the site of the Arizona Biltmore under construction. There he saw Frank Lloyd Wright and decided to become an architect.
Ralph Haver (1915-1987) was one of Phoenix's most prolific and distinctive architects. While he designed almost all kinds of buildings, most of his surviving work is residential. He wanted to give flair to the often dreary tract houses going up in the 1960s, and a "Haver house" stands out, especially because it often places the narrow part of the house facing the street and, especially, offers a long, graceful peaking roofline. Haver's public masterpiece was Coronado High School — again offering arresting rooflines and shade structures, but also a wonderfully functional and symetrical array of buildings on a grassy, deep-water-irrigation campus. He also designed the Cine Capri on Camelback. Haver's Coronado was almost completely destroyed in favor of a bleak, gravel-and-concrete bordered new high school. The Cine Capri was entirely lost.
John Sing Tang. In addition to designing custom homes, especially in Arcadia, Tang made his mark on some of the city's sadly lost Mid-Century Modern coffee shops. Tang was Phoenix's first Chinese-American architect.
Edward Varney teamed up with Haver to build the circa 1965 Phoenix Municipal Building (now the Calvin Goode Building). City Council still meets in his circular chambers there. A student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Varney also created the Hotel Valley Ho, which has been restored to its retro glory, and the Motorola plant on McDowell Road.
Some notable out-of-towers:
The Peruvian-born LA architect W. A. Sarmiento was behind the curved Phoenix Financial Center "punch card building" on the northeast corner of Osborn and Central. Built in two stages, the shorter iteration of the eventual 19-story building opened in 1969, followed by two short but elegant rotunda side structures. It was best known as headquarters of Western Savings, until that went down in the S&L crash. A second tower, facing the first like cupped hands was planned but never built.
HKS of Dallas designed the Dial Tower, the copper "deodorant stick" sculpture at Central Avenue and Palm Lane. Had Wall Street not destroyed Dial, a second tower would have been built there. Although dead at street level like most modern towers, it had a lovely garden for many years. The 24-story building went on to become Viad Tower and Central Arts Plaza. Its iconic qualities have recently been deformed by a large "BMO" sign on the upper edge of the tower.
Welton Becket and Associates, again from Los Angeles, created Valley Center, which opened in 1972 and at 40 floors remains the tallest building in the state. Again, dead at street level. Still today's Chase Tower was remarkably varied for its era, appearing as crystal spires bound together, a welcome departure from the International box. Valley Center also featured angled edges that caught sunrise and sunset, outlining the tower in light — largely lost by the erection of the FreeportMcMoRan building just to the north in the late 2000s. Locating it at Central and Van Buren was Valley National Bank President Walter Bimson's vote in the future of downtown, at a time when Midtown was ascendant. The Becket team also specifically designed the ground floor and basement bank lobby as a maze to discourage robberies.
A question mark: Paul Revere Williams was a pioneering African-American architect working from Los Angeles. He designed some 3,000 buildings, but his records were lost to a fire. Did he do any work in Phoenix? If you know, please add it to the comments section.
Will Bruder (disclosure: He is my friend) is best known to most people for the Burton Barr Central Library. But he has also designed some of the most spectacular and coveted homes in Phoenix and elsewhere, as well as other buildings, including museums, libraries, and corporate offices (more than 500 commissions total). Bruder studied under Paolo Soleri (1919-2013). Phoenix doesn't know what a star it has — and someone who has chosen to stay here. His efforts to give Phoenix a distinctive skyline — renderings I've seen are breathtaking — have so far lacked a patron. Too bad for Phoenix.
The Architects — A Gallery:
The City Hall side, designed exclusively by Lescher & Mahoney of Phoenix, including the reborn Phoenix birds setting off the entrance. (with Cal's recumbent bicycle).
Trost & Trost of El Paso are to thank for the Luhrs Building and Luhrs Tower (photographed from the now-gone Hotel Luhrs balcony).
A later Lescher & Mahoney project was the Phoenix Civic Center, with the art museum, public library and little theater. Most of the site is now the Phoenix Art Museum.
A "Beadle Box" with many of the features common to the Mid-Century Modern work of Al Beadle.
A rendering of W. A. Sarmiento's Phoenix Financial Center. The north tower was never built.
My book, A Brief History of Phoenix, is available to buy or order at your local independent bookstore, or from Amazon.
Read more Phoenix history in Rogue's Phoenix 101 archive.