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March 01, 2016


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Thank you for this wonderful piece on hotel history and architecture. Americans are slow learners on the need for historic preservation. But bright spots exist. The National Trust for Historic Preservation publishes the Historic Hotels of America guide. Many of the great, old and ambient hotels have been saved, and more restorations are added to the guide every year. My idea of a dream retirement would be to check out every one.

On Dec 12, 1964 a group of us students at ASU held a Christmas party at the Adams. At midnight, Dec 13, 1964, I turned 21 years old and walked into the bar and ordered my first "legal" alcoholic drink, as an adult.
In 1972 I participated in a pipe smoking contest held at the Adams and sponsored by the Phoenix Pipe Shop. I won the contest! and collected a $500 savings bond.
1973 I attended a Christmas party at the top of the Westward Ho, sponsored by radio station KXIV. I was advertising on Herb Johnson's jazz show at the time.

When downtown Phoenix embalmed itself with inert government buildings and parking garages, it did so on the graves of buildings that supported and embellished human community. It's why architecture obeyed rules like the golden ratio. It's also why the buildings were not just objects but the living tissue of an organic life form. Downtown Phoenix was livelier in 1880 than it is in 2016 because we hadn't set the price of personal mobility higher than community itself. It helped that the automobile hadn't yet been invented, of course.

You can have a city or you can have car storage. It's really difficult to have both. Even downtown Portland is seriously damaged this way - parking garages locked in mortal combat with great fabric buildings. And the toll on historic gems continues. There's a Richardsonian edifice slated for destruction so another sterile hotel/office building combo can take its place, rendering one more square block alien to most organic urbanism. Even in Hipster, USA money swamps the conversation.

With as many empty lots in Phoenix,surely we could have saved the old historic buildings and still built whatever we thought was necessary.

I would note the tug is really between the value of an old, obsolete building that will require a lot of money, or a new building that will require a lot of money- then the question becomes what will the lender spring for- and that answer is almost always new. New has easy metrics, along with easy comps.

I say this as a member of a family that has owned and operated two motels that were restored on Route 66, and numerous historic houses that we owned and worked on.

Money, that evil item is often why historic properties are treated like slums in waiting, because that is what happens when the business that sustained them goes elsewhere- those grand hotels were utterly doomed when the freeways allowed movement past downtown by travelers, and the airport replaced the trains.

Gotta have the business- and if the only business is flop houses for worn out small room hotels, then flops are it. My neighboring motel properties routinely rented rooms as cheap as $20 a night right up to early 2000s, until they were remodeled by owners who got past the slumlord mentality. But it took a lot of money invested, and it took a lot of upgrading of the facilities.

So, in short, the trade makes the destiny of the commercial area- see Michael Pollack's ability to rescue really skeevy strip malls and at least allow them to still operate at a minimum level of decency, while still making money.

Chris in denver: Hugh Laurie computer hacking.


Chris I first skipped off into anther world on your question. I think above is the answer.

Concern Troll: Multi story hotels. you know what they say about letting your first born sons sleep on the roof. Better a one story motel on Route 66.
One of the Phoenix structures got sued by a bunch of attorneys for Asbestos exposure.

I hate to be the voice of dissent, but wouldn't some of the older buildings downtown still be standing if downtown wasn't abandoned by residents and visitors in the 1950s - 1970s for the "latest and greatest" being constructed on the then fringes of metro Phoenix? I see constant finger pointing at developers and politicians for the destruction of the "old" city. However, from reading numerous pieces on the decline of downtown, it seems that the developers and politicians just reacted to desires of residents and visitors to continue low density living marching out in all directions from downtown.

It makes no financial sense to keep older buildings standing when people have decided that these older buildings are worthless. The Fox Theater faced years of declining revenue before they wrecking ball was taken to it. As a relatively new Phoenix resident, I have to wonder why there was such little civic pride among the people who lived here at the time that they would allow downtown to get to such a bad state only to whine and moan decades later about what was "lost." Luckily downtown seems to have a resurgence of energy, mainly due to people who have moved here in the past couple of decades who have injected new life into downtown and see value in what's left and what is being constructed. Meanwhile I have coworkers who are natives of Phoenix who live in ten year old tract homes in Surprise and "east" Mesa who will openly admit to not having gone downtown in the past twenty years.

My Grandfather, James Walter Ellingson, worked at the Adams Hotel as a bellhop when it first opened. He came to Phoenix as a baby in the 1880s. His next job was as bagage master and Western Union delivery boy there in Phoenix.

You;re right about the flight to the suburbs..... I grew up in Scottsdale, (SHS '59). But I remember those grand old hotels.....

Another great one, Jon!

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