By Eric Jay Toll for The Arizona Builder’s Exchange
“The most noble purpose of architecture is to move the soul,” says Alison King, founding editor of ModernPhoenix.net, to the room packed with Arizona AIA Phoenix Chapter members for the first Transformation Phoenix seminar of the summer. King’s presentation of lost and retained examples of the Valley’s mid-20th century styles brought smiles to many and memories to long-term Phoenix residents in the audience.
Modern Phoenix Architecture Repository
King’s organization catalogues and scans photos, documents and records of important Phoenix metropolitan area buildings and architects’ work. She paraded photos of many Phoenix metro buildings from the 1950s and 60s—mostly designed by leading Phoenix architect Ralph Haver and his contemporaries.
King advocates preserving and adapting classic buildings to retain the ultramodern and futuristic Phoenix building styles from the era. In her presentation, she bemoaned the loss of classics like the Cine Capri and other well-remembered commercial and residential buildings throughout the Valley.
One of her lost icons, the golden domed Valley National Bank building on the ASU Tempe campus was featured later by panelist Bob Hardison, Hardison/Downey Construction Company, as a preserved treasure in a building renovation his firm completed for the university. When the bank was demolished, the dome was saved. “We found the original architect in Pasadena, traveled to get the original plans, and reassembled the dome as a ramada for the revamped Manzanita residence hall at ASU.”
Moderated by Jack Debartolo 3, principal, Debartolo Architects, other panelists included Lorenzo Perez of Kitchell-Perez and, by video, Chris Bianco, Pizzeria Bianco.
Adapting a Nameless Bank to a Trendy Eatery
Hardison walked the architects through reuse of a building on 16th St. north of Glendale, Phoenix, as it was transformed from one banking brand to another, then into a nameless bank service center, and finally converted into its current incarnation as a trendy restaurant, The Vig Uptown.
Showing the conversion process, he tells the group, “We had to find the original molds for exterior blocks.” Explaining the search for a masonry company capable of recreating the forms, he recounts other architectural surprises that were uncovered. “There were incredible discoveries as we started the interior demolition,” Hardison points out on his photos. A previously undiscovered bank vault was converted into the wine cellar for the restaurant.
“Working with what is in the building,” Hardison says, “is challenging, but using the original materials and features makes for a much better adaptive result.” The biggest surprise came when demo revealed a wall material—a tiling—in a unique Ralph Haver-design. “We had to recreate this, plus glass block, and other previously hidden architectural art.”
Getting Money People to See The Vision
“Getting the money people into the building and getting them to see what you see can see is the biggest obstacle,” reports Lorenzo Perez. “We can walk into a building, see it has good bones and a good feel, and picture just what it’s going to look like when it’s done. Getting your investors to see that is a whole different story.”
The big opportunities come when the building debris is removed. Perez explains, “The first thing we do is clean it out. When we get rid of everything we’re not going to use, we can really see how what is left all fits together.” He cautions that the unknown can cause budgets to start running out of control. “Make sure you are able to be flexible as your plan evolve,” he says.
One Good Idea Means a Major Success
Restaurateur Chris Bianco was portrayed via video interview. “Buildings can be reused, but you have to be creative and willing to change direction.”
Bianco converted a historic machine shop into his award-winning pizza restaurant. He talked about keeping chains and pulleys from the building’s guts as the restaurant unfolded around it. “There are many buildings in this area that are just one good idea away from a major success. Some could even be used for their original purposes, if an owner were to put his mind to it,” he adds citing several examples from Phoenix and Tempe.
The next three Transformation Phoenix sessions, Infill Development , Open Space and Natural Space, and Transportation will be presented at Phoenix Chapter meetings through September. In November, the four panels will be recapped in a session at the AIA Western/Northwestern Regional Conference in Tucson.