Exploring Phoenix’s Architecture
- Where to Go
- The Best of the Valley of the Sun
- Wild West Adventure
- Let Scottsdale Rock Your World
- Finding Water in the Sonoran Desert
- Spring Training
- Arizona Family Road Trip
- Phoenix Points of Pride
- Southwestern Culture and Heritage
- Nocturnal Scottsdale
- Exploring Phoenix’s Architecture
- Unexpected Arizona
- Desert Chic
- Chilly Drinks and Cool Eats in Scottsdale
Changing architectural styles in Phoenix’s neighborhoods and commercial districts are like tree rings tracking the city’s growth. Because it grew so big so fast, many neighborhoods in Phoenix were built all of a piece by developers. The resulting “master-planned communities” can make it seem like all the city has to offer are cookie-cutter ranch houses or red-tile roofs, but nothing could be further from the truth. The warm, sunny climate has encouraged architectural innovation since the first people moved to the Sonoran Desert, and today is no exception.
Phoenix Prehistory (A.D. 1–1450)
More than 2,000 years ago, the Hohokam people started building a system of irrigation canals fed by the Salt River. For the next millennium and a half, they built villages, pit houses, and walled pueblos that housed as many as 50,000 people in what is now metro Phoenix, making it one of the largest ancient population centers in North America.
The society collapsed in mid-1400s, and of most of their buildings are gone or buried, but visitors can walk through the ruins of a large, 800-year-old platform mound at Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park. The earthen-walled structure evokes how these resourceful people adapted to life in the desert.
Turn of the 20th Century (1880–1915)
The 19th-century houses huddled on Heritage Square show the roots of the modern city. Home to the merchants and traders who served what was then a valley of farmers and ranchers, they are the only extant residential structures from the city’s original townsite. The sturdy, red-brick homes with ample verandahs are now inhabited by a mix of restaurants, bars, and museums. The Rosson House, a Victorian mansion built in 1895, is open for public tours.
The Roaring Twenties (1920–1935)
A half-mile stretch of Central Avenue between Jefferson and Fillmore Streets downtown displays the architectural ambitions from this perennial boomtown’s first growth spurt in the 1920s. The renaissance-revival Hotel San Carlos and the Art Deco Westward Ho (618 N. Central Ave.) both debuted in 1928 as luxury hotels that have attracted Hollywood stars, gangsters, and politicians over the ensuing decades (take a look at the famous-guest list on the sidewalk outside the San Carlos).
The 14-story, Art Deco Luhrs Tower (45 W. Jefferson St.) rose a year later in 1929. Across the street, Phoenix’s 1928 Historic City Hall (125 W. Washington St.) makes the idea of occupying one of the jail cells on the upper levels almost appealing.
The First Presbyterian Church (402 W. Monroe St., 602/254-6356, www.historicfirst.org) and the Orpheum Theatre both inject Spanish Revival with a little Moorish style, and it’s possible to get tours of both. Simply ask around at the church, and you might get lucky. Free theater tours run the second Tuesday of the month, but call the Friends of the Orpheum Theatre (602/262-6025, www.friendsoftheorpheumtheatre.org) to confirm dates and times.
Midcentury Identity (1948–1970)
Phoenix came of age following World War II as its population exploded, and the city’s wealth of midcentury architecture shows it. Frank Lloyd Wright lived in Arizona for decades, designing a number of buildings around town, including his winter home and workshop, Taliesin West. It’s open for tours daily, as is Cosanti, designed by Wright acolyte Paolo Soleri.
Good examples of midcentury commercial buildings include the 1964 Phoenix Financial Center (3443 N. Central Ave.), which has a facade designed to look like a computer punch card, and Hanny’s, which was downtown’s first “modern” department store in 1948 and now houses a restaurant of the same name (40 N. 1st St., 602/252-2285, http://hannys.net).
But the best places to see how new owners have updated that icon of the Atomic Age, the ranch house, are two neighborhoods near the Phoenix Mountains Preserve. A drive around Paradise Gardens — generally bounded by 36th and 33rd Streets to the east and west and Gold Dust and Mountain View Roads to the north and south — shows off the work of locally revered architect Al Beadle. Marlen Gardens — which sits between Bethany Home and Montebello Roads along 10th and 11th Streets — was designed and built by the equally beloved Arizona architect Ralph Haver. The group Modern Phoenix (www.modernphoenix.net) arranges tours of residences several times a year.
Desert Modern (1990–present)
Dozens of Phoenix offices and houses have earned the attention of the design world over the past few years thanks to their blending of indoor/outdoor spaces, innovative use of materials, and embrace of light and space. But a lot of it is, unfortunately, private. The best publicly accessible examples of this Desert Modernism are a trio of public libraries: the Will Bruder-designed Burton Barr Central Library, the Richard+Bauer-designed Desert Broom Library (29710 N. Cave Creek Rd.), and the Gould Evans and Wendell Burnette-designed Palo Verde Branch Library (4402 N. 51st Ave.).
Other ways to catch a glimpse of spectacular houses include driving around nicer neighborhoods, particularly near the mountains, or scanning real estate websites such as www.azarchitecture.com for open houses.
(Contributed by David Proffitt, architectural journalist)
© Jeff Ficker from Moon Phoenix, Scottsdale & Sedona, 1st edition