Celebrate Historic Preservation Month With These 10 Downtown Gems
May 15, 2015 by Brandi Porter
Historic buildings and places and the stories behind them are part of the foundation of cities. They lend distinct characteristics to city streets, give a unique sense of place and also remind us of our heritage and the diversity that has existed here for more than a century.
Though Downtown Phoenix is considered a young city, there are numerous buildings, homes and warehouses that remind us of a different era or hold tales from the past — oftentimes both. Arizona Preservation Foundation, Preserve Phoenix and Phoenix Historic Neighborhoods Coalition are just a few organizations dedicated to reminding us of that.
And since May is national Historic Preservation Month, we decided to celebrate with 10 historic buildings, properties and places that call Downtown Phoenix home.
Maricopa County Security Building – 222 N. Central Avenue
This eight-story historical site was built in 1928 and was once the tallest building in Arizona. It was built by prominent Phoenix businessman Dwight Heard (see Heard Building below), who was president of the Security Improvement Company. In 1958, a ninth floor penthouse apartment was added and inhabited by Walter Bimson, president of Valley National Bank. Maricopa County purchased the building and began renovations in 2005. It now serves as offices for Maricopa County.
Swindall Tourist Inn – 1021 E. Washington Street
(Photo by Kabugenyo)
This is the only remaining hotel in Phoenix that served as public accommodations for African Americans during the era of segregation. Built in 1913 as a private home for the Steyaert family, Mrs. Steyaert used it for boarding, securing the home’s important function as temporary housing for traveling African Americans. The home changed ownership in 1940, when Golden and Elvira Swindall purchased it and continued to use it as a boarding house. The historic home is currently used as professional offices.
Steinegger Lodging House – 27 E. Monroe Street
(Photo from Google Maps)
Built in 1889, this two-story former hotel has gone by many names including Alamo Hotel, St. Francis Hotel and Golden West Hotel. Though the brick building may not look like much today, it originally possessed a Victorian-style façade, but the front was modified in 1935. It’s owned by CSM, the same real estate developer that is currently renovating the historic Professional Building adjacent to it. They haven’t made any official announcements as to what they’ll do with the building. The property is listed in the Phoenix Historic Register and the National Register of Historic Places.
Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary School – 707 W. Grant Avenue
(Photo by thornydalemapco)
This is one of three historic African American properties in Phoenix listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was constructed in 1925 for African American students when schools were segregated (which ended in 1953). When it opened, the school only offered classes for grades one through four. The building still serves as a school today in the Phoenix Elementary School District, offering classes for kindergarten through eighth grades.
Luhrs City Center
(Photo courtesy Hansji)
Both the Luhrs Building and Luhrs Tower are striking examples of Phoenix historic architecture. Phoenix businessman, George Luhrs, founded the neoclassical Luhrs Buiding, which opened in 1924 at a cost of $553,000. Just to the west, Luhrs Tower is a 14-story Art Deco building that was built five years later, in 1929. The Luhrs block, between Central and First avenues and Jefferson and Jackson streets, is now owned by Hansji, which has renovated the building and preserved its unique historical characteristics. Several technology companies, startups and a business incubator High Tide now call Luhrs City Center home.
The Cutler Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center – 122 E. Culver Street
(Photo by Arizona Jewish Historical Society)
Now a museum and cultural center, this southwestern mission style building was the first synagogue in Downtown Phoenix. The building was constructed in 1921 to resemble an old Spanish church. After three decades, the building housed Phoenix’s first Chinese-speaking Christian church and later a Spanish-speaking Baptist church. The Arizona Jewish Historical Society bought the property again in 2001 and completed $2.5 million worth of renovations to make it what it is today.
Westward Ho – 618 N. Central Avenue
This iconic building was originally constructed in 1928 as a hotel and is now subsidized housing for the elderly and mobility impaired. Before its closure in 1980, several famous movies stars and politicians visited the Hotel Westward Ho, including Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor and John F. Kennedy. Arizona State University recently announced it will be moving in to the ground floor, relocating students, faculty and staff of the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy there. They plan to open a Community Education and Health Center, which includes a student-staffed, faculty-supervised supportive services clinic initially for Westward Ho residents.
Kenilworth Elementary School – 1210 N. Fifth Avenue
(Photo by Kabugenyo)
The Kenilworth Elementary School opened in 1920 and was built by the same group who constructed what’s now the Arizona Jewish Historical Society’s museum and cultural center (see above). It’s listed under the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest standing school in Maricopa County.
Arvizu’s El Fresnal Grocery and Mexican Masonic Temple – 310 E. Buchanan Street
Located just south of the railroad tracks, this former grocery store served barrio residents who lived in that area at the turn of the twentieth century. These grocery stores were vital resources for the community and the El Fresnal Grocery Store is one of the earliest examples of a Hispanic-owned store in Phoenix. It was owned by Trinidad Arvizu from 1900 to 1920 and also had a Mexican Masonic Temple in the rear of the building. It’s listed on the Phoenix Historic Register and National Register of Historic Places and is currently vacant.
Heard Building – 112 N. Central Avenue
Located on Central Avenue near Adams Street, the Heard Building was constructed in 1919 and is considered the first “skyscraper” in Arizona. It was owned by Dwight Heard, who also owned the Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette. Both papers operated in the building, which was also the broadcasting center for KTAR radio. The building’s original Chicago-style façade was remodeled in 1937 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The interior and exterior of the building are currently undergoing renovations to remove the 1937 additions and give it some much-deserved street presence.