Robert Melikian, the owner of the historic Hotel San Carlos and author of Vanishing Phoenix, is calmed by the historical buildings around him.
“I like being connected to other people and knowing we share the same insecurities and promote similar values,” said Melikian, who loves the nostalgic charm that historical buildings exude.
Unfortunately, Phoenix lacks many of the buildings that could have been preserved over time. According to Melikian, many residential buildings are saved because the preservations are done voluntarily, but the historic commercial building owners are more interested in financial gains by letting them go all together or demolishing them.
“Historic properties…are reflections of how the community sees itself. If they are alive and vibrant, companies will see that and be much more likely to move here and promote economic development. We have a dead downtown and no commercial historic preservation, and it shows,” said Melikian.
On the other hand, Dana Johnson, president of the board with the Alwun House, a nearby historical property, suggests that compared to other national cities, Phoenix has a large percentage of preservation successes. They, too, went through a process of basic rehabilitation to renovate. Johnson is worried about the strength of the preservation organization because the Historic Preservation Director was recently kicked out, though he was unsure why.
Personally he is a firm believer in historic preservation.
“If you don’t know where we come from, how do we know where to go?” said Johnson.
According to John Jacquemart at the Historical Preservation Office, each applicant for renovations and changes to historical buildings must follow rules on whether or not their plans “alter, diminish, eliminate, or affect historical or architectural character of the property.”
Late in September at Phoenix City Hall, Jason Saucedo, put in a request to renovate a historic home in the Garfield historic district by building a carport, a utility room, a masonry fence, a ribbon driveway, and replacing the existing windows with fiberglass ones. A variety of assistance programs are assumed to have encompassed all aspects of the renovation for special neighborhood revival projects, as this will be funded by taxpayer dollars.
Saucedo’s plans included complementing the original style of the property, but not perfectly matching them. According to Ted Brookhart, the hearing officer, any modifications to a historical property must keep the original character of the building, but cannot be identical because it creates false history.
A small group of preservation specialists, Saucedo’s contractor, and Brookhart were called to come to a conclusion on whether or not his proposed plans are acceptable.
In Melikian’s experience, he has noticed that in general, residential properties are renovated more than commercial ones. The owners understand the importance of keeping local history alive.
Another building that has been preserved in Downtown Phoenix is the Victorian Rosson House. The Rosson House was built in 1895 and has been registered as being historically preserved for 30 years. According to their website, the city bought the property in 1974, and restored it with the help of many contributors.
According to Tom Walsh from the Rosson House, historically preserving the building allowed them to be put on the national list of protected houses and become more well known, as well as reopen as a museum.
Unlike the Rosson House, which seems to be lucky to have been preserved, Melikian said, “[Phoenix has] lost about over 55 historic commercial buildings in the past 30 years. Beautiful, public Victorian treasures that lasted almost 100 years were torn down. I’m not optimistic about the future of our historic commercial buildings.”
A city full of modern structures juxtaposed with historical buildings can teach future generations about what was important in Phoenix’s past, and the evolution of tourism. Historic buildings are also an art form of which people can relate.
“My feeling is that if an owner wants to save his historic building, he should be given a lot of leeway to make it more viable. The city should not fight him. If he wants to tear it down the city should fight relentlessly,” Melikian said.
As for Saucedo’s case, a quick hearing approved his plans for renovating the 1928 Monterey Revival style property in question. The hearing officer and the other historical preservation officers concluded that all plans met guidelines, were consistent with the Garfield district, and met traffic engineering standards. Only one minor alteration was made to Saucedo’s plans involving the height of the future carport, which originally didn’t meet neighborhood standards.
After being approved with historical preservation standards, Saucedo must is waiting for building permits and a final word before proceeding with the physical project, which is expected to take several months. Saucedo said he is excited to begin the renovations.