Preserving Architectural Treasures

Ralph Haver.  Al Beadle. Blaine Drake. Charles and Arthur Schreiber.

Years ago, these were household names to Phoenicians—literally. As residential and commercial property architects and designers, they played a significant  role in Phoenix’s explosive growth in the three decades following World War II.

However, as time passed—and with the frenzied glut of new development that took place from the 1980s forward—these seminal designers and their work fell off people’s radars.

But as is the case with everything hip and trendy, they’re making a comeback—thanks to the increasing popularity of an online building design resource called the Modern Phoenix Neighborhood Network, which features long-format journalism and photography that document and celebrate mid-century (1945-1975) building design in Arizona.

The site’s creator is Alison King, a design history professor at the Art Institute of Phoenix. In 2003, she and her husband Matthew decided to share their enthusiasm for structural “art treasures” in the Valley, as well as motivate Arizona residents to, as King says, “care for and preserve our mid-century design stock.”

The first few months of the couple’s early exploration of the city’s architectural styles were, as King points out, “a very personal journey.”

“We were driving around the city and photographing houses in neighborhoods that we thought we might like to live in for our first home,” she explains. “In the process, we were getting to know Phoenix all over again, learning about how it was laid out, what particular design trends were used.”

The Kings began focusing their interest on what they termed “modern and modern historic” homes from that 30-year, post-war period in Valley construction, and the idea of sharing what they found online grew organically from that interest. King began publishing neighborhood photos and other information that she thought would bring exposure to the many and varied design trends that populated the mid-century architectural ethos in the Valley.

King was surprised to see the site and message board explode with activity. Random people began contacting them to post photos, ask about certain features and designs and swap materials. The site quickly became an online community that now comprises nearly 5,000 active members and has attracted more than 4,500 Facebook followers.

King says that the website and its focus have helped her grow as a design enthusiast. She speaks publicly on the topic of modernist principles in design and is constantly on the hunt for new aspects of her professional and a vocational bent.

“It’s become a platform for me to push myself in my own research and to learn new things—new information—and then take it to the public to share it with them as well.”

Reaction to the neighborhood network site is often such that it generates a kind of “a-ha!” moment in their lives, helping them view their own and other works of residential and commercial architecture in a new light.

As King points out, “We frequently get people telling us, ‘I always [felt] there was something special about that building or that house, but I just didn’t know.’ They end up feeling validated and quite excited that they were able to recognize greatness.”

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