Sites to See: A.E. England Building

One of the sites that will be featured during Jane’s Walk Phoenix is the recently completed Downtown Phoenix Civic Space, which features not only the ‘air sculpture’ Her Secret is Patience, but also the restored A.E, England Building that was recently profiled on the  Downtown Voices Coalition site:

While much of the hubbub of downtown Phoenix’s Civic Space focused on Janet Echelman’s public art piece, “Her Secret is Patience,” another important feature of the park is the historic A.E. England Building.   Thanks to the 2006 Historic Preservation Bond Committee, Phoenix residents who voted for the 2006 Bond Program, local preservation advocates, the City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Office and Commission, and Mayor Gordon and City Council, the building was spared from the wrecking ball (yes, it was threatened at one point).

The interior renovation is not quite done.  While you’re waiting for it to be completed and the “grand opening” later this spring, sit back and read about its history, courtesy of the staff at the Historic Preservation Office:

Locally prominent builder Clinton Campbell constructed the A.E. England Motors, Inc./Electrical Equipment Co. building in 1926.   The Spanish Renaissance Revival style building features three large storefront windows with ornate cast concrete window surrounds and decorative course molding along the roof parapet.  Six original bow-string wood trusses, sandwiched between new laminated beams, support the roof structure.

Originally an automotive dealership, A.E. England sold autos from the Hudson Motor Car Co. (1909-1954) and its less expensive Essex brand.   Cars were featured prominently in the building’s large display windows.   Central Avenue north of Van Buren Street became Phoenix’s first “auto row,” lined with Cadillac, Studebaker, Ford, and DeSoto dealerships well into the 1960s.

England left the auto sales business sometime in the early 1930s.   The Electrical Equipment Co., purveyors of radios, batteries, and Kelvinator refrigerators, occupied the building for the next twenty-five years.   The company’s “Gold Room,” decorated with gold drapes, gold walls and gold wicker furniture, provided an optimal radio listening experience for prospective buyers.  Five Atwater-Kent cabinet radios were on display, ready for demonstration by company salesmen.

The Electrical Equipment Co., along with The Arizona Republican (now The Arizona Republic) newspaper, owned the KTAR radio station.   Initially called KFAD and founded in 1922, KTAR was the first radio station in Arizona.   The Electrical Equipment Co. provided the equipment for the radio station which was originally located in the Heard Building at 112 N. Central Avenue.

In its later years, the A.E. England Motors Co., Inc./Electrical Equipment Co. building hosted a stationery store and an art gallery.   The building’s north wall, which was originally a party wall with another building, now consists largely of glass storefront panels in-filled between the original concrete columns.  The building was listed on the Phoenix Historic Property Register in 2006 and rehabilitated by the City of Phoenix in 2008-2009 as part of the downtown Phoenix Civic Space.

 

 

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A common shorthand for Jane Jacobs was that she ‘loved side walks and hated parks‘, inspired by this passage from Death and Life of Great American Cities:

“Conventionally, neighborhood parks or parklike open spaces are considered boons conferred on the deprived populations of cities. Let us turn this thought around, and consider city parks deprived places that need the boon of life and appreciation conferred on them.” (p. 88)

While this may have been true of the Patriots Park, the new Phoenix Civic Space refutes this notion…  in fact you could easily replace ‘Rittenhouse Square” with Civic Space park in the follow quotation (again from DLGAC) and be alarmingly accurate:

“Rittenhouse Square possesses a diverse rim and diverse neighborhood hinterland. … This mixture of uses of buildings directly produces for the park a mixture of users who enter and leave the park at different times … The park thus possesses an intricate sequence of uses and users.” (p. 96)

Part of the reason for the early success of the Civic Space lies, not necessarily with the art sculpture, which has garnered much of the park’s attention (both positive and negative) to date, but rather how the park integrates with the ‘diverse rim of the neighborhood around it, including ASU Downtown (and the Taylor Place  residences), the YMCA,  Westward Ho, and  several apartments, condos and office buildings in its immediate vicinity.    

Another large part of the success of the park is how it respected the remaining history of the site and protected the A.E England building  from the imminent wrecking ball and  (as well as the  and the future integration with the historic US Post Office, which is being adapted into the Downtown ASU  Student Services Center, and the adjacent Metro Office Building at 311 N 1st Ave..  

After all, another famous Jacob’s adage is ‘new ideas require old buildings.’  The A.E. England Building is poised to become an incubator for new ideas as it continues is adaptation into a neighborhood meeting space for the a mixture of community uses.

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