1935 – 37 | Phoenix Homesteads

I’ve discussed a specially-designed neighborhood before when I talked about Idylwilde Park. Phoenix Homesteads is another purpose-built neighborhood and one of our historic districts and a rare surviving example of one of the New Deal’s more controversial attempts to put the country back to work.

The Homesteads was a program of the Subsistence Farming Division of the US government, as part of the “back-to-the-land” movement. The program’s concept was to create low-income housing on one- to five-acre plots where families could grow vegetables and citrus and raise chickens and other small livestock. Families were required to have part-time industrial employment, so the location — north of Thomas and west of 28th St. — was chosen based on its relative proximity to local industries. These families applied to the program and rented the homes and land they worked. The program was controversial because some thought it sounded too much like communism. In total, only 35 such communities were developed nationwide and Phoenix Homesteads is the only one in Arizona.

If you’ve ever driven through it, even by accident, you would have recognized you were in a unique place. The flood irrigated neighborhood is lush with vegetation. There are many varieties of trees here — Washington Palms, Aleppo Pines and many types of fruit trees trees — and they are so large they touch over the street. The large trees and thick vegetation are a large part of what makes this area special. Homes were modest, Pueblo Revival style built of mud adobe bricks that were made on site. Floorplans were not standardized, so each of these homes is different.

Over the years the area has become a garden oasis in the middle of town. Owners paint their adobes beautiful colors, plant amazing wildflower gardens and add artwork to their yards. The Phoenix Homesteads have a great website with lots of historical material, and most of these historic images came from that site.

1936 | The Miracle House

306 W. Lewis

 

The New Deal was President Roosevelt’s response to the Great Depression. It created a number of reforms and new administrative departments to put the economy back on track and get people to work. One of these new departments was the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The goal of the FHA was to improve building standards and make home ownership accessible through FHA-insured mortgages. The impact the FHA had on the housing market cannot be underestimated — the number of new homes built in the Phoenix area increased almost 900% from 1934 to 1936. Most of these homes were built according to the new FHA building standards for a “modern” home. To promote this new approach to home building, the FHA built demonstration houses (two in Willo and one in Palmcroft) showcasing the new standards. But the FHA wasn’t the only organization building demonstration houses…

In 1936 the Arizona State Firemen’s Association built their own “fireproof” demonstration house, which they called the Miracle House. This modernistic house was constructed of fire resistant materials including adobe walls, concrete floors, steel casement windows and an asbestos roof. The home also boasted a rounded dining area lined with windows on the south-facing side of the house designed for passive-solar heating in winter. The asbestos roof has been replaced, but otherwise this house remains generally the same as it was in the 30s.

1928 | The Indian House

2040 Encanto Drive SE

 

When land developer, Dwight Heard, started work on his new high-end community, Encanto, he envisioned it to be the “Bel Aire” of Phoenix, where local movers and shakers would build stunning homes on its curvelinear, palm-tree-lined streets. In order to attract buyers he built “model homes” that showcased the skill of his designers and builders. These were not model homes in the modern sense, they were demonstration houses that highlighted the quality, design and modern conveniences that could be incorporated into any of the custom homes built in Encanto. The “Indian House” as it was known, is one of these model homes. Built in the Pueblo Revival style, it provides us with a distinctive impression of the pueblos that dot the New Mexico and Arizona landscape. The house is constructed of block, but designed to look like plastered adobe with uneven surfaces and rounded corners and parapet walls. Originally wood beams, known as vigas, protruded from the roofline and rustic wooden ladders tied the various levels together.

The Pueblo Revival style grew in popularity largely due to hotelier Fred Harvey’s romantic view of the Southwest and its native people. In the late 1800s, Harvey started a chain of hotels along the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad line, which helped spur tourism to the Southwest. His landmark hotels, such as La Posada and La Fonda in Santa Fe, New Mexico and others including El Tovar at the Grand Canyon, provided visitors with comfortable accommodations and an idealized notion of local architectural traditions. His popular “Indian Detours” — coach tours that took visitors into Indian Country — showcased Native American arts and crafts that travelers of the time found irresistible. The fever for Indian art and design that spread across the West is epitomized by The Indian House, which stands as a noteworthy example of this style.

Side note: this house is right around the corner from the Joe Barta House I featured in another blog post.

1870 | The Duppa Homestead

115 W SHERMAN, PHOENIX

This dilapidated old adobe building is said to be the oldest standing structure in the City of Phoenix. It sits, rotting, in the middle of a parking lot, surrounded by chain link but was built around 1870 by “Lord” Darrell Duppa, a Cambridge-educated gentleman from Kent, England who is considered one of the founders of Phoenix. He is also credited with naming the new town site. Duppa, along with Jack Swilling (another founding father) saw the agricultural potential of the valley and, taking a cue from the ancient Hohokam irrigation canals, devised a plan to irrigate the valley.

The building is made of mud adobe and covered with a roof constructed of Cottonwood branches and earth — typical construction techniques for the time. In fact, adobes like this would have dotted the fields near the Salt River before the turn of the century. Homestead is a misnomer however, since Duppa and his family probably never lived here — the building was most likely an agricultural out building on his ranch. It’s now managed by the Arizona Historical Society and at one time was open to the public as a sort of pioneer museum. Stop by and see it before it gets torn down or totally melts into the ground!

Historical photo courtesy of the Phoenix Museum of History.

1930 | Adobe Spanish Colonial Revival

58 W WILSHIRE, PHOENIX

I love this house because of that window! You should see it at night with a 10ft Christmas tree — stunning. The other thing I love about it is that it’s built of adobe (at least partially). Adobe is the natural building material of the Southwest — the thick walls keep homes cool in summer and warm in winter. The simple mud bricks are often made right on site from the earth that has been removed for the foundations. The owner of this home was so happy when she found the adobe walls while renovating the kitchen. Many adobe home owners have what is known as an “honesty window” where the adobe is visible and this owner left the adobe exposed after the remodel. A good friend of mine lives in this house and I have to admit I am more than a little jealous!