1923 | Frank and Sarah Hilgeman House

333 W. Loma Lane

Good luck trying to see this house. The only photo I could get is from the back corner, showcasing the storage room that was a later addition. This home was unknown to me until I saw a reference to the “Rock House” while researching another property. Thanks to its recent addition to the Phoenix Historic Property Register, it is now officially named the Frank and Sarah Hilgeman House and was built around 1923 by Frank Hilgeman and his son.

The Hilgemans moved to Phoenix from Indiana in 1919 because Frank’s wife, Sarah, had tuberculosis. The story is that Frank, Sarah and their three children lived in a tent near the canal at 7th Ave. and Dunlap for several months to make sure the hot, dry weather would help Sarah’s health. She started to improve and the family moved into a wood-frame house near 15th Avenue and Butler. In 1923 Frank bought 20 acres of citrus groves on the north side of Northern Avenue between 3rd and 7th Avenues. Soon he started to build a home of his own design out of local malapai stone hauled from Sunnyslope mountain in his old truck.

It was fairly common at the time for people to design their own homes, whether or not they were built by hand. Homes of this type are known as Vernacular, an architectural term meaning native to a specific area — also known as folk architecture. The house took 3-4 years to build, with the basement acting as temporary housing for the family until the first floor was complete. Frank used Salt River stone for the foundation and the chimney to contrast with the dark malapai stone. In 1941 the 20 acres was divided into two plots, and Frank sold off the Eastern half containing the Rock House. Sometime after his death in 1944 the plots were further subdivided into multiple lots. As a result, the Rock House lost its Northern Avenue frontage and now has a Loma Lane address. The current owner successfully petitioned for the property’s inclusion on the Phoenix Historic Property Register in 2015, preserving an interesting piece of Phoenix history.

Historic photos: Phoenix Historic Preservation; AZ Central

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.

1895 | William J. Murphy House

7514 N. Central Ave./ 10 W. Orangewood

This imposing, but very well hidden, Victorian home is one of less than 50 pre-1900 homes that still exist in Phoenix. It was built by William J. Murphy, a businessman and developer who moved to Arizona from Ohio in 1880 and initially worked for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad before prospering as a developer. Murphy is credited with building the Arizona Canal in 1885, developing the city of Glendale, and introducing citrus and sugar beets to the area. Murphy is also responsible for building Grand Avenue in order to draw people from the growing city of Phoenix to the new towns of Peoria and Glendale.

In 1895, Murphy purchased 10 acres along along Central Avenue where he built a ranch for his family, including this large Victorian home. He saw the agricultural potential of land along the canal and planted over 1,800 citrus trees, imported from California, on his ranch — marking the birth of the citrus industry in Phoenix.

The 3-story home is built of painted brick with a wood shake roof and includes a long, shaded veranda where the family spent many afternoons. Typical of the Victorian style, it is adorned with “gingerbread” accents and dormer windows. The family had picnics and played croquet on a generous lawn that separated the house from Central Ave. This part of the property was later subdivided and a much newer residence now sits between Central Ave. and the Murphy house. In order to see the home, you must drive west on Orangewood Ave. and even then, it’s hard to see!

The distinctive streetscape along Central Ave. from Bethany Home Road to the Arizona Canal was Murphy’s creation and looks today very much as it did in the late 1800s. He was responsible for planting rows of Ash and Olive trees along the irrigation ditches that run paralleled to this part of Central Ave., and for establishing the Murphy Bridal Path*, a multi-use path that runs along the east side of Central Ave. The streetscape from Bethany to the Arizona Canal is on the Phoenix Historic Register, and has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.

*The path was named for Murphy in the 1940s by the Arizona Horse Lover’s Club

Historical photos courtesy of the Arizona Historical Society and the Arizona Capitol Times.

1912 | The James C. Norton House

The Norton House today

2700 N. 15th Avenue

Dr. James Norton came to Phoenix in 1892 to become first territorial veterinarian of Arizona. In 1912 he purchased acreage north of town where he established a dairy and built this imposing home for his wife Clara and their children. I have seen the house referred to as Mission Revival, and I suppose it has some of those qualities, but I think it’s more Italianate/Renaissance Revival. In any case, it must have seemed an elegant and imposing structure, looking much as it does today, sitting alone on a large grassy lawn (a favorite place for croquet and picnics). The house had a large fireplace in the main living room and one in an upstairs bedroom, of which there were 5. Mahogany detailing and beamed ceilings made for an impressive interior. The ceiling beams were hand painted with vine tendrils to match the stained glass windows in the formal dining room. Along the back was a kitchen with butler’s pantry and maid’s quarters, while upstairs a large sleeping porch ran along the west side. The home was one of the first in the country to have a cooling system — a early version of evaporative cooling.

Norton saw the potential of his land for development, and in 1927 he platted a section to create Del Norte Place, a really beautiful neighborhood west of 15th Ave. that Norton called “the countryside west of town.” The homes were mostly small cottage revival styles on tree-lined streets and sold for $5,000 – $7,000. Of course, once the depression hit, the building boom slowed down and by 1934 Norton got out of the home building business. Times were hard, and so he sold his remaining 140 acres and the house to the city. With the addition of another 60 acres from other sources (including Dwight Heard) the city could create its first recreational park.

The plan for a “Class A” park.

The 200-acre Encanto Park opened in 1937 and was constructed largely by the Works Progress Administration — the New Deal program that built so many public works projects across the US. The park is now on the National Register of Historic Places and included 2 golf courses, a band shell (now gone), lagoons for fishing and boating, a club house, tennis courts, an archery range and plenty of room to run and play. Today the Norton house is used by the City of Phoenix Parks and Rec as administrative offices, and will be going through an extensive renovation soon.

Historic photos courtesy of Historic Preservation Office of the City of Phoenix Neighborhood Services Department

1924 | Clinker Brick Cottage

1002 E Pasadena

I always stop by this cute little house when I go to Oregano’s on Camelback — it’s just north of the restaurant on the corner of 10th Street and Pasadena. Visible in a 1930 aerial photo, it is the only house on the block from 10th Street to 10th Place and from Pasadena to Medlock. A few other houses appear nearby, but mostly it is surrounded by farmland. It is clearly the oldest home in the area — it was built in 1924 and the rest of the neighborhood dates primarily from the 40s and the 50s.

A truly tiny house at only 827 square feet, it gets a ton of charm from the use of clinker brick, of which it is entirely made. Clinker bricks get their name from the clinking sound they make when they are banged together and are created when wet, unfired bricks are placed very close to the fire in a brick kiln, creating a durable brick that is often discolored and misshapen. These characteristics made them undesirable as a building material until the 1920s Arts and Crafts Movement brought them into vogue. Architects began incorporating clinkers into bungalows, Colonial Revivals and even Tudors! In most cases, clinker bricks are used to accent regular brick or stone, but in this case, even the main body of the walls are made of light yellow, slightly misshapen bricks. The crazy chimney and the accents around the windows and corners are made of dark, heavily distorted bricks. Together they create a kind of “wacky shack” appearance, but it was greatly admired in its day.

1928 | Spanish Colonial Revival

1001 E OCOTILLO RD.

 

Update: I have recently learned from the home’s owner that this home was not part of the Pope Lime Company or occupied by the owner. Thanks for the clarification!

 

Another in my “not where you expect it to be” series! I stumbled upon this 1928 Spanish Colonial Revival home while showing a1950s ranch house down the street. Aerial maps from the 30s show this home sitting alone among citrus orchards – quite possibly part of the Pope Lime Company estate (although I can’t confirm the Pope family ever lived in the house). The 2-story home sits on a third of an acre at the northwest corner of the old citrus grove and boasts 2,481 square feet, multiple fireplaces, coved ceilings, wood floors, grand staircase, several balconies, roof-top deck and a finished basement. When it was built it towered over the lime trees and would have been seen from a distance — a testament to the prosperity of small-scale farm owners in the valley.

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.

1926 | Spanish Farmhouse

2241 E WHITTON, PHOENIX

Once in awhile I stumble upon a hidden gem that is a testament to our agricultural heritage. This is an example of one — a lovely 2-story farm house situated on 1/3 acre in the middle of town near Osborn and 24th St. The neighborhood is now called Loma Linda, and modest ranch homes surround this lush, gated compound. When it was built in 1926, it was one of several large homes in the area that housed the families of farmers and those who just wanted to be “out in the country.” In the hot summers the family would put mattresses on the balcony upstairs and sleep under the stars to keep cool.