1929 | Martha Shemer’s Childhood Home


317 W. Cypress

Shemer Art Center

This has got to be one of the prettiest houses in Willo (IMHO). This Spanish Colonial Revival home sits on a double lot and was built in 1929 by prominent Phoenix builder, J. H. Kline. It’s classic Spanish Revival architecture, with a low-pitched red tile roof, small front patio, large picture windows, and that lovely rounded front door. But take a closer look at the shape of the large picture windows – those are Tudor-arched windows. So much for stylistic purity, right?

This house is also interesting to me because it was the childhood home of Martha Evvard Shemer, founder of the Shemer Art Center on Camelback Road in the Arcadia neighborhood. Martha moved to Phoenix when she was a child and went to Phoenix Union High School. She got married instead of going to college, but she had a keen knack for real estate and made a fortune buying land, holding it and selling for a profit. The legend is that she invested in acres of land on the South side of Camelback Mountain when there wasn’t much of anything around there. People thought she was making a mistake. Then she bought land on the north side of the mountain and people thought she had lost her mind. Boy did she prove them wrong! In the late 1980s she purchased the house that is now the Shemer Art Center. It was an Arcadia landmark and she wanted to make sure it was preserved so she donated the house and the land to the City of Phoenix, who turned the responsibility for it over to the newly created Commission for the Arts. If you haven’t been there, go. It’s truly a Phoenix Point of Pride.

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.

1928 | The Joe Barta House



This is one of the most creative houses in Encanto-Palmcroft! It was built in 1928 for Joe Barta, owner of Butcher Boy meat markets, and designed by prominent Phoenix architect, Dwight Chenault. What makes this house so creative and one of my personal favorites, is that it was designed to look like a Mexican village, with masses of various shapes and heights. Many Spanish Revival homes used massing to imitate the look of an old village but this one takes the notion and really runs with it. The house is built around a front courtyard with fountain, designed to look like a central plaza. On the right side of the courtyard is a large round wood door surrounded by scalloped plaster work that makes this mass look like a church. Across the “plaza” is a winding exterior staircase that leads to a landing with another door and archways that lead the eye further up the imaginary hill this “village” is built on. Chenault didn’t forget the details, either. Tile accents, stained glass and windows of various sizes and shapes further suggest the look of individual buildings, rather than a single home.

1929 | Cotswold Revival

509 W. Holly


From 1900 to the 1930s, period revival styles were popular all over the US and especially in Phoenix. Our historic neighborhoods are full to various revival styles, from Tudor and Colonial to Spanish Colonial and Mediterranean. One of my favorite revival styles is the Cottage or Cotswold style. Based on English cottages from the Cotswold region of England, these homes are especially picturesque and remind people of “hobbit” houses. This one, known as the Isobel Noyes Rental House, has got to be one of the best examples in Phoenix. Cotswolds are characterized by use of brick or stone with stucco, and sometimes timbering. The roofs are wood shingle and designed to look like a thick thatched roof — they truly are an art form with their softly undulating and irregular shingles and rounded overhangs. The prominent chimney near the front door is also typical of this style. I really love the irregular stonework around the windows!

1928 | Idylwilde Park


This post is not so much about a particular house, but more about an unusual subdivision here in Phoenix, bounded by Fairmount and Weldon on the north and south, and 12th St. and 11th St. on the east and west. Opening in 1928, this unique community featured 42 home lots surrounding (backing up to) a 3-acre “secret” park surrounded by Tamarisk trees. Each homeowner owns an equal share of this private oasis. I understand that this concept originated in Great Britain, and as far as I know, it is the only community like it in Phoenix!

Originally boasting a golf course, children’s play ground, pool and its own well, what remains today is the pool (built from native rock) and a play area. Surrounding the park are some super cute little houses, all built in revival styles: Tudor, Spanish Colonial, Pueblo and Cottage.

1930 | The Baker House



The Bert J. Freidman/A. B. Baker House is also known as the “Rabbi’s” house by its neighbors in the Willo Historic district. Built in 1930, the Mediterranean Revival home is one of the largest in the neighborhood, with 4 bedrooms, 4 baths and a 700 sq ft. basement. In 1943 the lot adjacent to the Baker House, at the corner of McDowell and 3rd Avenue, was purchased by the Beth El congregation for their first formal home. The Beth El Synagogue was finished in 1951 and included a 12-room school and a home for Rabbi Harr Z. Schechtman. The basement of the synagogue was connected to the basement of the Baker House by at least one tunnel so the Rabbi and the congregants could escape if necessary. The congregation quickly outgrew the space and moved to its current home in north-central Phoenix. Today the synagogue building a pawn shop and the tunnels have been blocked off.

1930 | Mod Bungalow



Sometimes I come across a house that just blows me away for its funky-cool DIY renovation. Such is the case with this 1930s bungalow that I got the chance to see the other day. The current owner did all the renovations herself using many found and upcycled materials including the uber-cool steel kitchen cabinets and the stainless wet bar. I just love the exposed brick, barn wood back splash in the kitchen, and the variety of colors and finishes!

1928 | Spanish Colonial Revival



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.

URGENT ALERT! 1909 | Knipe House

I am still under the weather (but getting better) and I came across an article by Anna Chryssovergis from the AZ Republic about the Historic Knipe House. This Roosevelt Row home was built in 1909 and was the home of a prominent Phoenix architect. It was saved from demolition by community activists and the city of Phoenix and represents one of the few remaining homes that was once part of a vibrant neighborhood. The city of Phoenix is looking for a buyer who will restore the home — preserving the character of the turn-of-the-century bungalow. Read the whole article here, and pass it along to any of your preservation-minded friends who are looking for a great property to buy and breathe new life into.
Photo: The Republic