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

1917 | The Ellis-Shackelford House

1242 N. Central Ave.

At the turn of the century, much of the small city of Phoenix was clustered just north of the Rio Salado’s wide flood plane. After the town suffered through several devastating floods those who could afford to moved to higher ground north of town. During the prosperous teens and twenties, the wealthy began to build Victorian and Queen Anne mansions along Central Avenue (then called Center Street) in an area once known as “Millionaire’s Row.” The Ellis-Shackelford House is the last remaining (intact) mansion in this area. There are a few other mansions left along Central — most familiar are the Cole Mansion and the Baker House, which together make up the Old Spaghetti Factory. But the Ellis-Shackelford house is the only mansion that remains true to its original form.

Dr. William Ellis moved to Phoenix from Ohio in 1907 and helped establish the Arizona Deaconess Hospital, now known as Good Samaritan. Dr. Ellis employed architect R. A. Gray to design the house, which he built for his wife Reba and daughter Helen. The home was completed in 1917, and employed a number of innovative technologies that were not common in Phoenix such as a cistern to catch rainwater coming off the roof, a solar water heater, central vacuum system, and electricity throughout the house. Stylistically the house is a combination of the Prairie Style* with Mediterranean touches, such as the tiled roof and double wooden brackets under the eaves. High quality detailing included a mahogany staircase and trim imported from the Philippines. The house is three stories with a full basement for a total of 6,600 sq ft. of living space and situated on an acre lot. Daughter Helen and husband Gordon Shakelford occupied the house until 1964. Afterwards it was converted into a boys home, the Arizona Historical Society Museum and now houses Arizona Humanities. Like “Frenchy” Vieux, this house was slated to be demolished during the construction of I-10, but was saved and completely restored in 2013. It can be rented for events — check here for more info.

*For more on Prairie Style architecture, visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust

Historical images courtesy of the Arizona Historical Society.

1930 | The Baker House

301 W. Almeria Rd.

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.

1931 | The Nathan Diamond House

2220 N. 9th Ave.

Nathan Diamond was a Polish immigrant and the founder — with his brother Issac — of Diamond’s department store in 1897. The brothers came to Phoenix from El Paso where they had a successful dry goods store. Their Phoenix store was originally known as The Boston Store and, along with Goldwaters, was the posh shopping destination in downtown Phoenix. Diamond’s eventually expanded to 12 stores throughout the Southwest when it was sold to Dillards in the 1980s.

In 1931, Diamond built a 4,900-square-foot, 5-bedroom Mediterranean Revival home in the Encanto-Palmcroft neighborhood of Phoenix. Costing $17,000 to build, it has an elegant 2-story foyer with a sweeping stairway and hand-carved doors imported from South America. The exterior features multiple diamond-shaped details in the shutters and the stained glass behind the Juliet balcony, as well as a hand-carved stone arch decorating the entrance. Diamond held elaborate parties here in the huge ballroom; Guests were greeted at the door by the sound of a string quartet playing on the small balcony above the entrance, which was only accessible by a ladder hidden in the closet to the right of the front door. The house also boasts a full basement where the family stayed cool in the hot Phoenix summers.

Historic image courtesy of thedepartmentstoremuseum.org, interior image from zillow.com.