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.

1912 | “Frenchy” Vieux

508 W. Portland St.

This house is certainly a standout in the Roosevelt Historic District. It sits among many large Craftsman bungalows along Portland St., but it bears no resemblance to that popular style from the early 19th century. The overall impression is low and horizontal, even though it is a two-story house. A 75′ veranda runs along the southern elevation and features a large round extension of the porch at the SE corner of the home. The National Register of Historic Places inventory of homes in the Roosevelt Historic District calls this house “one of the few, if not the only example of an Italian Villa (Italianate) style residence in the Salt River Valley,” but I disagree. “Frenchy” Vieux has the low profile (accentuated by the second floor dormers) and deep eaves typical of the Prairie Style.* As is indicative of Period Revival homes in the Phoenix area, the architect took liberties to incorporate some Classical and possibly Mediterranean influences into his design — such as the columns that line the veranda and details on planters and lamps — but the primary elements are Prairie.

The house cost $10,000 to build and was designed by Leighton G. Knipe, a Los Angeles architect who designed many homes and public buildings in Phoenix, for Marcellin “Frenchy” Vieux, who acted as his own contractor at a . Vieux came to Phoenix from France around 1904 and made his fortune as a concrete contractor. In fact, you might see the “Frenchy” Vieux stamp on sidewalks around the older parts of Phoenix. The one pictured above is right in front of the house. As you might expect, Vieux built his house primarily out of concrete, including the retaining wall around the yard and the decorative flower pots, columns and light fixtures. After Vieux’s death, the house was used as a music school and then subdivided into apartments. It was eventually acquired by the City of Phoenix as part of the right of way for I-10, and may have been torn down under the freeway’s original design. However, the city’s plans changed and lucky for us “Frenchy” Vieux is still standing today!

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

Note: I will feature an Italianate home — The Norton House — in a future post.

1950 | David and Gladys Wright House

5212 E. Exeter Boulevard

The David and Gladys Wright House could certainly be considered one of the most important Wright-designed buildings in Phoenix, which makes the fact that it was almost torn down by developers impossible to comprehend. Thankfully for us and the world that did not happen, but the future of this amazing place is still not quite settled. A few years ago I shared a great article by Nora Burba Trulsson from Houzz.com about the house and its still a great article with wonderful photos of this largely original, untouched home. Since that article was written, the house changed hands again, now owned Benson Botsford LLC. Two architects associated with the firm, Bing Hu and Wenchin Shi, are personally renovating the property with plans of installing a copper roof — part of the original plan for the house that was never completed. They also requested the home be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it was in January of 2022. Now this iconic home is protected from future attempts to demolish it!

Photo: Walt Lockley, Wikimedia Commons.

1920 | The Salim Ackel House

94 E. Monte Vista Rd.

Salim Ackel was a Syrian immigrant, businessman and local mover and shaker. He arrived in the valley in 1892 where he grew a small supply business into a successful emporium known as the Phoenix Seed and Feed Company. He built the Jefferson Hotel in 1915 (now known as the Barrister Building) at the corner of Central and Jefferson. (AKA The Psycho Building because the opening scene of Psycho was filmed there.)

In 1920 he built a large home — over 5,000 sq. ft. — in Phoenix’s Alvarado Neighborhood. This unique home is described on the National Register of Historic Places as “Neo-Colonial, with significant design reference to Italian Renaissance and Prairie School detailing.” You can see the neo-colonial aspect in the symmetrical 2-story facade, the Italian influence is evident in the balustrades and details and Prairie Style in the strong horizontals and deep overhangs. The Ackel home was, in its day, one of the showplaces in Phoenix — where the elite went to dance the night away!