1889 Steinegger Shelter in downtown Phoenix to be demolished soon
Historian and curator Robert Melikian was frustrated and sad. He said last week that he wanted to rid the world of what he called “the negligent demo,” a trend that rewards owners of historic buildings for letting those buildings rot.
“Last night, the Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission voted not to add the Steinegger Shelter to the Phoenix Register of Historic Properties,” he explained. “The building is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is the second oldest commercial building in Arizona. But it should be demolished in a few weeks, as the owner let it collapse to the point that it is no longer recoverable.
The Steinegger is an indescribable three-story building on Monroe Street just east of Central Avenue, built as a shelter in 1889 by an immigrant entrepreneur named Alexander Steinegger. It was closed in 2004 and abandoned. “That’s when the neglect started,” Melikian sighs. “Sixteen years of transients have gone through there. The building was open to the elements. She was barricaded in 2017, and they put the fake white facade on it, so she became invisible. ”
Melikian said he viewed the Steinegger as a “time machine to a lost era”. He cited the building’s half-dozen 19th-century Rumford fireplaces, designed by physicist Sir Benjamin Thompson. The Rumfords are the only such heating structures remaining in Arizona.
“There are art objects lost in the building that would be treasures for future generations,” said Melikian, whose family owns the historic Hotel San Carlos. As a longtime curator and author of books on the architectural history of Phoenix, he has seen many beautiful old buildings razed to the ground to make way for parking lots or chain restaurants. But, he insisted, he did not see the four-to-three vote coming last Monday.
“The Phoenix Historical Society had collected 28,000 virtual signatures in just four days from people opposed to Steinegger’s teardown,” Melikian said. “We presented two reports from a brilliant and sympathetic lawyer who found a solution to save the Steinegger. All we needed was a little time, but the city rejected it. We have been ignored and fired and it is a shame.
This solution involved dismantling the west wall of the building and using the bricks to consolidate the other three sides of the structure, Melikian said. He called the owner of CSM Lodging, based in Minneapolis, and offered to pay the $ 140,000 to get this job done. “He’s an award-winning builder who has built here before,” he said. “I explained to him how he could win another prize by not demolishing the Steinegger but rehabilitating it instead. He did not answer my call.
While he waited, Melikian and his colleagues had a bigger goal in mind. “We no longer want buildings to be ignored to death,” he said, “or for builders to be honored for their negligent demolition.”
It’s something that happens a lot here, he says. “In our extreme weather conditions, buildings are deteriorating and you have developers buying a large property and letting it collapse on purpose. If we want architectural history, we have to get rid of this “careless demolition” situation. No other state has it.
To this end, Melikian and other conservation advocates have teamed up with Preserve Phoenix, a nonprofit that tries to save valuable old buildings. “We will join forces with the people of mid-century modern, who have been so well organized in their preservation work, and those of us who are interested in older buildings, to combat this kind of neglect and destruction. ”
The group, he explained, will support politicians who support preservation policies and promote an end to “careless demolition”.
“All we’ve had so far is the ability to shame building owners by doing the right thing,” Melikian said. “It didn’t work in most cases. Our wins have been rare, and we tend to lose. We certainly lost this time.