Thursday, February 15, 2007

Historic building bites the dust

[Source: Jonathan Cooper, ASU Web Devil] -- The iconic gold-domed roof of the former Visitor Information Center is still intact, but the building it once covered is little more than dust. A crane removed the roof Saturday, placing it on the ground several dozen feet from its home of nearly 50 years. Community activists lamented the building's destruction Monday, saying ASU administrators are destroying their city's character. "They've just basically proven that they can't be trusted as stewards of Arizona's history," said Vincent Murray, president of the Arizona Preservation Foundation. "Maybe their own, but nobody else's." University officials have said the building couldn't be incorporated into necessary University growth, which includes new student housing and faculty offices for Barrett, the Honors College.

"We found it would have too much impact on the outdoor space and number of units for the present and future needs of the Barrett Honors College," said Leah Hardesty, an ASU spokeswoman. The building was built in 1962 on the northwest corner of Apache Boulevard and Rural Road as a Valley National Bank. As Tempe grew southward, the bank lent money to build many of the new homes, and older Tempeans have developed a bond with the building and its specific location, Murray said. "A lot of people say the only thing historic about it was the dome," Murray said. "That's not the case at all. The building itself represented a different time and place." ASU officials tried to appease critics' concerns with a proposal to salvage the gold roof and allow architecture and design students to develop an alternative use on the Tempe campus. But opponents haven't warmed to the idea.

"That's like taking the front porch off of Old Main and making it a hot dog stand down the street," Murray said. "Would you consider that preservation?" Tempe resident Maria Bahr hasn't been able to drive by the corner where the building once stood. "It makes me too sad," she said. "They're destroying the essence of downtown Tempe and the community that used to be here." ASU has been working with the State Historic Preservation Office to preserve as much of the building as possible, Hardesty said. A preservation office official did not return a call for comment Monday. "We do recognize the public perception and the importance of the dome, which is why we are keeping it on the Tempe campus," Hardesty said. Specific plans for the new honors college are still subject to Arizona Board of Regents approval, but it is expected to open in 2009, Hardesty said. [Photo source: Matthew, Modern Phoenix].