Thursday, June 28, 2007

Iconic 'mushroom' bank focus of Phoenix preservation fight

[Source: Jaimee Rose and Jennifer Price, Arizona Republic] -- Fists are up in a fight to save the Valley's "mushroom" bank, an adored Arcadia architectural icon threatened by modern America: developers with condos and stylish retail in their eyes. The quirky '60s structure reigns supreme over some seriously swanky real estate: the corner of 44th Street and Camelback Road in Phoenix. JP Morgan Chase & Co. owns the building and is willing to save the bank and preserve its fungal glory, especially if the neighborhood will play nice and let developers rezone and make over the bank's yard with four-story condos and luxe shopping.

The neighborhood wants nothing of the kind: no more condos, no demolition, and, lest we forget, these are the residents who trumped The Donald and his Camelback tower. No one wants to tear down the bank, but its future is left dangling, pawnlike, in the middle of a zoning fight. Chase is willing to apply for historic designation, a move that would persuade historians and city officials to cooperate with operation condo. But the mushroom structures that give the bank its nickname will, at the least, be transplanted, and some of the shrooms may not survive. On Monday, the Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission will meet regarding formal historic status, and on Tuesday, a city planning committee will open discussions to allow the condos. Ultimately, the future of the bank and its backyard is held by the Phoenix City Council. Preservationists lean in favor of giving up the green space in order to save the bank.

"In order to keep this icon," Councilman Tom Simplot said, "they need to develop that green space. They are not going to be able to save the building if they don't give it up." But wedging condos onto the lawn, said Frank Henry, 73, the building's celebrated architect, is "like taking a painting and cutting off a corner of it." And in a valley where everything old is torn down and rebuilt again, then painted beige or turned Tuscan, this is one place that doesn't look like everywhere else, preservationists say. "One way of losing a community is losing the history of the community," said Rusty Foley, chairwoman of the preservation commission. "People don't think of anything out here as old, but we're a community that grew up in the 20th century. . . . If we lost those buildings, maybe you forget where you came from."

[Note: To read the full article, click here. Photo source: Walt Lockley.]