Monday, December 17, 2007

Phoenix's Willo district is a fairy-tale land of cozy cottages, funky shops

[Source: Eric Noland, Los Angeles Daily News; reprinted in Miami Herald] -- The ceiling beams were hewn by hand in 1922, and Jeff Cirulla points to the chisel marks as he stands in the living room of this Spanish colonial treasure. He appreciates the workmanship all the more, he says, now that the painstaking task of removing layers of purple latex paint has been completed. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, residents proudly show off leaded-glass windows, murals on backyard walls and scored concrete floors. In a cozy California bungalow, Jeremy and Denise Staley indicate the newly installed hexagonal tile in the kitchen; a classic touch. "We took out the granite countertops," Denise says.

These are the people of Phoenix's Willo Historic District, and this is their annual home tour. Held during the winter (the next one is Feb. 10), about 15 homeowners open up their storybook cottages, most built in the 1920s and '30s in such styles as English Cotswold, Spanish mission and French provincial.

The homes were designed long before the imperative for entertainment centers, walk-in closets and a separate bedroom for each and every child. But, for the sake of abundant charm, the residents make adjustments. "A substantial majority have a storage facility somewhere, for the winter clothes," Bob Cannon, president of the neighborhood association, said with a chuckle. "The lack of storage and a garage is a challenge for some of the (newly arrived) suburbans to handle."

A historic district in Phoenix? Well, you have to stretch the concept a bit -- and New Englanders would split their sides with laughter -- but it is, after all, a young city. The Willo gained protection as a special conservation district in the 1980s, which spared it the distressing trend of mansionization. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]