Facing demolition, community members attempt to preserve GreenHAUS murals

With GreenHAUS facing demolition, community members are attempting to preserve the murals the building houses. (Amanda LaCasse/DD)
With GreenHAUS potentially facing demolition, community members are attempting to preserve the historic murals the building houses. (Amanda LaCasse/DD)

Since the announcement that GreenHAUS and the murals it houses faced possible demolition, downtown community members, developers, preservationists and artists have responded with attempts to save the artwork.

Inside GreenHAUS are two murals painted by Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia in the early 1950s. The larger, 47-foot mural was allegedly painted to pay off DeGrazia’s bar tab. In an effort to save the building and the historic DeGrazia murals, local artists Pete Petrisko and Bob Diehl started a change.org petition in December, and many other residents and community members have spoken up about the potential loss of precious art in Downtown Phoenix.

“Degrazia was such a famous personality in Arizona, and in his early days, he went from place to place and painted lots of murals,” said Lance Laber, director of the DeGrazia Foundation. “He ended up becoming very famous, and as a famous artist his murals and his work are very important.”

The Three Birds Mural on the exterior of GreenHAUS Gallery has been encouraging people to stop and stare since July 2012, when artist Lauren Lee painted it.

“With this mural, the only motivation was to have fine art on the street on the way home,” Lee said. “I drive by it every day, so it was something I wanted to be able to look at every day.”

In a world full of advertisements, this piece is different, as it was created solely for the community to enjoy, Lee said.

“We are so overwhelmed with images,” Lee said. “An image that is meant just to enhance a community and add to the community is not common.”

All three murals are set to be destroyed when the building is demolished to make way for an apartment complex developed by Baron Properties. Cole and Dayna Reed, who run the GreenHAUS gallery, are relocating to Portland, Oregon. Baron Properties closed on the sale in September.

“Murals aren’t secure things unless they are public art or privately funded,” Lee said. “It’s sad, but I understand that these things aren’t protected. My plan is to be there and photograph it. I was there when it was born and I will be there when it goes.”

On Friday Jan. 16, the Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission held a meeting at the City Council Chambers to discuss the possibility that three buildings on Roosevelt Street, including the GreenHAUS building, might be eligible for historic preservation status.

About 50 community members spoke of the importance of the murals, as well as the building’s ties to the LGBT community in Phoenix. It served as the 307 Lounge from 1950 until 2000, a place where members of the LGBT community could go out, have a good time and feel safe.

At the end of the meeting, the commission voted to postpone a decision in order to do more research about the historical qualities of each property that may make them eligible for historical preservation status.

Louisa Stark, a Phoenix resident, said she was saddened by the outcome of the meeting.

“I think this is the type of thing we’ve seen before,” Stark said. “People really want to see the historic overlays and the city makes it impossible. I hope they can be saved. You always hate to see original art destroyed.”

In an effort to preserve the art, Cole and Dayna Reed had a fake Sheetrock wall put up so the murals would not be touched. Now, the DeGrazia Foundation and Baron Properties are working together to determine the best methods of saving the works.

“We are waiting for the murals to be uncovered so we can go up there and see what the possibilities are,” Laber said. “The company that owns the building has been very cooperative. They have done just about everything in their power to help this along and they have even delayed the demolition by a month to give us a little more time.”

Ideally, for preservationists, both pieces would remain intact.

“We would love to see it saved,” Laber said. “If that’s not possible, the next best thing is to document it professionally with a professional photographer.”

The small mural will be easy to move and will be donated, according to Scott Fisher, a partner at Baron Properties.

“It was always our intention to try and save both murals,” Fisher said. “We reached out to the DeGrazia Foundation in early September. It was determined that the smaller mural could be saved and we certainly plan on saving that mural and donating that mural.”

The larger mural will be much more difficult to transport.

“The larger piece that’s painted on the plaster is very problematic,” Fisher said. “We are certainly open to anyone’s ideas about moving and preserving that mural.”

Baron Properties will be commencing the project this spring, and the current demolition permit is set to expire March 15. The company plans to work with local artists.

“We plan on displaying multiple pieces of art, we plan on commissioning a local artist to paint a mural, and we plan on utilizing a couple of exterior doors on the GreenHaus building into the design,” Fisher said. “Our feeling is that we are creating a project that the community will be proud of. The residents that will live in our projects will want to be part of that community, which is why they would move into those buildings. We feel that the energy will enhance the neighborhood.”

Contact the reporter at rbouley@asu.edu