Downtown historic properties make progress toward preservation

The Historic Preservation Commission recommended the Phoenix Motor Company Building, pictured in 1946, receive Overlay Zoning status . (Courtesy of ASU's Library Digital Repository)

Two historic downtown properties took big leaps in the Historic Preservation Commission on Monday afternoon.

The commission recommended city council approve the Dud R. Day Motor Company building, also known as the Phoenix Motor Company building, for Historic Preservation Overlay Zoning status, as well as $250,000 in city funding for renovation purposes. The Overlay Zoning status, if approved by City Council, would officially put the building on the city’s historic property register and bar any alterations to the building’s exterior that would change its historic nature.

The commission also recommended that the State Historic Preservation Office nominate the Pemberton House, which was built in 1920, for the National Historic Building Register. This would allow the owner of the building, attorney Cheri McCracken, to qualify it for the historic tax credit.

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The recommended renovation funds of $250,000 for the Motor Company building project will come from the Community and Economic Development Department and the Historic Preservation Bond fund. The department will contribute $125,000, while the bond fund, which was approved by voters in 2006, will contribute $75,000, according to information provided by historic preservation staff for the commission.

City Historic Preservation staff member Kevin Weight said this would be “just about the last” of the money in the fund. He said about $5,000 to $10,000 remain in the fund, which started with $13 million 10 years ago.

In exchange for the payment, the building will be granted conservation easement, meaning there will be no demolition of the building for 30 years.

“You have it on the Phoenix Historic Property Register and that provides some level of protection, but a conservation easement is an even higher level of protection,” said Michelle Dodds, city of Phoenix Historic Preservation officer.

The Motor Company building was bought by Pat Cantelme and James Kuykendall in 2015, according to Weight. He said the Commission had given up on the building before Kuykendall and Cantelme came along.

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“With this project, we really didn’t know which way to go,” Cantelme said. “When we bought it, it was as attractive as a couple of shoeboxes put together.”

Kuykendall and Cantelme also bought the nearby Historic Welnick Arcade Marketplace, which is to be leased to two retail clients. They will lease the Motor Company Building to local businessman Charlie Levy, who plans to turn it into an entertainment venue.

“(Levy) has plans to make this the premier entertainment venue of its size in Arizona,” Cantelme said.

Cantelme said Levy’s venue,  The Van Buren — a nod to the street in which it resides — will hold a capacity of 2000 people. This makes it 10 times larger than the Valley Bar and four times larger than Crescent Ballroom, both of which are owned by Levy. The Van Buren will host wedding receptions and civic events as well, Cantelme said.

The Historic Preservation Commission recommended the Pemberton House to be nominated to the national historic register on Wednesday. (Courtesy of City of Phoenix)
The Historic Preservation Commission recommended the Pemberton House to be nominated to the national historic register on Wednesday. (Courtesy of City of Phoenix)

The State Historic Sites Review Committee will vote on whether to nominate the Pemberton House to the national register on Friday. The house has been on the city’s historic building register since 2004.

According to Historic Preservation Staff, the building has been vacant for a long time.

McCracken said the Pemberton House was built in 1920 by Sarah Pemberton, whose husband died 10 years prior to construction. McCracken said Pemberton’s husband had been the CEO of the predecessor to Arizona Public Service.

“It’s a prairie-style house, one of the few remaining in the valley,” McCracken said. “Because the valley did mostly bungalows, but not true prairie-style.”

McCracken plans to use the house for her law office. She said she is considering bringing another law firm into the house.

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