Preserving the Past

Did You Know…

Preservation vs. Progress — it seems to be at the forefront of discussion in Phoenix these days.  Should we save Phoenix’s Clinton-Campbell house (c1897)?  How about the Melrose Liquors drive-thru (c1957)?  What makes a building “historic” vs. just old and run down?  What makes it worth saving?

The debate continues, and will continue, probably as long as there are people around who care about preserving history, and also people who care about wider roads and safer traffic patterns, and new schools and better job opportunities.  Not every preservation attempt is pragmatic or even possible, but the National Trust for Historic Preservation gives a list of practical reasons for preservation here.

We at the Heritage Square Foundation can say, definitively, that our jobs (paid staff and volunteers) would not exist without the City of Phoenix and our community’s choice for historic preservation in the 1970s.  The Rosson House — that lovely and unique Phoenix landmark and icon that shows up in the background of so many festival selfies, wedding and quinceañera pictures, family photo shoots, and, yes, even in the occasional TV show (think House Hunters) — wouldn’t be here today for so many of you to enjoy, even in passing.  Neither would the other historic buildings at the Square.  You wouldn’t be able to enjoy a freshly roasted cup of coffee from a local coffee bar while sitting on a bench, surrounded by historic landmarks.  You wouldn’t be able to come to the heart of downtown Phoenix and grab dinner from a James Beard award winning chef in a building that’s over a century old.

What would be there instead?  A parking lot?  A hotel?  A high rise?  A multi-use space that would generate significantly more revenue than a handful of old buildings in a City park do?  Which of these is more important?

For better or worse, the Rosson House and other historic buildings at Heritage Square were restored by our community in the 1970s and 1980s, with the idea to preserve them for generations to come.  However,  the restoration didn’t end in 1980 when the Museum opened its doors to the public (later, for the smaller buildings).  Preservation and restoration is on ongoing task, and one that is sometimes made more difficult by the unrelenting Arizona sun, and by the fact that about half a million people visit the Square annually — for festivals and events, museum tours and exhibits, field trips and workshops, eating good food at the restaurants and having a great time at weddings.  But the work is well worth it.

The year 2017 was a big one for restoration of the Rosson House, with exterior woodwork repair completed in April and May, repair to the interior of the fireplace and chimney in the dining room currently taking place, and repainting of the entire exterior of the house occurring later this summer. It’s now been five years since the exterior work was done, and will likely need to happen again soon. This is work that has to be done, literally to keep it in good repair instead of falling apart at the seams, which is what would happen without those efforts to preserve and maintain this beautiful Phoenix landmark.

If you care about preserving Phoenix history, you can help us in our efforts to continue saving Heritage Square every day.  Please donate to Heritage Square, and by doing so, invest in keeping this place in existence for another hundred years and more.  For the field trips, the photo shoots, the festivals, and the food.  But mostly for Phoenix — for our community, and for the wonderful, rich, complex and diverse stories and histories found here. Thank you!

Phoenix Preservation Update, May 2021

Just months after this article was written in 2017, the Clinton-Campbell House was demolished. In the years following, several more have been torn down, including the Steinegger Lodging House just last year. This leaves less than fifty 19th century buildings remaining in the entire city of Phoenix. The form nominating the Rosson House to the National Register of Historic Places mentioned how rare it was in 1971 to see Victorian homes in Phoenix, and it’s even more rare today.

Melrose Liquor was closed and sold to someone who planned to open a new restaurant in the unique 1950s building. But even the best of plans don’t always pan out, and the building now stands empty. Will it survive the pandemic? For that matter, after losing the majority of our revenue over the last year, will Rosson House survive?

See one of our Museum Interpreters talk about historic preservation on this video from May 2020.

Find out more about preservation of local history at the Phoenix Historic Preservation Office, and about the preservation of national history at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.