When a city creates historic districts, it accomplishes several positive purposes, said Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation.
“If you think about where they’re located, they represent the oldest portions of a city, and over time have transitioned from what were often eyesores in high crime areas leading to many calls for service into historic neighborhoods,” said Linoff, a past president of the Mesa Historical Society.
“By preserving these historic neighborhoods you’re keeping history alive, but you’re also raising property values,” which he said are “a point of pride for the community.”
Many people think of age when they hear the term “historic building” or “historic home,” but Linoff said age is a matter of context, how a community’s resources relate to that community.
“Europeans come here and say, why are you making a big deal over a building that’s 150 years old? Back home I have a castle that’s 1,500 years old,” Linoff said.
The owner of a historic home makes a significant commitment, Linoff said, as older homes generally require more attention than more recent ones. But some newer residences aren’t very well built, he said, making older ones the better investment.
And homes put on the National Register of Historic Places or other historic designations often given owners the chance to gain access to tax credits that can help them with upkeep, Linoff said.
North of Main Street the city has three historic districts: The West Second Street district, where many of the community leaders lived; the Robson district just to the north and west, which came a few years later and was more middle class; and the Wilbur district to the east of the Robson district, where more middle-class residents lived.
Linoff recommended a few must-see historic homes, including a bungalow at 162 N. Macdonald, built in 1906 and a Tudor revival at 221 N. Macdonald. Today’s Inside the Bungalow coffee shop, 48 N. Robson, was once a home where a man named Gene Valentine relocated after the city of Mesa needed his original home for what became the city library, Linoff said.
As far as historic commercial structures go, Linoff said downtown Mesa’s Main Street between Robson and Center streets is one of the nation’s “most intact streets of commercial history.”
The introduction of light rail to downtown Mesa has been a boon to business and transportation, but Linoff said it can raise property values that could put historic properties at risk of being razed for more lucrative uses.
“If Main Street goes, there will be no historic commercial properties left in the city,” he said.
Linoff noted a few prominent historic commercial buildings, including the old Paul L. Sale building at the northeast corner of Robson and Main,” a quintessential example of restoration.”
Built at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, for most of its existence it was a furniture store. After closing it was sold to Craig Berge of the family that owned the former downtown Berge Ford dealership, and it is now known as the C.W. Berge building.
Opening in a few months as restoration is being completed is the old Alhambra Hotel on Macdonald just south of Main Street, Linoff said. Rebuilt in 1923 following a 1921 fire, it formerly was housing for transients, he said, but the restored structure is to be student housing for Benedictine University’s Mesa campus.
Several other downtown historic commercial buildings are just waiting for restoration, Linoff said, hidden behind colonnades and stucco.
“If you really want to see the historic downtown, go through the alleys on the back side. As such you can begin to see the definition and materials and that sort of thing,” he said.
The oldest home on this year’s Annual Historic Home Tour is the Joel Sirrine House, which opened in 1896 at 160 N. Center.
“If you’re familiar with Doctor Who, I call it a reverse Tardis. It looks smaller on the inside than it is on the outside,” Linoff said with a laugh.
Today, as in the late 19th century, it still doesn’t have a bathroom. Occupants back then used an outhouse, Linoff said. It would be quite livable otherwise, he said, with a parlor, kitchen and a bedroom.
Acquired by the city in 1980, Linoff said hundreds of volunteer hours were required to restore the Sirrine House before it became a museum in 1986.
But due to budget constraints the house is only open one day a year on the home tour, making the tour an especially important for anyone wanting to see it, he said.
The Fraser Fields subdivision east of downtown is on this year’s tour, an example of midcentury modern architecture that was a hallmark of the greater Phoenix area and a favorite of millennials due to their representing an efficient style, Linoff said. About 450,000 homes were built in the Valley from the end of World War II through the mid-1950s, he said.
The 17th Annual Historic Home Tour in Mesa will be this Saturday, Jan. 28 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The tour will showcase approximately a dozen homes in the West 2nd Street and Fraser Fields historic districts, plus several special stops.
“The home tour celebrates the rich history of Mesa and its seven designated historic districts,” said Lisa Anderson, president and CEO of the Mesa Historical Museum. “The tour is an opportunity to view some of the most outstanding architecture in the Valley and experience how neighbors, community groups, and civic leaders have come together to explore our diverse heritage through historic residences and landmark buildings.”
For related story, visit: http://mynewsmesa.com/17th-annual-historic-home-tour-mesa/.
– East Valley resident Mark Scarp is a freelance reporter for MyNewsMesa.com.