Historic Neighborhoods

Scottsdale seems to have a love-hate relationship with its history. We have an Historic Preservation Program, an Historic Preservation Commission [2012 work plan], several officially-designated Historic Register buildings from the early days of settlement, a Scottsdale Historical Society and Museum, and three designated historic post-war neighborhoods:

We take great pride in posting signs bearing the “Old Town Scottsdale” logo, and we have a quasi-official Old Timer’s Reunion. We recently had a celebration of 60 years of innovation since our incorporation as a city. It was an official event that was part of the Arizona Centennial.

On the other hand, the city provides only miserly support for historic preservation efforts, and we have regular arguments about whether the city’s motto, “The West’s Most Western Town,” is still relevant…and whether it ever was.

Much of the post-war construction in Scottsdale wasn’t very remarkable in its design (at least not to the average observer). This contributes to the sense that sometimes it isn’t worth saving.

Worst of all, our mayor, council, and city staff have made a lot of bad zoning decisions that have resulted in significant encroachment upon historic neighborhoods, particularly Villa Monterey. The Entertainment District and the potential for widening Chaparral Road are both worrisome for those residents.

The “Historic Property” (HP) designation for Villa Monterey was clearly an effort to beat back the widening of Chaparral Road. However, the ink is barely dry on the HP documents and the city is already discussing once again the possibility that Chaparral may be widened. Just goes to prove one of Councilman Bob Littlefield’s rules that, “In Scottsdale, no bad idea ever really dies.”

The biggest questions about historic designation are,

  • What are the benefits?
  • Will it affect your ability to remodel or sell the property?

Benefits beyond just preserving historic structures and groups of structures include technical assistance from the city with regard to planning maintenance and improvements. Owners of historic-designated properties can also access the city’s “Exterior Rehabilitation Program” grants for maximum reimbursement amount for the selected projects of 50% of the total cost up to $7,500.

The restrictions that come with the program primarily include requiring exterior physical alterations that require a building permit to be approved by the Historic Preservation Commission. The HPC is a seven member, appointed citizen body with expertise in historic preservation.

The residents of my neighborhood (Peaceful Valley) considered applying for an HP designation. I wasn’t yet a PV resident at the time, but my understanding is that there was no real motivation to do it. There was a little concern about the restrictions.

However, I think enough of the homes in the neighborhood had already been altered (enclosed carports, primarily) that we may not have qualified anyway. And we are the first planned residential neighborhood that was actually inside the city limits, built in 1955-1956.

A few years ago we had a neighbor do a little pop-up second floor for a master bedroom suite. It was nicely done and you probably wouldn’t notice it from driving by.

We also recently had the first of the homes here demolished to the ground for a one-wall-standing “remodel.” It will be interesting to see how well the finished product fits into the context of the neighborhood.

Ride-n-Rock Ranchos | photo by Norm Seeley, Jr.

I’ve done some work with Will Schukert and Wendy Woodard who own one of the remaining bungalows from the Ride-n-Rock Ranchos guest ranch east of Scottsdale Road, south of Indian Bend. Of course, McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park occupies much of the site today, and efforts by the city to condemn the R-n-R bungalows to make way for additional parking for the RR park almost got the rest…only a few days after Will and Wendy purchased the property.

It took two years of hard work and determination for Wendy and Will to fight off condemnation. Since that time they’ve put their hearts and souls into the property and trying to keep it as much like original as practical. It shows.

Thinking about that situation, and contrasting that against the almost-museum-quality collection of Ride-n-Rock memorabilia that Wendy saved and continues to conserve reminds me that the most important historic preservation happens in spite of the government rather than because of it.

There’s no substitute for residents and homeowners who are passionate about history. As much as I hate the thought of the more restrictive HOA (homeowners association) requirements and CC&Rs (covenants, codes, and restrictions) that exist as private contracts between the residents of a neighborhood, they actually do accomplish a fair amount of preservation.

Here’s more information on the City of Scottsdale website relating to Historic Zoning:

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