Dream in the Desert

Tempe Restores 1930 Adobe

In 1929, when wealthy Chicago widow Rose Eisendrath tried to book a hotel room at a trendy Tempe, Ariz., resort, she got a flat no. Many of the state's luxury hotels, such as the venerable Camelback Inn, circulated brochures with phrases such as "restricted clientele" and "folks with common interests and cultural backgrounds." Still, the Jewish heiress to a glove fortune persisted, determined to escape another bitter Midwest winter.

Eisendrath eventually found comfortable lodging at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, and a year later she commissioned master architect Robert Evans to construct a two level, 5,280-square-foot home in Tempe, and soon she was an Arizona homeowner. "She thumbed her nose at the discrimination [which persisted until the 1970s] and struck out on her own," says Hugh Hallman, Tempe's current mayor, who was one of the driving forces behind the restoration of Eisendrath's house, under way now.

Fully embracing the Southwestern lifestyle, Eisendrath named her new winter home Lomaki, Hopi for "pretty house." The property, which originally spanned 40 acres of raw desert in the foothills of the Salt River and within Papago Park, has unobstructed courtyard views of the Superstition Mountains; a cactus garden; outdoor patios and terraces; and numerous French doors, porches, balconies, and casement windows.

"The things that set it apart from other local homes of that period were its size and the very high level of development of the relationship between inside and outside spaces," says Robert Graham, preservation architect for Motley Design in Phoenix. Evans combined traditional mud adobe with contemporary materials and methods. For example, he specified 12-inch-thick walls and added moisture-repellent asphalt to the concrete foundation; first-level floors were left exposed in green-colored concrete, but stained wood decorated the second floor.

"The Eisendrath House may actually be the best surviving example of Pueblo Adobe Revival style in Arizona," says Hallman, citing such interior decorative features as pergolas and lintels. "Evans knew how to use the adobe mass for heating and cooling."

After Eisendrath's death in 1936, the property was divided and subdivided; it now totals nine acres. Although the architectural prestige of the house has grown over time, years of desert heat have compromised the integrity of the 1930 structure. The house shows significant deterioration: besides "adobe melt" damage (adobe leeched from the walls after moisture seeped into the masonry), squirrels and bees have nested within the walls. Some of the rose-colored stucco was patched with a gray, moisture-trapping mix.

It might have disappeared entirely, but in 2002, the City of Tempe purchased the house and grounds for $45,000. Three years later, community leaders established the Tempe Historic Preservation Foundation, which later partnered with the Rio Salado Foundation and the City of Tempe to save the Eisendrath House. The restoration will cost approximately $3.2 million, $2.4 million of which has already been pledged, according to Mayor Hallman.

Green Scene iconAlthough historic preservation goals can sometimes conflict with LEED specifications, project architect Graham says his team wants to "demonstrate that a preservation project can be made sustainable without destroying the historic character or adding obtrusive elements." For example, the original rectangular swimming pool, which was filled in and paved over in the 1940s, will be retrofitted as a cistern to hold storm water for irrigation of vegetation. "We will restore an aspect … and keep our landscaping water use at or near zero," Graham says. Also in keeping with LEED standards, the project will preserve original materials or reuse them. For instance, the stone flooring in the patio areas has been removed and relocated as step stones outside. Also, the log ceiling in the living room will be preserved but reinforced with steel cables. "Our engineer came up with a creative way to make the beams stronger," Graham says.

Also in accordance with LEED guidelines, energy-efficient mechanical systems, including Variable Refrigerant Volume, which uses pipes instead of ducts, will be introduced. "It's like a heat-pump system on steroids," Graham explains. " We also plan to install ultra-low-watt LED light fixtures throughout the house."

Architect Graham and Sun Construction plan to demolish non-historic areas such as the garage and second-floor enclosed deck, then stabilize beams and walls. The third phase of the project will focus on the dual goals of interior and exterior rehabilitation—new plumbing, electrical wiring and heating/cooling. Finally, surface finishes will be applied, furnishings added, and equipment installed.

According to Mark Vinson, Tempe's city architect, restoration will be completed in 2012. The Eisendrath House will function as a museum, city office hub, and water conservation center on the Hayden Campus of Sustainability, located near the Sandra Day O'Connor House, the Arizona Historical Society Museum, Evelyn Hallman Park, and the Tempe Women's Club Xeriscape Garden. The campus' green theme of recycling and reuse was not a new idea for O'Connor and Eisendrath.

"[Sandra Day O'Connor and Rose Eisendrath] are two women who thought of sustainability in the way they built their homes," says Hallman. "They both faced discrimination, but met and faced their challenge."

Eisendrath confronted Phoenix's history of anti-semitism by throwing a lavish dinner party at her Tempe home. On the guest list was the hotel owner who had once snubbed her. Says Hallman: "The restoration is an ode to the past, but it also opens onto a future of community diversity."

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Submitted by Emmy J at: March 29, 2011
Please keep posting information about this site. I love Southwestern and Puebloan architecture. I have seen adobe melt destroy buildings and have seen perfectly good adobe buildings destroyed inspite of their character and age (Hidden Inn in Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs). Thanks for saving this one.

Submitted by NP at: March 29, 2011
It's always sad to read "preservation goals sometimes conflict with LEED specifications".... why doesn't LEED appropriately re-calibrate its specifications to give points to the #1 sustainable practice -- saving an existing building? The preservation community needs to do a lot more to re-adjust this LEED-centric thinking.

Submitted by Cyndie at: March 29, 2011
How marvelous! My only tweak would be that the Spanish words for structural elements be used. For instance, the "log" ceiling is composed of "vigas." I'm sure there are portales, latillas, zapatas, and other elements that are quintessential features of Pueblo Revival architecture. Here in NM everybody learns the "correct" terms for the parts of structures...part of the cache, I think! I'm very happy to see this beautiful adobe structure saved; so many have melted beyond repair.