HISTORIC PRESERVATION TAKES TO THE SHADOWSWHEN IT COMES TO SAVING PHOENIX'S RAREST BUILDINGS, CITY HALL SENDS THE WORK OUT OF TOWN AND LEAVES THE LOCALS IN THE DARK

OF THE 14 multimillion-dollar bond issues approved enthusiastically by Phoenix voters in 1988, the city's $15 million proposal to preserve its architectural heritage was uniquely ambitious.

Never before had the city even considered devoting such resources to historic preservation. No one familiar with Phoenix's screwy sprawl would have believed the public could embrace the cause so warmly. But the ballot numbers showed unmistakably that, amid the hell-bent-for-leather showdowns over new high-rises and vast housing tracts, the city nursed a tender regard for the faded antiquities lingering in its shadows.

With a decisive voice, Phoenix announced to historic-preservation buffs nationwide that it was finished apologizing for its existence.

Now the program spawned by love has itself drawn charges of favoritism and insider dealing in the first wave of contracts to be financed from the bond issue. More to the point, the actions of program administrators, particularly Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission officer Deborah Abele, are under attack.

Local preservationists, a genteel group more inclined to debate ceiling moldings than politics, are buzzing over accusations leveled by the city's most renowned preservation architect, Gerald A. Doyle.

Doyle's central accusation--that Abele and others circumvented their own bidding rules and channeled choice contracts to favored firms--prompted one member of the Phoenix City Council to call for an official inquiry into the program's administration. Some of the alleged favoritism benefited out-of-state firms, further fanning the anger of local architects scraping to survive hard times in the Valley.

Abele is inclined to dismiss the complaints as predictable grumbling in stressful times. But the response of city officials so far--that they weren't bound by normal bidding rules in awarding the disputed contracts--seems inadequate to stop the stain spreading over Phoenix's fledgling effort to honor its own heritage.

GERALD DOYLE, the architectural hand behind the restoration of the State Capitol and a host of Arizona's most important examples of historic preservation, is passionate about old buildings. They are the unifying thread in Doyle's long professional career and, though he admits it is hardly possible for an architect to make a living exclusively in historic preservation, a source of romantic bemusement to him still.

Doyle has been salvaging architecturally important buildings since arriving in Arizona in 1961. The 69-year-old Harvard graduate restored the Carnegie Library and the Evans House, both located in the downtown government mall, and several prominent landmarks in rural areas--including the John Slaughter ranch in southeastern Arizona, which is now a national wildlife preserve. A stout fireplug of a man under glowering Celtic brows, Doyle has evolved into something of a landmark himself, admirers say. "He's the dean of preservation architecture in Phoenix," says a young colleague in the field.

Lately, Doyle has become passionate about the city's program to preserve such glorious fossils as Tovrea Castle, all but swallowed by industrial-commercial sprawl along East Washington. Doyle, however, is not passionate about the program in the sense he once was, when he and his wife carried petitions as part of the effort to get the historic-preservation bond on the 1988 ballot.

The passion Gerald Doyle now feels is outrage over what he believes is a betrayal of faith. Doyle contends a skewed agenda has overtaken both the process and results of contracting for restoration plans for Tovrea Castle and three other local properties on the National Register of Historic Places.

"There were a number of irregularities in the bidding of these projects," Doyle asserts. "The word on the street was that, in some cases, certain firms were `preordained' to get the contract. Two of the favored firms are from out of state, which makes it that much more frustrating."

The first three projects call for restorations of Tovrea Castle, turn-of-the-century downtown warehouse the Ice House and a group of stone-and-adobe buildings--the prototypes for rustic-style National Park Service buildings throughout the country--at the entrance to South Mountain Park. The fourth project involves moving the Smurthwaite House, the city's last remaining example of shingle-style architecture, to the Pioneer Cemetery near the State Capitol. (The city plans to restore the house for use as a visitor center.)

Doyle admits the South Mountain Park project, one of two on which he bid, is particularly close to his heart. "I've hiked all over South Mountain Park," he says. "I've looked at the petroglyphs, taken my dogs up there. One of my daughters lives in a house that backs up to the park.

"In addition, I've probably done more work in stone-and-adobe structures than anyone else in the state, and it's unusual stuff to work with," Doyle continues. "My own house is stone and adobe, and I've done extensive restoration on it."

Doyle is bitter about losing out on the project to Architectural Resources of San Francisco, a firm which was brought into the bidding via a personal invitation from Deborah Abele. Abele admits going out of her way to contact the California firm, but denies her call conferred any special advantage.

"I only wanted to make sure we had the very best to choose from," Abele explains. "This particular firm has been doing a nationwide study of these rustic-style buildings."

Phoenix professionals, by contrast, perceive mountains of significance in Abele's decision to reach out to the San Francisco firm, one of two California firms she contacted by telephone. Indeed, sources trace the rumors of a fix to Abele's unusual step of personally soliciting bids. Says one unsuccessful bidder, "One guy I invited onto my team told me he'd already been contacted by Architectural Resources and said, `I hope you've got a strong proposal because these guys appear to have the inside track.'" SO FAR, Gerald Doyle is the only person to file a written complaint about the opening moves of the city's $15 million preservation program. But he is not alone in complaining that both the advertising and bid-award procedures were riddled with irregularities.

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