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James Jorquez has been caught up in the gusts of his wife's passion for historic homes. They've lived in some of Phoenix's older houses in some of the city's older neighborhoods, places like Willo and Story and now Roosevelt, a spring afternoon's walk from the original downtown core.
About eight years ago, June Jorquez was driving down Fourth Avenue just south of Roosevelt Street when she heard this big Craftsman bungalow with a Cadillac of a porch calling to her.
To the people living in it at the time, it was just a house, and a shambles of a house at that, says James Jorquez, a former professor of social work at Arizona State University. But not to June, who had spiffed up their previous homes with amazing makeovers. "She's able to see the potential," James says. The couple bought the house six months later.
It was 1987, a time when a lot of people were seeing potential in the historic Roosevelt neighborhood. It was a time when anything seemed possible in Phoenix, even revitalization of the blighted areas close to downtown. Revitalization was a concept pushed hard by then-mayor Terry Goddard, who lived in the neighborhood and envisioned its tree-shaded streets and quaint, multistyled houses preserved in time and complemented by condos and commerce.
That vision never materialized.
The Roosevelt renaissance anticipated by Goddard and those who bought into the dream vanished in the poof of an oversaturated real estate market. Gone, too, were the plans of developers and redevelopers whose projects clashed with the visions of the neighborhood and Goddard's preservation-minded city.
What remains is a patchwork of restored homes and converted, stately apartment buildings flowering among the weeds of burned-out crack houses and paint-starved apartments. In the mixed-use areas south of Roosevelt Street, vagrants wander the roads. Hookers sashay on sunny weekend afternoons near majestic Trinity Cathedral, while down the street, renovated bungalows play neighbor to boarded-up, pigeon-infested Victorians. Roosevelt has continued rotting along the edges--especially its southern edge.
And while the neighborhood drifts listlessly into further disrepair, the residents and their most notable representative, Terry Goddard, have decided to oppose the only sure-fire improvement project to come down the pike in a long time--construction of a school planned on a long-vacant swath of land.
Foes say a new school isn't in the neighborhood's long-term vision. Schools stunt property values, they say. Schools scare away residential development. Schools attract crime. They increase traffic.
If you put a school in, you take away room for housing, which is what the neighborhood has coveted for a decade.
And so Goddard is quietly pushing an effort to derail the Phoenix Elementary School District's plan to build a new campus in the heart of the neighborhood for Magnet Traditional School, whose students rank highest in the district and among the state's best since it opened five years ago. Roosevelt property owners have been clamoring for new investment for years, but about the only thing they've fully developed is an appetite for obstruction. In the mid-1970s, they wrestled the biggest beast of them all, the Papago Freeway. That fight spawned the Roosevelt Action Association, which battled the Papago as it hacked its way across town, demolishing hundreds of homes and threatening numerous others. The group's efforts, as well as then-mayor Goddard's regard for historic preservation, prompted the city to designate Roosevelt as a historically protected area in 1986.
The Roosevelt Action Association lives on today, and June Jorquez is on its board. The 1912 bungalow she and her husband bought south of Roosevelt Street was home to Phoenix's city manager at the time Arizona became a state. It has a porch swing and high ceilings; wide apertures connect its rooms. The kitchen sports an ancient refrigerator and stove, both working, in a hardwood setting reminiscent of an Iowa farmhouse.
The Jorquezes can't understand why the Roosevelt Action Association changed its mind about the school after giving the project its blessing five months earlier. Or why the school board itself is going haywire over the issue. Or why some feel the targeted school site is so crucial that it's worth spurning the most positive development proposed there in years. Then again, they live south of Roosevelt, which is less gentrified. The north-south division is well-known in the neighborhood.
Magnet Traditional, currently housed at 2535 North 24th Avenue, is a school of choice. The Jorquezes' granddaughter, Amanda Duke, is a fourth-grader there, picked for admission through a lottery designed to reflect the district's ethnic makeup, which is primarily Hispanic. The school's curriculum centers on the basics of reading, writing and math. The school features a longer school day, extended academic year, school uniforms and mandatory parental involvement. It is what some view as the future of schools in Arizona.
James Jorquez says it took one visit two years ago to Amanda's class at Kenilworth, the district's Roosevelt neighborhood school, to decide she'd be better off somewhere else. One visit to discipline-minded Magnet Traditional convinced him he was right.
What is so sacred about this acreage at Third Avenue and Roosevelt? James Jorquez isn't a developer. He's just a working guy, he says, a grunt. As a school campus, he says, "That acreage can have more positive impact on the welfare of the neighborhood than any high-rise or anything. Human gold will be coming out of there."