Designing Men

Who built the Biltmore is still a subject worth talking about for architect's family

McArthur also designed the Electroscoot, an early version of a golf cart, which he used to buzz around downtown Phoenix, sometimes even steering it onto the elevator at the Luhrs building for a ride to see prospective car buyers upstairs.

Yet McArthur's most lasting tinkering came in the area of furniture. He designed and built some of the Biltmore's early furniture -- now gone -- using steel and copper tubing. In the early 1930s, he moved to Los Angeles, and opened a furniture-design business -- Warren McArthur Corporation -- which specialized in tubular aluminum chairs and tables and catered to the Hollywood crowd.

His designs sported the clean-line simplicity of other modernist furniture of the day. Yet his came with an interior -- therefore hidden -- system of connectors and wires that reinforced the structures without encumbering their visual ease.

Warren McArthur's Wonderbus was Arizona's  --  and possibly the nation's  --  earliest mobile home.
courtesy of Warren McArthur
Warren McArthur's Wonderbus was Arizona's -- and possibly the nation's -- earliest mobile home.

McArthur moved his operation to New York and eventually Connecticut, expanding his line to include sofas, tables and other forms.

It isn't known how many different designs he produced. Experts say the number could be anywhere from several hundred to 1,500.

A surer thing is the rage his furniture has created among some high-end collectors. In the past decade, prices for original McArthur works have risen to about $1,000 for one of his folding chairs, $14,000 for a table, and almost $50,000 for one of his rarer chairs.

The American Federation of the Arts is planning a major exhibition of McArthur's furniture for 2001. The show isn't scheduled to come to Phoenix. And the junior Warren McArthur only touches on this work in his talk. But in conjunction with the lecture, the Vintage Modern Gallery will be exhibiting a dozen examples of the senior McArthur's furnishings. They will be on view the night of the lecture and remain up for a week afterward. They're well worth a detour.

Warren McArthur's lecture is scheduled for Thursday, December 9, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Norwest Lecture Hall (fourth floor, west side) of the Burton Barr Central Library, 1221 North Central. Limited seating requires reservations: 602-462-5790. Vintage Modern Gallery is located at 1515 North Central.

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