The Lore of the Luhrs

Adam Diaz remembers 50 years of work and play in Phoenix's first skyscraper

"It broke my heart," Diaz says, "and I couldn't do a damned thing about it. It's awful now. All they have is a bunch of lawyers in our dining room, our beautiful dining room. What a waste!"

George Luhrs Jr.'s brother and older sister died within months of each other in late 1974 and early 1975, leaving him as the original family's sole survivor. In 1976, he sold the family properties -- except the Luhrs Hotel -- to a Canadian company. That firm in turn sold the complex in 1980 to the current owners, Jefferson Square.

The Luhrses sold their hotel to another developer in 1979, who razed it a few years later over the protests of historical preservationists. It's been a parking lot for years.

Charles Nolan, proprietor of Charles Men's Clothes and Accessories: "We're a bargain in the basement."
Charles Nolan, proprietor of Charles Men's Clothes and Accessories: "We're a bargain in the basement."
Charles Nolan, proprietor of Charles Men's Clothes and Accessories: "We're a bargain in the basement."
Paolo Vescia
Charles Nolan, proprietor of Charles Men's Clothes and Accessories: "We're a bargain in the basement."

Adam Diaz quit six weeks after the Canadian firm took over.

Artist/curator Randy Cordova often can be found at the MARS Gallery, which has rented a space at the Luhrs complex since the early 1980s. Cordova is the third generation of his family to have worked at the Luhrs -- his grandfather-in-law is none other than Adam Diaz.

"I love the nooks and crannies in this place," says Cordova, who is married to Diaz's granddaughter Theresa. "This building reverberates and echoes with the hauntings of things past -- things that went on. There are so many layers of history here, so many facets."

One facet has been walking, talking -- and clipping -- in the same basement corner at the Luhrs Building since 1967. Now 65, Tony Verdugo Jr. wears his hair long and keeps his prices short, $8 per cut.

Over the years, the Bisbee native has been the barber to legends, including governors, community leaders, and baseball's Dizzy Dean, who spent his winters in Arizona. "His hands were huge," Verdugo says of the Hall of Fame pitcher. "I'd sneak a peek at my hands, and realize why I never got too far as a pitcher myself."

Verdugo lived at the Luhrs Hotel in the mid-1960s, barbering during the day and tending bar at the hotel at night. A phone in his shop connected directly with the Arizona Club switchboard upstairs, and he'd occasionally rush there to cut the hair of a busy businessman -- for a nice tip.

He steps away from the head of a longtime customer to retrieve a framed 1978 court document about a murder defendant.

"His appearance is a matter of importance to him," it says. "... It is ordered that the sheriff of Maricopa County shall transport defendant to the Barber Shop in the Luhrs Building for purposes of haircut."

The county judge who signed the paper was Sandra Day O'Connor, who later became the first woman to earn an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The guy got found innocent," Verdugo notes, adding that the freed man never came back for another haircut. "I heard he moved to Hawaii, and got a job as an extra on Hawaii Five-O."

The barber loves the building, and loves his job: "You know how bad some people feel about going to work. Well, I love coming to work. All these people who come in are my friends -- judges, public defenders, detectives, everyone. I'll hear the same story from both sides, but I don't say nothing to anyone until it's over."

He finishes his haircut with a flourish, telling his customer, "I think you can go dancing now."

It's a few minutes before noon, and almost time for Verdugo's daily ritual.

"I just go up and look at the girls at lunchtime, and talk to the folks," he says, "up" being the Luhrs Building lobby and outdoor archway, whose walls are white Alaskan marble overlaid on pink Tennessee marble.

One of the folks is Charles Nolan, proprietor of Charles Men's Clothing and Accessories. His store is located in Suite M in the basement of the Luhrs Central Building, past a narrow hallway of colorful murals that depict a golf course, a rocket about to launch, and a pelican staring at an agave plant.

A dapper man in his 50s, Nolan found his way from Ohio to Phoenix in 1992. Actually, he was heading to California by Greyhound bus at the time, and says he awoke in Phoenix to a crowd of Spanish-speaking people. "Thought we'd been kidnapped and I was in Mexico," he says, adjusting his black porkpie hat. "Everybody was saying, ŒWelcome to Phoenix.' Phoenix? What is Phoenix? Went out to L.A. for a while, and was living between the Crips and the Bloods. Came back here and checked it out." A few years later, Nolan opened a little clothing and knickknack store in his neighborhood, south of Buckeye Road on 15th Avenue. (He says he still peddles his wares there on weekends.) Last summer, he got wind of some vacancies at the Luhrs complex, and decided to give it a go.

"We're the only place downtown where a guy can buy a nice dress shirt or a tie," Nolan says. "The only downtown retail store like this. We're a bargain in the basement."

He also sells rings, oversize men's underwear, posters, hats, caps, you name it. He also hawks jazz CDs and vinyl -- much of the latter in mint condition.

John Coltrane's masterful A Love Supreme sits atop the CD pile.

"You think I'm gonna sell Kenny G down here?" Nolan says, only half-kidding. "This is the Luhrs, man. We're more about John Coltrane than that turkey."

Contact Paul Rubin at his online address: paul.rubin@newtimes.com

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