Staying Power

During his 79 years, Vic Kramer has watched downtown Phoenix morph from a bucolic village into a seething metropolis. His vantage point: the only home he has ever known.

While being driven in his Rolls-Royce, Kramer can see what remains of his family's marks on the town. The Golden West is still standing. The Sports City Grill, which incorporates some original brickwork, stands in the spot of his grandfather's first restaurant, a building torn down late last year. Next door, in a building his father acquired as collateral that is still owned by Kramer, sits an adult book store. His mother, he says, would have "flipped her lid" had she known what the property is being used for.

Intended to be a bookstore supporting the DeVry Institute of Technology, plans changed after the lease was signed. But because the Sports City Grill plans to expand into the space, the X-rated business won't be there for long.

His mother can rest easy. Besides, she (and her mother) would be proud of the plans Kramer has made for the family home on Seventh Street. Built using a "rockbound" method, the home and its adjacent buildings are made from red brick covered with plaster into which crushed rocks have been pressed. Kramer knows it's a well-built home that will stand for many more years.

In the dining room of Vic Kramer's home hang photos of his parents, R. William and Hilda Kramer.
Paolo Vescia
In the dining room of Vic Kramer's home hang photos of his parents, R. William and Hilda Kramer.

With no heirs to inherit the house, he wants to give it to the Catholic Church for use as a refuge for retired clergy. Nationally, there is a shortage of money and facilities to house aging nuns and priests who have taught and served generations of Catholic children and families.

History books and period newspapers don't refer to Alexander Steinegger and his role in the founding and development of Phoenix. Vic Kramer, the last blood relative of the pioneer (he has two adopted cousins), believes it may be because his grandparents spoke little English. It was just more difficult for reporters or others to talk to them (and others who spoke little or no English) to chronicle their contributions.

Over the years, while the Steinegger and Kramer families have continued to contribute to the development of Phoenix, their names are not well-known. But the house, the one where Kramer has spent his whole life, has been an enduring -- and curious -- landmark to Phoenicians with downtown roots.

Once the most magnificent in a neighborhood that housed a legislator, a physician, the city's chief of police and a stockbroker, the Kramer house has held up in a deteriorating block, causing it to stand out even more these days.

Kramer's caretaker, Helen Harmon, says as she walked from her boarding house past the Kramers' home to school each day, she was intrigued by it. "I used to say, 'Some day I'm going to take care of that house.'"

Don Jackson, president of the Phoenix Union High School Alumni Association, says he remembers being impressed by the home decades ago. As a boy, he would walk by it every day while crossing Seventh Street to attend McKinley School. He always wondered who lived there.

This March, he got his answer. When a group of alumni headed up Seventh Street for a biannual litter pickup, they were greeted by a large painted sign on the porch at Kramer's house. "Welcome PUHS Alumni," it said. The group was treated to iced-down drinks, given a tour of the house and spent time visiting with Kramer and Harmon, who also attended Phoenix Union.

"They were just delightful," says Jackson of the two hosts.

Kramer says he had read about the outing in the PUHS Alumni newsletter and thought it would be a nice gesture to offer workers a rest and some refreshments. Jackson says none of the former students knew Kramer before that meeting.

"But we were familiar with the house," he says.

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