Ka-ching Kachina

Sizing up the price of the world's tallest kachina.

The Spike took a road trip to Cave Creek and beyond recently, which meant dodging hundreds of aging fat guys who can now afford pricey, tricked-out Harleys and, apparently, a week off work for an outlaw biker rally.

The motorcycle maniacs had gathered, against the wishes of town officials, as part of Arizona Bike Week. Their arrival initially scared the hell out of the hipster population of Cave Creek, a town known more for laid-back Southwestern funk than biker bars. But as near as The Spike could tell, the roar of those highly polished chrome "mufflers" was about the worst that happened. (Aren't they all CPAs and stockbrokers now anyway?)

But that's not The Spike's kind of ride, who instead was in search of the funk -- in particular "the world's tallest kachina," which for the past 40 years has towered over the entrance to the Tonto Hills housing development on the far end of Cave Creek Road, just past the turnoff to Bartlett Lake.

Patrick Trotter and his giant corn kachina.
Todd H. Lillard
Patrick Trotter and his giant corn kachina.

The 39-foot-tall concrete sculpture is the work of Phillips Sanderson, the late well-known Scottsdale sculptor, and Carl Ludlow, a Phoenix engineer, also deceased. The original developer of Tonto Hills, E.V. Graham, commissioned the artwork, which was later purchased by a Tonto Hills resident.

That homeowner, too, has passed on, and his estate sold the kachina and the lot on which it sits to Patrick Trotter, who has lived next door to the lofty icon for a number of years.

Now, Trotter wants to sell the kachina to someone who will move it off the property. This turn of events supposedly has ticked off area homeowners, who love the looming logo of their neighborhood. But no one from the homeowners' association would return The Spike's calls, so details of their seething could not be confirmed.

Trotter is asking $550,000 for the kachina, which he says has been appraised by a reputable artist at $850,000. Such a bargain. And he'll take less if he has to.

It seems Trotter has a tile-setting business and tile art studio at his place. He says he wanted to construct a small commercial building on his land to house the tile works but Maricopa County officials told him he'd need to put in parking before he could get the permit for the building.

It turns out the only place for parking was the kachina lot, which is one of a handful designated for commercial use under the development's covenants. So when the relatives of the previous owner offered it to Trotter, he bought it with an eye toward selling the kachina and paving the lot.

Then the appraisal came back, putting the kachina at much more than he'd imagined. Now he's not sure about the future of his business but definitely wants to sell the sculpture. He's also got his own home and land up for sale, for another $475,000, according to his Century 21 agent, Judith Traynor.

The kachina, specifically a corn spirit, is impressive. It's well-maintained -- painted in a turquoise, rust and white design -- and sits in a small cactus garden, complete with floodlights and decorative rock. It holds giant feathers and appears to be peering off at the Superstition Mountains in the distance.

It's made of nine blocks of cement. Traynor says the bottom three blocks are solid but the rest are hollow so it shouldn't be too hard to take apart and put back together. She's been trying to get Rawhide to buy it, she says, but it may be too pricey for the Scottsdale faux cowtown.

Renowned Scottsdale architect Benny Gonzales, now living in Nogales, recalls when Phillips Sanderson took on the project and hired one of Gonzales' assistants to help put it together. Gonzales thinks the City of Scottsdale should step up and buy the piece as a tribute to Sanderson, who was a favorite son of The West's Most Western Town.

"The kachina should be a fabulous piece for the Scottsdale Civic Center," Gonzales tells The Spike. "He was such a noted artist and actually lived in Scottsdale."

Money for Nothing

The Spike also made another trip recently, this one to The Gap for a new, navy blue dress (preferably unstained) to wear to "An Evening With President William Jefferson Clinton," the upcoming event of the season for Arizona Democrats in search of campaign finances.

Good thing The Gap is cheap. Because the April 30 fund-raising dinner is not.

The Spike would have to pay $300 for a ticket, although the menu is not your usual rubber chicken. Dungeness crab cakes, baby spinach leaves with Brie, sorbet (do Democrats even know what that is?), roasted lobster tail and a beef tenderloin. The Spike was happy to see the appropriate liberal sop on the menu -- "Vegetarian meals available upon request."

Instead, The Spike is hoping for an invite from a "Platinum Dinner Sponsor" (perhaps one of The Spike's new Harley pals) who can fork over $50,000 for a "premium table" for 10. That includes 10 dinner tickets and 10 tickets to the VIP reception.

Sadly, only two tickets are allowed for the "private dessert reception," where The Spike presumes there will be cigars all around.

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