Arizona Tanning Company Building
The Arizona Tanning Company building near Sacaton.
Photos by Benjamin Leatherman
It takes about 45 minutes to get to the Arizona Tanning Company from downtown Phoenix, but making the trip is well worth the drive, especially if you're a fan of epic graf art.
Located a few miles south of Chandler's city limits near Sacaton, the burned out and dilapidated structure used to house a large commercial tannery back in the 1980s, which transformed cow hides into leather. These days, however, its become a haven for taggers and graffiti artists.
After closing in the midst of the early 1990s recession, the building was vacated and has sat dormant for decades. It definitely was a hazardous place, as there used to be large pools located on the premises that were filled with murky water and likely contained remnants of the chemicals used in the tanning process. (These vile vats have since been either drained or removed.)
In 1997, the property was deemed an environmental hazard and a Superfund site due to the wealth of harsh and toxic substances (including hexavalent chromium) present in the soil surrounding the property. An arson fire in April 2009 also destroyed a big chunk of the building and caused a major portion of the roof to collapse.
All of these hazards aren't enough to deter the countless graffiti artists from stopping by the building and leaving their mark on the place.
They've been coming to the former tanning plant for more than a decade, as some of the extant graf art dates back to 1998 or earlier.
Even barriers erected on the property haven't kept them out. After it was declared a public safety hazard a few years ago, a chain-link fence and a locked gate was erected to keep people away.
When we visited the place, however, the lock had been destroyed, the gate was wide open, and large holes had been cut into the fence.
Graf artists aren't the only ones who've journeyed to the Arizona Tanning Company over the years, as urban explorers and photographers like William Legoullon have journeyed out to Sacaton to get an eyeful.
And there's plenty to see. Whole walls have been decked out with murals of complex lettering and a maelstrom of color. Artists have written poetic passages and manifestos, decorated the cement with cartoonish-looking characters, and created a vast monument to the funky beauty of urban art. There's even a pseudo-advertisement for paint store Just Blaze.
While the 2009 fire may have destroyed much of the structure (and the graffiti that was already there), a new flock of artists have ventured to the building since then. There's work as recent as last year present, as well as plenty of freshly spent spray paint cans.
If you're daring enough to pay a visit, it's prudent to take plenty of precautions. Make no mistake, its a place fraught with hazards.
Wear some heavy-duty shoes like hiking boots, as there's a mess of rusted nails and sharp bits of twisted metal shards littering the property. Be sure to watch you step and keep your head on a swivel, as one could easily trip one any of the charred and broken roof beams.
A breathing mask is also a smart idea, as asbestos and other harmful chemicals are likely in the air.
The Arizona Tanning Company building is located approximately three miles south of Chandler near State Route 87 and Moffet Road. Click here for directions.
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