Architecture fans, Phoenix historians, and horror movie enthusiasts are resting easier these days: The Luhrs block has been spared.
Built by the German-immigrant Luhrs family, the block — bounded by Central and First Avenues, and Jefferson and Madison streets — has been home to the gorgeous 10-story Luhrs Building at 11 West Jefferson and its beautiful sister, the Luhrs Tower, for nearly a century.
The Luhrs block is Phoenix's Champs Elysees. The jewel in its crown — its Eiffel Tower, if you will — is the tall, stately Art Deco Luhrs Tower. Which makes, I suppose, the Luhrs Building our Arc de Triomphe. Built in 1924, this stunning L-shaped Sullivan-esque structure was designed by the Texas architecture firm of Trost and Trost and is now listed on the Phoenix Historic Property Register. Its façade is brown sand brick, and its top two floors are faced with intricate marble ornamentation and topped with a dramatic cornice.
The building, whose sister tower was a featured player in the 1961 Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho, was originally home to the snooty-boots Arizona Club, a private men's club with a bar, dining room, a library, and sleeping quarters for its members. The ground floor was originally leased as office space, and the whole building became an office park after the Arizona Club vacated in 1971. It's since suffered the usual renovation disasters, both inside and out, that mark so many of our historic downtown buildings.
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Still. The whole thing could have been torn down — and probably would have been; this is, after all, Phoenix — but for a 2008 city panel-approved plan that earmarked a half-million bucks to preserve both of the Luhrs structures. In what amounted to a bribe (and, frankly, a pretty paltry one, considering that the developer who bit paid $28 million for the city block, and another $8 million to rehab the Luhrs buildings), Hansji Urban was handed $500,000 in city grant money to help preserve the then-vacant Luhrs Building and the long, low, one-story retail space that links the Luhrs Building and Tower.
The Irvine, California-based Hansji completely gutted the 100,000-square-foot interior (don't cry — most of the cool old transom doors and maple baseboards had been yanked out in the '70s and replaced with ugly fiberboard paneling, hollow plywood doors and cheap quarter-round trim) and have updated the crap out of it. Still, there's some nod to the original interior, with high-ceilinged lobbies and common areas, Deco-influenced lighted columns, and the sort of architectural grandeur appropriate to buildings of the era.
Hansji has hired a marketing firm to attract new tenants to the recently completed renovation; among their press releases is one pitching the site as the ideal spot for a fashion photography shoot. It sounds silly, but Hitchcock blogs are chockablock with posts and comments about photography-inspired pilgrimages to the Luhrs site. "My wife and I have been twice," Hitchcock fan Steve Albaghdadi told me about driving to Phoenix from Orange County to visit the place where the first reel of Psycho is set. "We keep hearing about how everything in Phoenix eventually gets torn down, so we want to come there and document this part of Hollywood history."
Looks like Alfred's fans have been bought a little more time.