10 Vacant Buildings Around Phoenix That Should Be Music Venues

The old Circles Records and Tapes location on Central Avenue.
The old Circles Records and Tapes location on Central Avenue.
Benjamin Leatherman

If there's one thing that Metro Phoenix has no shortage of, it's vacant buildings. Thanks to the Great Recession and the ever-fickle whims of consumers, and the normal failure rate of any business, our area is littered with scores of available spaces or shuttered enterprises.

Some will eventually be reborn as new projects or concepts, including those devoted to nightlife or featuring live music. It's no secret that we're big fans of both adaptive reuse and local music venues, so its groovy whenever the two intersect and a new concert joint or rock bar opens some formerly vacant space. That goes double if it happens to be in some vintage building.

While we're aware that many historic structures around town have been needlessly demolished in the name of progress in recent years, many of which have had a special place in our hearts, many of these gorgeous throwbacks probably could have been rebooted or rehabbed into something unique and special.

Some of the best music venues in the Valley are housed within vintage or long-standing buildings -- Crescent Ballroom (natch), Lost Leaf, Trunk Space, Yucca Tap Room, Club Red, Dressing Room, Nile Theater, or Tempe Tavern -- and we'd love to see more.

In fact, we've got several vacant or largely unused locations around Metro Phoenix in mind that would serve as excellent venues or music-oriented projects, if only the right well-moneyed visionary would come along and snatch 'em up.

What's left of the Hotel St. James.
What's left of the Hotel St. James.
Benjamin Leatherman

Hotel St. James Current value: $630,000

Part of us died inside when the old Madison Hotel and most of the adjacent Hotel St. James got the wrecking ball treatment in 2012 from the Phoenix Suns, which owns both properties and planned to raze them completely in favor of parking lots for the nearby US Airways Center. Thanks to the fervor raised by local preservationists, however, the team decided to spare the "architecturally significant" portions of the St. James (pretty much just its façade and lobby), but hasn't done much with it since. Why not renovate it into a lounge or gin joint that could host jazz artists, folksters, troubadours, or similar acts and be a destination for folks going to or coming from the arena? It certainly would be a more fitting use for what's left of the historic edifice.

The soon-to-be-demolished Industrial Congress Building.
The soon-to-be-demolished Industrial Congress Building.

Industrial Congress Building Current value: $899,800

Meanwhile, there's another tragic situation unfolding less than a block away: the two-story Industrial Congress Building, which is adjacent to the equally historic Luhrs Building and celebrated its 100th birthday this year, is about to be demolished to make way for a planned Marriott Hotel. Although the corporate masters and number-crunchers at the multi-billion dollar chain would disagree, it's definitely a crying shame. Not only because of the loss of another historic space, but also because of its wasted potential.

It might've made for a neat mixed-use space with retail shops or cafes on the ground floor with perhaps a roomy dance club or lounge upstairs that offered incredible views of downtown via the numerous windows that ring the second floor. Maybe a speakeasy-like establishment, owing to its formative years in the prohibition era, could've thrived there. Nightlife and live music is already flourishing at the neighboring CityScape or the newly opened Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour. Alas, such wishful thinking is ultimately all we can do at this point, since the building is about to be reduced to rubble in the name of progress.  

Pray this doesn't become something boring.
Pray this doesn't become something boring.
Benjamin Leatherman

Apostolic Assembly Phoenix Current value: $124,700

Technically, this 9,400 square-foot structure at Ninth and Garfield streets isn't vacant, as it still hosts services for a bilingual evangelical church, but as the "for sale" sign outside indicates, it's in the market for a new owner. And we'd dig it if a project or person with a music or artistic bent inked a deal to take it over. The place boasts something of a vintage flair, a worship hall that could easily be converted into a concert hall, space for practice rooms or private studios, and even a parking lot, which can be crucial. Its also smack-dab in the middle of the popular Garfield Neighborhood and hotspots like Welcome Diner, JoBot Coffee, Lost Leaf, and the entirety of Roosevelt Row are all withing walking distance.

Orange you glad it's not in Apache Junction?
Orange you glad it's not in Apache Junction?
Benjamin Leatherman

Sunkist Citrus Growers Association Building Current value: $929,162

In 2011, the local beer barons at Four Peaks considered tapping this sprawling brick warehouse and former citrus growers co-op in Mesa as a site for one of their brewpubs. About six months later, their compatriots at San Tan Brewing Company were thinking about doing the same. Neither came to fruition, and the 1930s-era processing plant has ultimately remained dormant.

But while it's been collecting dust ever since shutting down in 2010, it ought to be alive with music and life. It certainly has all the making of a great nightspot, venue, multi-use project, or the aforementioned brewpubs with its historic feel, excess amounts of space, and proximity to downtown Mesa. Warehouse-based event centers and venues around the Valley -- such as The Pressroom, Stratus, or the Icehouse -- have been able to succeed, given the right people and circumstances. And, from what we've heard, Mesa's city officials have been reportedly bending over backwards lately to bring cool businesses within their borders, such as recently opened rock bar Club Red.

The cocktails sign is included.
The cocktails sign is included.
Benjamin Leatherman

Chez Nous Current value: $91,800

It once was a quirky dive known as Fat Cats and later became a second home for renowned cocktail lounge Chez Nous after it was booted from its longtime location at Seventh Avenue and Indian School Road. That didn't last, however, and the 2,476 square-foot bar along Grand Avenue, which dates back to 1951, has been vacant for the last five years. Given the resurgence of the historic thoroughfare as of late -- thanks to newer businesses like ThirdSpace, Allred Guitars, and the Grand Avenue Pizza Company -- reopening the spot as a watering hole and music venue would be a welcome addition to what they've already got going on down there. Or, at the very least, another place to drink during First and Third Fridays.  

Here's hoping this place rocks out once again.
Here's hoping this place rocks out once again.
Benjamin Leatherman

The Mason Jar Current value: $244,186

Back in June, we reported that the onetime home of legendary rock institution The Mason Jar was available for rental or purchase after its former tenant left the Indian School Road joint several months ago. And, as far as we can tell, it's still up for grabs. (New Times reached out to owner Franco Gagliano recently for confirmation but never heard back.)

Sure, there was some talk over the summer of potential projects that were interested in moving into the spot, but such rumors proved to be nothing but hot air. According to the original Craigslist posting advertising its availability, it sounds like the bar is a turnkey kind of thing that could be quickly be transformed into a rock bar again, if the right party is interested. And we certainly hope that comes to pass, especially with the dive's history and esteem amongst local old school rock fans.

Colorful doesn't even begin to describe it.
Colorful doesn't even begin to describe it.
Benjamin Leatherman

Temple Beth Hebree Current value: $213,266

It's hard to miss this vacant Portland Street structure, even when you're blocks away, thanks to the vibrant patina of graf art that covers its exterior from top to bottom. Decades before it served a canvas for cats like Lalo Cota and Thomas "Breeze" Marcus, however, the 13,300 square-foot building functioned as a synagogue for local Orthodox Jews from 1955 until the early '80s and even was where director (and onetime Valley resident) Steven Spielberg had his bar mitzvah. It then became home to the Black Theatre Troupe for 18 years until several calamities, including flooding and a pair of fires, caused considerable damages.

Local real estate broker Norman Fox, its current owner, told New Times that the former temple is still structurally sound and believes that it could be restored to a viable performance venue or concert hall, but estimates that it would take at least $1 million in order to do so. And even with such a steep price tag, it's certainly within the realm of possibility. Development in and around Roosevelt Row is definitely booming and similarly historic properties in the neighborhood (such as the Leighton J. Knipe House) have been brought back from far worse condition. And, frankly, RoRo could always use more live music.

It used to hold shows, now it holds brake pads.
It used to hold shows, now it holds brake pads.
Benjamin Leatherman

Upcoming Events

The Paper Heart Current value: $311,500

Admittedly, this is a bit of a cheat, considering that The Paper Heart already was a music venue for most of the '00s, and a fantastic one at that, before its untimely closure in late 2007. Plus, the property is currently in use, albeit only as storage and employee parking for AJ's Auto Parts store just across the street, which purchased the place a few years ago after hooligans and druggies had stripped it of anything and everything metallic.

The Paper Heart back when it was a car dealer.
The Paper Heart back when it was a car dealer.
McLaughlin and Co. via Modern Phoenix

With all that said, there's still a chance, however remote, that the uniquely angular mid-century modern structure -- which was designed by famed local architect Ralph Haver and began life as a Chevy dealership in the 1950s -- could once again host performances. While the store's management told New Times that it isn't for sale, and won't be anytime soon, they stated that they'd hypothetically consider an offer, but it would have to for something in excess of $1.5 million. It's not much to go on, but we can always dream, right?  

The former Circles on Central.
The former Circles on Central.
Benjamin Leatherman

Circles Records and Tapes Current value: $640,426

Back in 2011, when Charlie Levy was searching for a location for what would become the Crescent Ballroom, the renowned concert promoter checked out the former home of Circles Records and Tapes on Central Avenue. True story. Obviously, things didn't work out with the place and the Crescent wound up opening elsewhere, but it wasn't because the 19,000 square-foot joint was lacking in good looks, charm, floor space, or a centralized location. (Its $2.9 million asking price might have had something to do with it, depending on whom you ask.)

The building, which began life as a Studebaker dealership in 1947 and housed Circles for 38 years before it ceased slinging music in 2010, is easily one of the more eye-catching and intriguing structures in downtown due to its towering spire and other vintage touches. New Times contributor Robrt L. Pela, who worked as a manager at Circles in the '80s, described it as a "glorious red brick building that's become a local landmark in a city that has precious few," one replete with "Deco-inspired curves, long horizontal lines, and rounded windows of Streamline Moderne design."

We've lost count at the number of times we've passed the old Circles since its closure and wished that someone would do what Levy didn't and turn it into something cool or artsy (preferably a club or concert venue of some sort). And, according to its real estate broker, that may happen in the near future.

Larry Ortega, an executive Vice President with Colliers International, told New Times that after years of potential offers, someone has finally bit the bullet and is in the process of purchasing the building. While Ortega was unable to disclose any names, he says its currently in escrow and the buyer hopes to potentially repurpose and subdivide the expansive property into any number of creative-oriented projects, which could conceivably include a maker space, restaurant, gallery, art studio, and, yes, a space for live music.

Nothing's been finalized at this point (and, like with any business deal, it could possibly fall apart) but we've got our fingers crossed that music will once again come from the Circles building.  

The "majestic ruin" of the First Baptist Church.
The "majestic ruin" of the First Baptist Church.
Peter Radunzel via Flickr

First Baptist Church Current value: $599,458

This one would most certainly take a big dreamer with an equally big bankroll to transform -- but what a music venue it could become. Everything about the circa-1929 house of worship, which is located in downtown Phoenix near Third Avenue and Monroe Street, is striking, from its towering stature and awe-inspiring presence to the Italian Gothic architecture and impressive-looking stonework and porticos. As we aptly described the church a few years back, it's a "majestic ruin" that's become a ghostly shell of its former grandeur. In 1984, an immense fire turned its interior completely to ash and char but left the exterior largely intact.

10 Vacant Buildings Around Phoenix That Should Be Music Venues
ZannWalker via Flickr

Three decades later, there's a chance that the First Baptist Church could be reborn, albeit for a different use altogether. Earlier this year, KNXV reported that a group of unnamed local architects were exploring the idea of renovating it into destination spot that could host such enterprises as a restaurant, urban garden, art space, open-air music venue, or all of the above. Of course, we're partial to the latter idea as it would potentially be the most unique settings to catch a concert in downtown, let alone the entire Valley.

Make no mistake, however, it would require an estimated $10 million dollars for such a thing to become a reality, since an entirely new interior structure would have to be built from scratch. We'll keep praying that there's some well-moneyed philanthropist or plutocrat out there with a serious yen for live music.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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