5 Things We Learned at the 2015 Docomomo Tour in Phoenix

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A terrible Beach Boys song it is not. Instead, Docomomo is an internationally engaged group that supports the "documentation and conservation of buildings, sites, and neighborhoods of the modern movement." (The name picks and chooses letters from its mission.) Each year, the Docomomo US tour day showcases and raises awareness of modern architecture around the country. On Saturday, October 10, the Postwar Architecture Task Force of Greater Phoenix began its edition of the tour at downtown Phoenix's Beth Hebrew Synagogue and continued to a mid-century condominium complex, a 1949 ranch home, the Phoenix Country Club, and a Seventh Avenue office building. Here's what we learned. 

North Phoenix's Greek Meets Googie Gem
Space Age meets Mediterranean at The Olympus, a condo complex off the Murphy Bridle path. The five-building complex looks lifted from 1960s Vegas and includes fleur-de-lis Superlite block. It was marketed as "the ultimate in peaceful, dignified living," and the complex is undergoing thoughtful updates.

A Piece of Chinese-American History
John Sing Tang was the first Chinese-American architect to practice in Phoenix. One of his buildings, which features clerestory windows and beautiful stone work, now houses the offices of Mario Romero. Tang was also behind Central High School and several government buildings.

Beth Hebrew Synagogue's Egyptian Design Elements
Michael Levine gave a brief talk about the Beth Hebrew Synagogue, a mid-century structure that he's in the process of restoring on Portland and Third streets in downtown Phoenix. We could've listened to the preservationist talk about the synagogue all day, but one of the most interesting things he mentioned about the building's construction are its multiple references to Egypt. Architect Max Kaufman, who was apparently well-versed in hieroglyphics and was fascinated by astronomy, used Egyptian imagery including pyramids and obelisks (alongside Stars of David) in the not-so-typical synagogue's design elements. 

Phoenix Country Club's Frank Lloyd Wright References
While Phoenix Country Club has been updated here and there, Ed Varney's use of stone walls stand as evidence of the building's mid-century heritage. 

The Mystery of A. Jake Knapp
The tour included a stop at a stellar time capsule 1949 home in the Phoenix Country Club neighborhood. While there's plenty known about the home's original owners, the Norman Ross family, and the structure itself (which is full of California Redwood), its architect is a bit of an unknown quantity. Apparently A. Jake Knapp had ties to San Francisco and mainly worked in residential design, but we'd love to know more about the man behind this pristine house.

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Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.