A Phoenix man scored when he bought Ralph Haver's family home for a song

At last, there's a reason to be glad for the crummy housing market here, and for the lack of awareness among Phoenicians about our local architectural history. Both of these misfortunes led Brad Jannenga to a formidable real estate score when he recently bought architect Ralph Haver's old house over on 11th Place for a measly $164,000.

That's a better-than-decent price for any midcentury block home here, but the house Jannenga bought isn't just one among the thousand or so homes designed and built by Haver, a pioneer of modern tract housing in Arizona in the 1950s. This is the house that Haver built in the 1940s for his own family. His career was just getting going, but Haver's clean lines, exposed masonry walls, and narrow casement windows were already in evidence in this now-historic prototype, which is in pretty rough shape after decades as a rental property.

"That little half-wall Haver always did between the kitchen and the family room is in this house," Jannenga told me. "You could see he was trying out his designs here, messing with the triangular-shaped windows, the bigger window frames, the simple-span roofline. You can see the seeds of his work all over this place."

Not all of those seeds were well-sown, as Haver hadn't yet gotten the kinks quite worked out in his signature design. The added-on third bedroom off the dining room is oddly placed, and there's a peculiar bump-out in the front façade that serves no purpose; it appears to be a half-chimney on a home with no fireplace.

"This isn't the stunning, classic ranch home you'd expect it to be," Alison King, who lives in the Haver next door, says of the architect's 900-square-foot home. "It was built quickly, sort of in shorthand, with close communication between the builder and architect. But you can look at this house and then at our place next door and see how Haver refined his technique, how he learned to apply and personalize the ideas he tried in his own home."

Perhaps what's most striking about the Haver family home is that it stands as proof that Haver was a designer of some integrity, a man who lived his design. The same triangular clerestory windows, low carport, and tinted concrete floors exist both in the home he built for his family and the house designs he offered to others throughout the next two decades.

Jannenga (who owns two other Havers he's restoring) and his fiancée, Heidi Wutscher, left the seller in the dark about the property they were buying. "He didn't know he had an historically significant property," he says, "and I certainly didn't tell him. To the seller, this was just another block house with interesting windows."

Jannenga's friends were psyched when he told them about his amazing find. "Everyone thought it was pretty great that I bought Haver's home," he told me last week when I called to cheer him on. "Everyone was, like, 'You've got to save this place!'"

I envy him that. Because when, about nine years ago, I bought a house in Ohio that had been in my family for generations, pretty much everyone I knew came unglued. This tiny clapboard two-story was the first house my great-grandparents owned after coming to this country not long after the turn of the last century; the first home in which my grandparents lived after they were married; the house where my parents settled shortly after their own wedding in 1946. My father was born in an upstairs bedroom of this home; my parents met on the corner just across the street; all four of my siblings lived there when they were little. After pretty much everyone in my large family moved away from the small town in Ohio where the house stood, my grandfather sold it. I was delighted, 30 years later, to reclaim this significant piece of my family's history, which had been a rental for a long time and, on the day I discovered it for sale, was in lamentable shape.

But when I bought the house, people acted as if I'd just raped my sister in Macy's display window. "Why would you buy a house in a town you don't live in?" was the most popular of the outraged questions hurled my way. "After you fix it up, are you going to sell it?" became my favorite of the stupider inquiries I heard for months afterward. "You're mad!" became the general consensus about my foolish squandering of money on a house I planned to restore but neither to live in nor resell once I'd finished it.

Jannenga was met with the kind of support that his find deserved. King, who runs modernphoenix.net, a virtual haven for local midcentury architecture fans, arranged for a dozen or so of what she calls MoPhos to help Jannenga restore the house. These Haver fans have pitched in to help Jannenga get the place ready to rent out, until such time as he can do what he calls "a real rehab" on Haver's old haunt, which he guesses will run him around $100,000.

"It will be worth every penny," King says. "We can't wait for the city to decide these homes are important and worth saving. We have to do it ourselves."


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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela