Lucretia Torva has Phoenix history on the brain after painting a mural commemorating the 100-year anniversary of F.Q. Story, a historic Phoenix neighborhood renowned for its charming homes and palm-lined streets where people once traveled by streetcar.
She had plenty of source material to choose from, including namesake Francis Quarles Story, a wool merchant from Boston who devised the iconic “Sunkist” branding for oranges after moving to California. Story was instrumental in creating the Grand Avenue thoroughfare that helped to connect central Phoenix with agricultural regions to the west.
In 1920, others began developing the neighborhood that bears Story’s name, after he sold the land the year before. Only 29,000 people lived in Phoenix at the time, according to a historic survey of F.Q. Story that led to its placement on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. The peak development period ended in 1938.
Phoenix was founded in 1870, by the way. Today, it’s home to about 1.7 million people. F.Q. Story is one of 36 historic residential districts in the Phoenix — along with Evans Churchill, Garfield, Roosevelt, Willo, and many more.
Every neighborhood has a unique feel, according to coalition head G.G. George, who moved to the Encanto-Palmcroft neighborhood in 1969. Several present annual home tours that bolster neighborhood pride while keeping the cause of historic preservation in the public eye and delivering an eclectic mix of architectural eye candy.
F.Q. Story is bounded by McDowell Road and Roosevelt Street to the north and south, and runs between Seventh and Grand avenues. The first house was a bungalow located at 709 West Portland Street. Today the house is painted moss green, with white trim, a red door, and a large decorative white star that seems to signal its historical significance.
The houses in F.Q. Story are small by contemporary standards, and most have just one story. Many were built with sleeping porches in the back and detached garages that match the look of the adjacent house. Today, they reflect the personalities of their current owners, who add front yard embellishments ranging from whimsical plastic flamingos to beautifully rusted sculptures.
The neighborhood has just over 600 houses with myriad architectural styles, according to Michelle Dodds, who heads the city’s office of historic preservation. “It began with a lot of bungalows, as did earlier neighborhoods like Roosevelt and Coronado,” Dodds says. “Then came period revival styles, and later ranch-style homes.”
Torva’s mural features a small row of houses reflecting the neighborhood’s diverse architectural styles — including Art Modern, Bungalow, English Cottage, Mediterranean, Mission, Neoclassical, Norman Cottage, Prairie, Pueblo, Tudor, Spanish Colonial, and Vernacular Ranch.
“Everybody who lives here came in part because of the architecture,” says Joan Gresch, who’s lived in F.Q. Story for 28 years and owns an English cottage on Lynwood Street near Ninth Avenue.
“The styles in F.Q. Story are united by a common streetscape that includes long tree-lined streets, green lawns, and sidewalks,” says Dodds, who cites the influence of the City Beautiful movement of the late 19th century, which called for promoting social order through aesthetics.
The neighborhood aesthetic changed significantly when homes were destroyed to make way for a section of the Papago Freeway, which bisected the neighborhood despite efforts by homeowners to stop the project. “We lost a lot of beautiful homes,” says Gresch. “It looked like a bomb had gone off and left a scar across the neighborhood.”
After the freeway fiasco, residents formed a group called the Story Preservation Association, which gives neighbors a way to exercise their collective power. The association runs the home tour, issues a monthly newsletter, and holds meetings that give homeowners a place to discuss and strategize about issues affecting the neighborhood.
Nowadays, they’re working on strategies for dealing with stray cats, overgrown palm trees, and sinking homes, according to Diego Delgadillo, a member of the association’s steering committee. A few years ago, the big issue was FAA flight plans, which were eventually shifted to reduce the noise impacts on particular neighborhoods.
Even streetlight brightness and granny flats have led to robust discussions, according Tim Eigo, an F.Q. Story homeowner who credits artists and residents of F.Q. Story and other neighborhoods with “keeping the urban lights on when downtown wasn’t seen as the place to be.”
Historic preservation is a perennial topic, because homeowners have different ideas about how much change is acceptable. Dodds notes that Phoenix historic preservation guidelines address exterior changes, rather than interior ones. Exterior changes often require prior city approval, but Dodds says not everyone follows the rules.
“There’s always a little bit of a learning curve when we get new folks into the neighborhood,” according to Jeanine Baber, who owns a bungalow on Willetta Street near Seventh Avenue. She’s used genealogy to learn more about the home’s early owners, drawing inspiration to preserve the home’s historic integrity both inside and out.
“I’ve poured a lot of my soul into this house and a lot of my money too,” she says. “Living in a historic home that needs lots of love is not for sissies.”
Alma Delgadillo bought her Mediterranean style house on Moreland Avenue back in 1965, paying just $5,000 because the home had been seriously neglected. “It was the ugliest house in the neighborhood,” she says. She’s been fixing it up ever since, with help from her son Diego Delgadillo, who notes that it’s one of just a few duplexes in F.Q. Story.
Real estate ads from nearly 100 years ago promised the neighborhood would be “restricted to white people forever.” Alma Delgadillo, whose family has Mexican roots, recalls being “one of the few people from a minority group to live in the neighborhood” after she bought the home. “Some houses had deed restrictions that said only certain groups could buy them,” she says.
Like Diego Delgadillo, Mark Landy is part of a family with multigenerational ties to F.Q. Story. His grandfather founded Landy’s Market, which sat on the southwestern corner of McDowell Road and 15th Avenue for more than 50 years. Today, a Circle K store sits in its place.
Torva memorialized Landy’s Market with her mural painted near the entrance to a pedestrian bridge crossing over the Papago Freeway. She painted the market along Latham Street near 11th Avenue, where passersby see a pink stucco house sitting on the corner of the block.
Nearby, she’s painted a trio of thought bubbles with images that reference earlier times, including a uniformed soldier returning home from war and a woman sitting on the sideboard of a 1940s car. For a mural along Moreland near Ninth Avenue, Torva painted several homes and a streetcar.
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For Ginger Mattox, a longtime F.Q. Story homeowner who strongly objected to murals painted in the nearby Willo neighborhood in 2018, the murals are a source of pride. “Lucretia really captured the spirit of 100 years of F.Q. Story history,” Mattox says.
Now, Mattox is working to bring more murals with a historic twist to the neighborhood. And homeowners are looking ahead to what the next 100 years might bring.
“My biggest dream,” says Baber, “is that the family living here in 100 years will feel as special about this place as I do.”