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Christie Lee Kinchen Is Trying to Save Scottsdale, One Building at a Time

The Triangle is of the few remaining Scottsdale examples of renowned midcentury architect Ralph Haver’s work.
The Triangle is of the few remaining Scottsdale examples of renowned midcentury architect Ralph Haver’s work.
Scott Sandler
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She smiles, Christie Lee Kinchen admitted last week, every time she drives past the Triangle Building on East Indian School Road.

“Back when I was an angsty, goth teenager, my sister and I took sewing classes there,” she said. “We knew there was something super special about that building, even then.”

She’s no longer angsty or goth. Kinchen grew up and became Scottsdale’s Historic Preservation Commissioner. She’s lately been crusading to preserve the Triangle, one of the few remaining Scottsdale examples of renowned midcentury architect Ralph Haver’s work. When a Utah-based developer proposed a seven-story hotel and a similar-sized residential building on the site, Kinchen pushed for an adaptive reuse approach that would maintain the building’s original design.

“I’ve lived in Scottsdale all my life, and I have a connection to these places,” she went on. “I take it personally when I see our history erased. Like when they tore down Papago Plaza, where I had my first date with my husband. These places are part of our city’s story. If you drive through Tempe now, it doesn’t look like Tempe anymore. It looks more like downtown Los Angeles.”

Kinchen is a fourth-generation Realtor, she boasted. She and her twin sister, the one she took the sewing classes with, own Twins and Co. Realty.

“When we were little, my mom would fix up cute old houses and flip them. But she kept the original details, instead of trying to make them look new.” Her mother, Kinchen said, “was kind of a hippie” who inspired her daughters’ passion for preserving the past. So she heard what she called “cries from the community” when the Triangle was slated for demolition last year.

“People were saying ‘We cannot keep tearing down our history’,” Kinchen claimed. “So with the Triangle, we convinced the development team to go back to the drawing board. They hired Doug Sydnor, who understands that these spaces give us a sense of place.”

Sydnor, lead architect on the Triangle project, was Scottsdale’s founding Historic Preservation Commissioner.

“He gets it,” Kinchen said. “Doug knows that the overhangs on the Triangle façade have the same butterfly detail as the roof on the Coronado High School building. He’s showing the developers how they can do some cool nods to Haver. Now they’re talking about having a Haver museum inside the renovated building.”

Not everyone thinks it’s cool to save old buildings, Kinchen moaned. “I get attacked on the internet for doing this kind of work. Someone took pictures of me with the Triangle Building and turned them into memes that said ‘hash-tag sellout.’” That person, she said, was doing PR for a guy who wants to run for City Council.

“Why?” she asked, perhaps rhetorically. “I have no political aspirations. Why are middle-aged white men saying mean things about me on social media? Because I want to save buildings?”

Kinchen is used to taking crap about her preoccupation with preserving city landmarks. When she and her sister heard that Haver’s 1965 Polynesian-themed Dairy Queen building at 68th Street and McDowell Road was about to be razed, they stepped in and saved the façade, which will be repurposed in a new-build restaurant project. People they knew rolled their eyes about the rescue, Kinchen said. And when she worked on saving the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, someone in the city office took offense.

“He got on the internet and posted about how I should not be taken seriously because I have tattoos,” she recalled. “That was rad.”

But Kinchen is cautiously optimistic about the Triangle’s future. “We just discovered some loopholes in the developer’s design agreement that we have to iron out,” she confided. “We have to butter those up and make sure there’s no bait-and-switch here, where they can ignore Historic Preservation’s requests and do what they want to.”

She let out a little laugh. “But what do I know, right? I’m just trying to save plants and animals and buildings.”

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