Wayne Rainey feels all burned up inside.
For the past decade, the artist, business/gallery owner, and advocate for historical preservation has made a habit out of repurposing old and run-down buildings into usable spaces. One place on his list for a while was the Leighton G. Knipe House, a 101-year-old downtown Phoenix home that the Phoenix Historic Neighborhoods Coalition recently named as one of its 12 most endangered historical properties.
Now a rehab is mission impossible, thanks to a fire this week that destroyed a large chunk of the house. As of press time, the cause of the fire, which started at 2:02 a.m. Wednesday, was still under investigation, according to the Phoenix Fire Department's Fire Investigations.
Rainey thinks the blaze was anything but a random act. "I think there are serial arsonists in town," he says.
By Rainey's account, the Knipe House is the third unoccupied building that has burned in the past year in, more or less, the same square block. About the Wednesday-morning inferno, Rainey says, "It's not like it's cold and somebody is lighting a fire to keep warm. It wasn't a working house with electricity so it's not like things would've been accidentally going off. I find it really hard to believe that somebody just threw a lit cigarette and the place caught fire," says Rainey.
Records show that the circa 1909 home, located at 1025 North Second Street, was originally occupied by a structural engineer and architect called Knipe. At the time, the home was considered a beacon in an area once considered the outskirts of Phoenix.
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It's been a long time since the 1,200-square-foot house saw a glimpse of those glory days.
For years, Rainey and a group of local preservationists discussed rehabbing the building. But due to the housing crunch and the estimated cost to fix up the house ($1.5 million, says Rainey), the City of Phoenix had taken possession of the place, according to Rainey.
In the end, Rainey is more than bummed that another irretrievable piece of Phoenix's short history went bye-bye overnight. "I'm a third-generation Arizonan, so [the fire] really, no pun intended, burns me, because the historical equity in Phoenix is so slim as it is.
"Once it's gone, it's gone."