Architecture and Design

Michael Levine to Uncover 106-Year-Old Sign in Downtown Warehouse District

If you stop by Downtown's Warehouse District to check out Michael Levine's latest effort on the Phoenix Seed & Feed Capitol Warehouse in downtown Phoenix, he might not be able to hear you.

The local artist, historic preservation advocate, and operator of Levine Machine Development is currently on a scissor lift with a power washer, carefully lifting layers of old paint from the oldest remaining warehouse in Phoenix.

Preservation and restoration of the Phoenix Seed & Feed building is something Levine hopes to complete for Arizona's Centennial celebration, and before the crowds come in for the All Star game on July 12.

It's also his latest effort in a long battle for downtown warehouses.

He moved to Phoenix from Brooklyn, New York to get a start in contracting. In New York, he says, if you were lucky enough to find a job working on old buildings that are fiercely protected by local government and stakeholders, you were more than likely to be working alongside the mafia or have your tools stolen.

In Phoenix, the scene is a little different. Namely, he says, there's an excess of historical buildings to work on, the local government isn't doing much (if anything) to protect them ... and he still has his scissor lift.

After moving here, Levine quickly established himself as a tough, outspoken, one-man historical preservation show. He finds the historical buildings (what he calls "bulldozer bait"), restores them by himself or with the help of a small crew, and creates opportunity for new business and community space.

It's a process he's been through with the Duce, an old Jewish synogogue, the Bentley Projects, and a gaggle of warehouses that earned him a grand prize at the Arizona Historic Preservation Conference in 2007.

Yesterday, Levine removed the Seed & Feed's outer layer with a specialized paint stripper and high-pressure washer that's not as harsh as a traditional sandblaster. He uncovered signage from the 1942 Arizona Paper Box Company.

Today, he hopes to uncover the original facade of the Phoenix Seed & Feed Capitol Warehouse, built in 1905, brick by brick.

Levine says he knows he can't do contracting and historical preservation forever -- the court battles, messy politics and lack of City funding have been frustrating and endless. For now, he says that because he's the only one doing what he does with the sole mission of historical preservation, he'll keep going.

"These buildings, to me, are like Hohokam pottery shards," says Levine. "If you squint and stand far enough away, you can see the whole pot ... the whole history."

The Phoenix Seed & Feed Capitol Warehouse is at 125 E. Jefferson St. in Phoenix. For more information, see the Levine Machine Development website and see a timelapse of the effort so far by Dennis Murphy and Dennis Scully of D Squared Productions.

Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook and Twitter.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Claire Lawton
Contact: Claire Lawton