RIP Nancy Beadle: She Memorialized Her Late Husband, Architect Al Beadle

Nancy Beadle, who died at 92, always championed the work of her husband, architect Al Beadle.
Nancy Beadle, who died at 92, always championed the work of her husband, architect Al Beadle. Courtesy of Alison King/Modern Phoenix

Those looking to paint Nancy Beadle as an early feminist whose strong vision and behind-the-scenes influence changed our city’s landscape will be disappointed. Beadle, who died on April 8 at age 92, chose a more traditional path, and made a difference in the career of her famous husband by embracing the now largely scorned roles of wife and mother.

It was a choice, according to Nancy’s friend Alison King, that allowed Alfred Beadle to focus on creating the singular residential and commercial buildings that defined our local landscape in the middle of the last century and beyond. In 1963 alone, Beadle brought us the modular-grid-centric Three Fountains apartments on 40th Street; the Boardwalk apartments on 36th Street; and the midtown highrise Executive Towers. Local and national acclaim soon followed.

“Nancy wasn’t involved with the design side of things, as far as consulting with Al Beadle on color or placement,” King says. “But her real contribution was enabling her husband to create masterworks by managing their home life, the house and children. And they had a lot of children.”

Born Nancy Leland on September 17, 1926, in Duluth, Minnesota, she met self-trained architect Alfred N. Beadle in 1947, following his service in the Navy. Al Beadle popularized the International style of architectural design here in the desert after he and Nancy settled here in 1952.

Nancy’s contribution wasn’t limited to hearth and home, King insists. She became, later in life, a documentarian of her late husband’s career. As Beadle’s designs began gaining recognition, so did the fate of several of his better buildings. Nancy joined forces with the Beadle Archive, conceived in 2006 by historian Shawn Augustinak and now overseen by King, to document the influence of Beadle’s work, and to help preserve it.

“Nancy was obviously a one-of-a-kind resource,” says King, who co-founded Modern Phoenix, an online resource on midcentury architecture and design. “She knew the original owners of Beadle buildings, and went on to have relationships with stewards of other buildings. This was Nancy. Her presence and vision with the registry helped galvanize a micro-community.”

King says Nancy Beadle could recognize a faux Beadle from curbside, and often did drive-bys to check on the condition of buildings her husband had designed. “She always deferred to Al,” King recalls. “If one of his buildings was in danger, she would frame it in the context of ‘Al would have said good riddance to that one,’ if that as the case. He was her barometer, despite her own feelings about the place.”

Nancy Beadle also made sure her husband got credit where it was due, King says, "and that makes up for the anonymity she felt he endured while he was alive and working.

“Closure is a good word for what she had,” King believes, “knowing that these buildings are treasured and cared for and will be passed on to a new generation.”

A graveside service for Nancy Beadle will take place Thursday, April 18, at 9 a.m. at National Memorial Cemetery, 23029 North Cave Creek Road.
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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