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Why The 120-Year-Old Clinton Campbell House Is Slated for Demolition

Why The 120-Year-Old Clinton Campbell House Is Slated for Demolition
Tony the Marine
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It looks like Phoenix is about to lose another old building. This one, the Clinton Campbell house, is among a handful of 19th-century homes left downtown. It’s slated for demolition later this summer.

“There are only about 50 houses that are this old in the entire city,” says Steve Dreiseszun, a historic preservationist and one of the advocates of the Clinton Campbell house. “We think it could be adaptively reused and incorporated into a residential redevelopment.” The home, Dreiseszun argues, could stand “as a bridge to the past” as part of the new owner’s residential development plan.

Located downtown at 357 North Fourth Avenue, between Fillmore and Van Buren streets, the 120-year-old house was built by Clinton Campbell, a well-regarded Phoenix builder. Several of Campbell’s other buildings still stand, and are protected by the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. These include the El Zaribah Shrine Auditorium on West Washington Street and ASU’s President’s House, a western Colonial structure built in 1907.

Glasir Capital Partners LLC, a development firm, paid $750,000 for the Campbell parcel in 2015. The sale included the house and two vacant lots on either side of it. Glasir planned to demolish the building, arguing that restoring it would cause “an unnecessary economic hardship.”

Following protocol, the developer was required to prove that financial burden before getting the go-ahead to tear down the former Campbell home. The company’s defense is hard to deny. Rehabbing the building would cost about $400 per square foot, Glasir reported, an exorbitant amount for an unassuming reclamation project. Real estate math suggests that a restoration of the house would cost $200,000 more than what the home would be worth on the market.

In March of last year, Glasir filed a demolition permit after determining the building’s age and significance wouldn’t keep them from tearing it down. A month later, the Historic Preservation Commission initiated a historic overlay, which usually results in historic designation and special zoning from the city. It’s a popular stalling tactic that can prevent demolition of a significant building while preservationists regroup.

But the Campbell building’s poor condition ultimately outweighed its value as an historic Phoenix home. The house has been damaged by fire and would require significant repairs before it could be moved to another lot, an increasingly popular means of saving old buildings here. Relocating the building would, the new owners determined, be too costly. Moving the house would require that power lines in its path be repositioned, another added expense to relocation.

The city offered no financial assistance in saving the building, having spent its 2006 historic preservation bond money on other projects. National historic tax credits weren’t an incentive for the developers, either. In the end, relocation and preservation of the building was going to top out at more than $500,000.

An appeal filed last week looks like a final attempt to save the house. “It’s not a lost cause,” Dreiseszun insists. On June 19, he reports, community members will present adaptive reuse alternatives to the developer and members of Historic Preservation.

“People say, ‘Well, it’s just one building, you should let this one go,’” Dreiseszun says. “But eventually we can ‘just one’ ourselves into having no architectural history at all.”

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