The end of 2007, just before the closure of the Paper Heart gallery, performance space, and beer and wine bar, was the approximate heyday of the Grand Avenue alt-arts scene, at least so far. Not that it isn't still fun and diverting and full of promise for the future, but we'll get to that.
Years of struggling to keep more than one bar of any kind, let alone more than one decent bar, open anywhere in the Seventh-to-15th-Avenue stretch, or to keep some sort of artsy endeavor open in the storefront between Trunk Space and Bikini Lounge (a.k.a. the one decent bar, and only if that's your groove), not to mention keeping food available in anything other than the dodgy spot around the corner by the boxing gym (hurray, Bragg's Factory Diner, but still no dinner) have been rough for people who simply want to hang out and have fun. But the situation's been even harder on the remaining retailers and venue operators, who depend on synergy to keep crowds at the break-even level.
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When Paisley Violin moved out of the spot at 11th Avenue in 2011, we lost yet more food, wine, coffee, live music, and visual art, along with that all-important place to hang out before or after other events. Paisley's next-door neighbor, Soul Invictus, home to musicals and other plays, Th [sic] Sense sketch comedy troupe, public performances by Arizona Curriculum Theater, live nude body painting, occasional tiny band gigs, and so forth, was hit especially hard by the palpable disturbance in mood at that end of the street.
Nevertheless, audiences have continued to find the gallery/venue, and Soul Invictus/[sic] Sense honcho Franc Gaxiola confirmed to New Times what we've noticed: "Over the last couple of years, both of us [ACT and T[s]S] have been selling out shows and having to add extra seats." Faced with shouldering the expense of upgrading an adventure-prone HVAC system at a space in which they might well choose not to remain in the near future, the two companies have banded together to embrace their growth and find new digs in another neighborhood.
Gaxiola says he's happily anticipating "having the flexibility of being able to do shows in the summer with A/C," though in terms of 2013, while wrapping up a move-out that continues through this weekend and raising funds to equip a new theater, "the goal is to have the venue ready for Th [sic] Sense in September and the Arizona Curriculum show in October." (That latter is usually the creepy and ultra-literate Poefest.)
"We're looking at a space with 75 to 100 seats," Gaxiola says. "Arizona Curriculum Theater are the ones that are going to acquire the space; [sic] Sense is going to build it into a theater. James Porter [of ACT, who, along with his wife Danette Shoemaker, is a longtime friend of Gaxiola's] is going to run the space, and we're [the "Sickies"] going to be tenants." Like a resident company? "Exactly. Both of us are constantly looking out for each other.
"After four years of running Soul Invictus, I'm definitely looking forward to getting my social life back and returning to the stage [as an actor at other companies]. Bill Dyer is going to direct any shows Th [sic] Sense has." (NOTE: Gaxiola has informed me that he will still direct T[s]S shows for which he's available -- i.e., those in rehearsal when he isn't acting for another troupe -- so my ear must have misperceived what his mouth was trying to tell me in that part of the interview.) Over the summer, "we're going to do a few fundraisers at different venues," so check the Sickies' website and Twitter feed in the months to come for those sure-to-be-enjoyable events.
What about 1022 Grand Avenue? Owner and Grand Avenue Merchants' Association member Beatrice Moore told us that she hopes the new tenant will be an entity that contributes to the arts and social scene. Living and working in the space is a possibility (the back building with the stage in it was originally a house), and interested parties who are already familiar with the facility are welcome to call Moore or partner Tony Zahn at 602-391-4016.
Moore, who announced the upcoming vacancy a couple of weeks ago, told us, "I think we're going to spend some time getting it ready and thinking about things," during the month of April. She also shared some much-needed Grand Ave good news with us: New projects that honor the low-profile historic buildings and the current funky tenants/residents/visitors are already in the works from other property owners in the area. "Someone's renovating the O.S. Stapley buildings north of the car wash at Van Buren and Grand. He's talking everything back to its original look. Kind of a labor of love. He's thinking of renting it out in five- or six-thousand [square foot] increments," for mixed commercial uses, Moore says. The structures have a gorgeous red-brick façade and sweet display windows.
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The Henry's Market Corner (15th Avenue/Grand/Roosevelt, where the gym is) has also been purchased, and the owner is looking for a suitable new tenant. Moore says that "somebody just bought the Desert Sun property," the big old motel at that same six-point intersection, and the new owner intends to restore and reopen the huge Atomic Age coffee shop (original artist renderings of the dining room appear on Moore's Facebook page).
"Our neighborhood is at risk," she added. "You never know when someone's going to come in and build a big project [that would endanger the retro and cultural atmosphere]." Here's hoping that as the economy continues its excruciating recovery, Grand and its surroundings will keep up the fight to become a better and better place to play, work, and live.
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