The unthinkable has happened. An old building slated for demolition by a developer has been given a reprieve.
Melrose Liquors, a longtime Seventh Avenue landmark in the Melrose district, is now up for sale. Last month, it was slated for demolition. Owner P.B. Bell, which is building a colossal apartment building just behind the hooch store, withdrew its demolition request in late June. Public outcry and savvy preservationists saved the day.
The structure, built in 1957 as a drive-thru liquor store, is an eyesore to some. Its peeling pink paint and drooping roofline suggest neglect, and one of its two drive-thru bays has long been closed. But its cartoonish “Googie” architecture style is a rarity in a town bent on bulldozing old buildings to make room for multi-unit housing — almost as rare as a decision to save a building rather than level it.
That decision came at a June meeting of the Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission after it was learned that P.B. Bell planned to replace the liquor store with a dog park and additional parking for its 201-unit complex. An online petition circulated by preservationists caught the eye of Mike Trueman, vice president of development, who offered to discuss with community members various options for the store.
At that meeting, two investors made offers to buy the building. Both presented plans for rehabilitating it. Historic Preservation had already begun steps to list the building as worthy of city historic status, which would have slowed demolition of the structure. Those steps have been stalled while P.B. Bell considers the two offers, but the commission could reinstate the historic preservation process should demolition again become a possibility.
Stalling demolition of an old building is “a new and very hopeful thing,” according to City of Phoenix Historic Preservation officer Michelle Dodds. “This time, the developer was willing to have the conversation. That doesn’t happen a lot.”
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Dodds credits a new City Council ruling for the victory. “There was some real foresight in this new 30-day hold process for unprotected buildings,” she says, referring to a law passed last December protecting commercial properties 50 years or older. The new process, Dodds says, is completely transparent.
“Demolition requests are now posted to the city website, a sign is posted on the property, and an email goes out to the preservation community, alerting them to a potential loss,” she explains. “If the owners decide to change their mind and demo anyway, they’ll have to go through the same posting process all over again, and addressing the response to those postings as well.”
The significance of this small victory goes beyond the building being saved, Dodds believes.
“Some people see it as an eyesore," she says. "It’s an old liquor store, who cares? But more than saving another building, this time we’ve inched closer to something bigger, and that’s an open dialogue with a developer. There’s a discussion on the table about what to do besides just tear down another building.”