Under the Sun

Under the Sun: Home Again

The Norton House is now an Airbnb.
The Norton House is now an Airbnb. Robrt L. Pela
The circus performer Robert Pruett wasn’t sure if the W.R. Norton house was a historic building or not.

“You’d have to ask Dan about that,” he said, not for the first time that day. He was referring to Daniel Alexander, the owner of the recently restored Victorian at 22nd Avenue and Washington Street, a former eyesore named for its builder, a co-founder of Sunnyslope who lived in the house until his death in 1938.

Alexander, a local developer, bought the house three years ago and renovated it. He was sick and had asked Pruett to give a tour of the 135-year-old building, which Alexander has renamed the Norton Inn.

“It’s an Airbnb,” explained Joe Chiappetta, who resembles the actor Enrico Colantoni and said he was a friend of Alexander’s with whom he develops properties. “You can rent out just one room, or you can do a private event here, a party or a wedding. You can add on services, though. So, if you want to have a murder mystery party here, you can do that for an extra charge.”

That, Pruett said, is where he came in. “I was hired to create the website for Norton Inn. But when Dan heard I do aerial trapeze work, he said I’d be great for the murder mystery parties he wanted to have here.”

Pruett glanced out a double-hung window. “I told him I’m not a trained actor," he said. "I’m just a guy who likes the arts, you know?”

The Norton Inn has hosted one murder mystery so far. “It was a huge success and a lot of fun. Joe here was the victim,” Pruett exclaimed. Chiappetta beamed.

It was possible, both men believed, that dead people had attended the murder mystery party.

“I did a photo shoot that night,” Pruett said, “and several orbs showed up in the pictures. It’s a phenomenon that people in the paranormal community talk about, where an orb of light will show up inexplicably in a photo.”

“In a nonreflective area of the picture,” Chiapetta interjected.

“Right,” Pruett agreed. “And people think the orb is actually a ghost.”

Chiapetta held out his cellphone. “Look at the orbs in this photo. Robert is literally a professional photographer. Not a shutterbug who calls himself a professional. And just look at the orbs.”

Pruett said he was very sensitive to energies. “I’m a reiki practitioner and a massage therapist. So I tend to feel energy in a strong way.”

It was a rainy day. There was a whiff of cat urine and the sound of traffic outside. The wood floors shone below a pair of handpainted tintypes on the parlor wall. “People think those are Mr. and Mrs. Norton,” Chiapetta laughed. “But they’re just a thrift store find. Dan wanted everything in the house to be period correct. And the people from the historic preservation office were really careful about making sure he did that.”

Neither Chiapetta nor Pruett knew whether historic preservation had okayed the brand-new ceiling fan in the living room. “I guess it’s not very period correct,” Pruett agreed as he stepped into the servants’ entrance.

“I call this the shared lounge area,” he said. “When I did the website, I wasn’t sure what some of the rooms were supposed to be, so I came up with different language for stuff.” He walked through a butler’s pantry. “Over here is the kitchen. I would have loved to see a vintage kitchen in this house, but I don’t know if it’s possible to make a kitchen look old.” He opened a cabinet door and peered inside. “Preservation is not my area of expertise.”

Pruett opened a back door and pointed to a bright green square of artificial grass. “For weddings, we’re picturing a gazebo, with maybe an altar situation where the priest could stand. We could have a walking path, and the bride could come down these steps here.”

Upstairs, a trio of bedrooms overlooks Black Canyon Highway. “I’m not sure if people care or not about the traffic noise,” Pruett mused about the din. “Dan has done a lot to minimize the sound. He wants to convert this whole area into a historic district. All this stuff around here is old, so in my opinion, this whole area deserves to be considered historic.”

In the downstairs dining room, Pruett held open a tiny door. “You have to see this. We call it the Amityville Horror basement. I like to say it was for canned goods and dead bodies.”

“There were so many cats and pigeons living in here,” Chiapetta remembered. “Dan really did a great job cleaning this place up. It’s a Field of Dreams sort of thing — you build something interesting where it shouldn’t be, and it attracts positive energy. People will come.”

“I don’t personally think the house is haunted,” Pruett said. “I would love to spend the night and find out.”

“My wife is sort of sensitive to ghosts,” Chiapetta said. “And she didn’t feel anything when she was here. This place is fine.”
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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