Best Downtown Building to Poke Your Head Into 2008 | Children's Museum of Phoenix | People & Places | Phoenix

Bravo to the Children's Museum of Phoenix, which has made its new home in downtown's historic Monroe School. Rather than plow down this imposing old Classic Revival-style, three-story brick building — which was designed by Los Angeles architect Norman Marsh and built in 1913 at Seventh Street and Van Buren — smart-thinkers re-purposed it in a way that will serve kids, just as it originally did decades earlier.

Although the interior of the museum has been modified to accommodate numerous kid-friendly exhibits, many of its most handsome original elements remain. The gorgeous oak floors are the same ones laid down in 1913, and they're in great shape, thanks to a restoration funded by a State Heritage grant. The giant north and south stairwells feature their original banisters, and the wooden beams in every room have been walnut-shell-blasted back to their original finish. And the building's skeleton of exposed brick, stacked high nearly a hundred years ago, also remains, giving its interior a warm, old-timey feel that makes us want to go back just to look around — at this cool old building, as well as all the fun, educational exhibits.

Will Bruder is an architectural wunderkind, the type who inspires legions of fans willing to loop the globe in order to see his groundbreaking work, up close and personal. We're lucky to have him — and so much of his work — in the Valley and nearby. From the Burton Barr Library to the Nevada Museum of Art, his use of concrete and steel is iconic, groundbreaking and beautiful. But you may not know about a '90s-era Bruder in, yes, Deer Valley.

For some reason, this masterpiece of rock construction has flown under the radar of nearly every globetrotting boffo building buff. We wonder why — this structure is beautiful: Black rock, cement, and steel construction mimics the landscape dotted by ancient petroglyphs. It's iconic, it's classic Bruder, and almost as awe-inspiring as the epic glyphs that surround it. Get there, and peep the poetry that is Will Bruder. That is, before the secret gets out, and the place is flooded with Architectural Digest-waving hipsters.

We were sad when we heard that the former Miss Preston's School for Girls at 90 West Virginia had been locked up and was for sale. Located behind a towering wall of oleanders, the Spanish Mission-style main house and its several outbuildings had recently been a bed and breakfast called the Yum Yum Tree, but now the fate of this oddity in the heart of the residential Willo Historic District was anyone's guess. That's why we're grateful that the folks who bought it have restored the guesthouse, pool shack, and main house, all designed with covered verandas around a marshy courtyard. They're taking special care with the Mexican-style fountain and the tile-roofed portico with palm trees growing straight through it. The new owners (who are replacing the long row of original transom windows, torn out decades ago) plan to make the Yum Yum a private residence, and raise their family there, and we can't thank them enough for saving this lovely landmark.

Too many times in Arizona, we hear about wonderful old historic sites only when they're facing the wrecking ball (see: the Sun Mercantile building, the former Beth Hebree Temple, Mary Rose Wilcox's now-bulldozed 105-year-old home). Even when they end up being spared demolition, we rarely see these sites being preserved in any meaningful way. So this spring, when we heard that the Paradise Valley adobe built by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor had been slated for demolition, then was saved, then was being moved to a lovely new site in Tempe and (hopefully) transformed into a "Center for Public Discourse," we were stunned. Since when does anything nice get solved so efficiently? The O'Connor House Project, of course, still has plenty of money to raise to make the dream of public discourse a reality. But we can say this, with finality: This is one old building that is being saved. And the new location is gorgeous.

For years, The Standard hotel in Los Angeles has been famous for its rooftop and even more famous for the pool parties hosted there. The Oasis, atop the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix, isn't as notorious — but, we dare say, it's better, if for no other reason than the people who hang out here aren't re-enacting their favorite episode of Entourage. The pool opened this year with underwater speakers — which pipe in nature sounds such as birds chirping and the sound of running creeks — and scalp-massaging jets for those of you pretty enough to risk being seen in public makeup-less and with wet hair. The jacuzzi holds 50 people at a time, but if it gets too crowded, there are plenty of cabanas and Italian sun beds to relax upon while you surf the Internet on the hotel's free Wi-Fi.

The stars that light up on the bottom of the pool at night, combined with the view of Phoenix's skyline at sunset, make this place a must-visit and a great place to play tourist for the day — even if you've lived here all your life.

It used to be that our hands-down favorite tunnel was I-10's four-lane passageway under Margaret T. Hance Park, until our friends at Westcor built the one under Camelback Road, just east of 24th Street. Sure, they did it primarily to lure office workers from the Esplanade directly across the street for lunchtime shopping and dining at the Biltmore, but we don't care. There's a pretty terrazzo mosaic down there that we could stare at for hours, and we love how "big city" it feels to go briefly underground, only to emerge at the other end at a shopping mall. The Camelback Tunnel (well, that's what we call it, anyway) is a great place for eavesdropping, and most nights there's a guy down there who plays keyboard and sings songs he wrote for himself in a private, one-man cabaret.

When we tire of playing Subterranean City Dweller, we head north and, within seconds, arrive at the Biltmore, where we pig out on Häagen-Dazs and browse Borders Books, feeling ever so slightly more urbane because we've gotten there from someplace underground — someplace pretty and nicely lit and there expressly for our enjoyment and convenience.

Talk about a cheap high at taxpayers' expense — thankfully. On a spring afternoon, dozens of people are picnicking, frolicking, reading, text-messaging, and simply lying on the lush, green grass supplied to citizens by the City of Scottsdale. This is no mesa (no Mesa, either), but instead, a lovely oasis of gentle slopes, inviting shade trees, and the constant sweet splash of a big fountain not far away. Business types in ties and high heels are not immune from the charms of this space, and kids . . .  well, forget it. They never seem to want to leave, particularly when the splash fountain's going. Go figure.

From Red Hot Robot on Camelback to Practical Arts around the corner on Central, this corner is a hot bed of indie action. Anchored by Kimber Lanning's infamous Stinkweeds records, you can find everything from funky lighting to cool comics on this corner, and even get yourself a piercing at Halo and a Dilly Bar at one of the last old Dairy Queens.

We love the mix of old and new, and the fact that light rail will someday take us right to this little urban mecca.

The downtown art space confusingly called .anti_space is one of our favorite destinations on First Fridays and the occasional Third Friday. The squat concrete structure, which encompasses a large portion of the city block it rests upon, is a carnival-like cluster of cool. Not only does it have a wacked-out, test-pattern-style rainbow color scheme (guaranteed to sear your eyes), there always seems to be some interesting or artistic action going down on the property. During one visit, Andrea Beasley-Brown (a.k.a. the Midnite Movie Mamacita) was screening trailers for schlocky '70s horror films on a bedsheet screen while the Arizona Derby Dames sold baked goods, and people attempted to walk a foot-high steel-cable tightrope.

On other months, we've seen residents ride modified bikes in unison in front of the joint, thrill at the high-flying antics of aerialist Matti Baine, or rock out to local bands performing on the sidewalk. Oh, yeah, and a half-dozen galleries and boutiques are housed within .anti_space's walls, including CB*AG, Waldoism, and Fabriculture.

There's a chance that .anti_space might close by the end of the year. Then again, it's very possible that the complex could remain open well into 2009 or beyond. What's the deal? Well, it seems as though the property owner has designs on razing the building and erecting condos or something similarly gaudy. But because of the sagging real estate market, such plans are on hold, and the folks behind .anti_space can remain.

Three cheers for the recession!

There was a lot of hand-wringing earlier this year by Valley art scenesters when Phoenix officials cracked down on unlicensed vending during the monthly First Friday art walk in downtown Phoenix. The paint-splattered set was (understandably) concerned that the event's funky nature would be compromised if sales and displays of their etchings on street corners and vacant lots were banned.

But amidst the fretting, the folks behind Roosevelt Row (the nonprofit organization representing a cluster of downtown galleries and art-friendly businesses in the Evans Churchill neighborhood) provided a solution to the problem. Folks such as Greg Esser and Cindy Dach (the power couple behind MADE and eye lounge) helped organize a monthly street fair and block party where vending would be permitted, provided participants obtain necessary tax licenses from the city and county, as well as pay a monthly fee.

Since their debut in April, the parties have attracted an eclectic collection of more than a hundred vendors and artists, ranging from the wordsmiths of Desert Dragon Poetry to the kiddy clothiers of Young Ones Clothing. For those who're worried that First Fridays will slip into blasé blandness, the parties are still edgier and cooler than the Tempe Festival of the Arts. Let's just hope they keep out the funnel cakes salesmen and those dudes hawking Bob Marley blankets.

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