Best DIY Letterpress 2012 | Letterpress Central | People & Places | Phoenix

Cindy and Gary Iverson aren't afraid of a little fresh ink. Cindy's an artist who specializes in mixed media and paper arts. Gary's a chemical engineer. And together, they've owned and operated The Paper Studio, where they've made paper and printed stationery for online sales.

This year, the two traded up for a big space in Chandler where, for the first time, they have room to store, display, and operate a number of handpresses and full-size machines. Letterpress Central was born. Cindy and Gary, along with letterpress pro Mike O'Connor, now host workshops and classes, parties, and open houses where anyone can learn the basics of letterpress, experiment with their countless cast-types and images, drool-worthy selection of paper, and, of course, a good amount of ink.

Yaple Park is one of the smallest historic neighborhoods in Phoenix, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in charm. One of our favorite things about the area, which is bordered by Third and Seventh avenues to the east and west, and Minneoza and Turney avenues to the north and south, is its proximity to the shopping and restaurants in the Melrose on Seventh neighborhood.

Not only that, but homes in this area are still affordable, unlike many of the other historic neighborhoods in downtown Phoenix. Homes in Yaple Park range anywhere from $50,000, for a three bedroom/one bath, to about $200,000. The fact that the Grand Canal may literally be in your back yard is also a plus, at least for bike enthusiasts. The light rail is within easy walking distance, with its stop at Campbell Avenue and Central.

Alison King knows a thing or three (okay, probably more like hundreds — if not thousands — of facts) about the Valley's status as a Midcentury Modern mecca. Apart from compiling binders of info about architects such as Ralph Haver and Al Beadle, whose buildings and influence can be seen all over town, and blogging to serve local mod obsessives like herself, King leads an annual spring tour that takes enthusiasts to explore neighborhoods rife with architectural eye candy. Arcadia, Sunnyslope, and Marion Estates all have been featured neighborhoods in the past incarnations of the tour, which sells out well in advance year after year.

There's a big reason why a "for sale" sign isn't planted in front of The Icehouse right now — and that reason is Peter Conley. The 50-year-old tirelessly has attempted over the past year to swat away the dark clouds that formed over the iconic downtown Phoenix arts venue, which was in danger of closing because of unpaid property taxes owed to Maricopa County. Conley, the director of the nonprofit organization overseeing the Icehouse, began teaming with such local creatives as painter Hugo Medina to stage fundraisers to help alleviate the financial burden. A few artsy endeavors also have sprung up at the property in recent months, including the new Quiet Mind Tea & No Frills Coffee Bar and secondhand store/junk shop Urbane Recycler. The historic arts complex, which originally opened in 1910 as Constable Ice Storage, also has hosted film screenings by Steve Weiss' No Festival Required, after-hours parties promoted by Quincy Ross, and epic group shows featuring the works of dozens of locals. Needless to say, Conley and his cohorts are continuing to keep the Icehouse cool, and — more importantly — open for business.

Two identical rotundas share a grassy midtown lot with W.A. Sarmiento's 19-story, Googie-style Phoenix Financial Center. Should you ever be offered the chance to peek into either, we have two words for you: Take it.

Inside the buildings, which were Mad Men-esque banking offices in their heyday, light floods through floor-to-ceiling windows, and surfboard-shaped stairs lead to a second-floor loft. Cast your glance up and you'll find that the space-age dome ceilings are adorned with carved-out stars filled with colored glass. Should you access the southern rotunda (last we checked, it's still sitting empty), its loft has access to a closed-off loggia built as a connecting walkway to the second floor of the Financial Center. While you're there, perhaps you'll have some luck finding the rumored time capsule buried on the site — building managers have hunted for it, but it's never been found.

You're bound to spot the cake-like structure just off Interstate 202 and 48th Street if you look carefully around the bend. Sitting on the top of a hill, the house has one of the best views of the Valley — and a colorful backstory to boot. It was built in 1929 by an Italian immigrant and sold in the '30s to cattle baron E.A. Tovrea for his wife, Della. The estate was passed down through the Tovrea family, wrapped up in one of Arizona's most sensational murder trials, and ultimately left to collect dust. It's a historical oddity in the middle of the city. Thanks in large part to John Driggs, a retired politician and historic preservation champion, it was reopened this year for small tours and volunteer hours in its iconic Carraro Cactus Gardens. Future plans include availability for private parties and, yes, maybe even weddings. The city just needs to work on some piping and fix a few exterior lights first.

In 1539, a Franciscan friar named Marcos from Italy led a scouting party from Mexico's interior through Arizona and into New Mexico, where he later claimed to have seen the prosperous land of Cibola. Along the way, he visited what is now the Valley and, the story goes, scratched a short inscription on a rock that, translated into English, says: "Fr. Marcos of Nice crowned all of New Mexico at his expense, 1539."

The inscription, first seen in the 1920s, is located on a hill just south of the parking lot at the Pima Canyon entrance to Phoenix's South Mountain Park. Iron security bars were put there long ago to protect it. Researchers say it's a fake, forged no earlier than 1850 and likely much later. One big clue: The phrase "New Mexico" didn't come into use until the late 1500s. And historians believe Marcos' route didn't pass through South Mountain or anywhere else near Phoenix. The etching's an apt symbol for Marcos de Niza, disgraced as one of the biggest liars in the New World. Researchers argue over whether Marcos promoted the idea that Cibola was loaded with gold, but apparently he did, because early the next year, the Spanish launched a massive expedition to the area led by Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. When no gold was found, Marcos was lambasted by Coronado's soldiers. And now the priest from Nice has a high school named after him in Tempe, not too far from where he didn't scratch his name on a rock, while on his way to a land of gold that didn't exist.

You'll have to do some extreme trespassing to get into the abandoned Phoenix Trotting Park racetrack in Goodyear, but the view is pretty fantastic. The doomsday-looking structure has sat untouched (by contractors and restoration experts) for decades, but there have been plenty of parties and graffiti trips by brave and risky individuals since the doors closed. The track was built for almost $10 million in the early 1960s and opened as a gambling spot for horse race fiends in 1965. But poor attendance numbers and bad business shut the park down after two and a half seasons. The outer structure remains visible from Interstate 10 just past Goodyear and is noted for its Star Wars-like, megalithic architecture. But the frame has yet to be purchased, and no plans for a renovated track are on the books, so unless you have a risky mission in mind, it'll be a while before you get to see the inside.

Heather Hoch
Apricot Glazed Chicken from Liberty Market

It's hard to top downtown Gilbert's charm, and Liberty Market, housed in a circa-1935 grocery store, might be the most charmed building on the block. The breakfast and lunch joint had us at the omelets, but the quaint touches extend to the bathrooms. There are five separate units, each complete with its own vibe, music, and look. Our favorites? There's the awesome men's room (with hot rod memorabilia and good looking pin-ups), the Italian room (complete with a Vespa tire), and an oceanside room, because staring at a serene sea makes us feel so nice about . . . well, you know.

Dry cleaners? Check. Grocery run? Done. Mani-pedi? Finished. In a Valley full of meh-tastic strip malls, shopping becomes a boring, forumulaic exercise in driving from place to nondescript place.

That's why finding a strip with a unique lineup of shops is so terribly exciting. Hence the allure of Tempe Square. Boasting our favorite indie bookstore Changing Hands as its starring headliner, the southwest corner of McClintock Drive and Guadalupe Road can keep shoppers busy for hours on end. In between perusing the latest in lit, you can grab a snack at Wildflower Bread Company, Trader Joe's, or Mac's, check out the consignment goods at Love Child and Turn Style, and then dance off the calories during an aerobics class at Express MiE. And — voila! — your boring day of errands just got a whole lot more interesting.

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