Charlie Levy's New Downtown Phoenix Music Venue Has A Name — The Van Buren

The future home of the Van Buren, downtown Phoenix's newest music venue.
The future home of the Van Buren, downtown Phoenix's newest music venue. Benjamin Leatherman
Things are really moving along with Charlie Levy’s new music venue in downtown Phoenix.

Workers have been gradually transforming the old Phoenix Motor Company building at Fourth Avenue and Van Buren Street into a 1,800-person concert joint over the past several weeks, including restoring the historic building’s original exterior outside and constructing a massive 42-foot-by-28-foot stage inside. Meanwhile, the venue’s liquor license is currently going through the approval process with the city of Phoenix, it's already got a Facebook page going, and is on track to open later this year.

Oh, and in case you haven’t heard by now, it officially has a name: the Van Buren. And, yes, it's a reference to the particular street where the music venue is located. Well, that and more.

According to Levy, a longtime local concert promoter who owns the venue and runs Stateside Presents, the name pays homage to the thoroughfare’s historic status and the role it played in Phoenix’s development back in the day. Specifically, the fact it was our city’s main drag back during the rise of car culture in the '50s and '60s and before Interstate 10 came along.

“I just think that it's just this historic street that's been a big part of our cultural past,” Levy says. “It cuts right through the heart of Phoenix, and in the past, it was the main street in Phoenix in its glory days of motels and highways."

The building that will house the Van Buren has been around even longer, as the 21,000 square-foot structure was built back in 1939 as the original home of the now-defunct Phoenix Motor Company auto dealership.

“There’s a lot of history in that place, which was one of the reasons why we chose it,” Levy says.

History also played a part in influencing Levy and other Stateside employees when it came time to choose the venue’s moniker. This past fall, a contest was held on Stateside’s Facebook page with local music fans suggesting potential names. Levy says they were deluged with hundreds of submissions, including “a ton of bad ones ... and some really, really good ones.”

One entry – which was suggested by Valley residents Nico Suave, Adam Lopez Falk, and Ide Flores – stood out from the rest: the Van Buren. Levy says it was a great fit.

“When we name something, there isn't any market research, it's just gut [instinct],” he says. “And that one really seemed to work.”

(Stateside employees also used another entry from the contest, “the Showroom,” as the moniker of the concert hall inside the Van Buren, which pays tribute to the building’s history as an auto dealership.)

click to enlarge An artist's conception of The Van Buren. - COURTESY OF STATESIDE PRESENTS
An artist's conception of The Van Buren.
Courtesy of Stateside Presents
Levy says that it also works as a nod to the burgeoning resurgence of Van Buren Street in recent years, particularly along the stretch that runs west of Central Avenue. Levy’s pretty familiar with that, considering he contributed significantly by opening his popular venues Crescent Ballroom and Valley Bar within close proximity to Van Buren Street. (He’s also busy transforming the old Praise Sanctuary Church a few blocks down the street from Crescent into an arts and cultural hub.)

“I think it's sort of helping to reclaim the mantle of Van Buren as a street, and also obviously has some other connotations that are colorful also,” Levy says. “It all just kind of worked together with having the Crescent [near] Van Buren and the church project on Van Buren. But I think it's really cool because Van Buren is having a renaissance right now."

Interestingly enough, another bit of history helped cement the decision by Stateside employees: the street's namesake, the late Martin Van Buren. Levy says they looked up the former President of the United States, who occupied the White House for a single term in the mid-19th century, and dug his looks. So much so that they plan to incorporate it into the Van Buren's logo or possibly a painting inside the venue.

“We googled what Martin Van Buren looked like with his big mutton chops, and that's just a logo ready to be written right there," Levy says. "I mean, have you seen that guy before? Have you seen his look? It's pretty spiffy. He didn't look like Harry Truman, you know what I mean? This guy had some style. It will be used. Mutton chops and all."

click to enlarge Martin Van Buren, the eighth president, and his amazing mutton chops. - MATHEW BRADY  [CIRCA 1855 AND CIRCA 1858], VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Martin Van Buren, the eighth president, and his amazing mutton chops.
Mathew Brady [circa 1855 and circa 1858], via Wikimedia Commons

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.