Max Lehman is packing. Boxes and bags filled with clay, paint and scraps of paper surround him on the wood floor, the remains of six months' work.

Lehman, 28, is one of five artists whose home is likely to be leveled for the further downtown development expected to be spurred when the Papago Freeway opens in July 1990.

The house, standing in solitary glory across Seventh Street from Phoenix Union High School, is a dilapidated, turn-of-the century Victorian structure. With its 5,000 square feet, large rooms, beveled-glass windows, lofty ceilings and built-in cabinets, the structure shows the craftsman's handiwork missing from modern construction. There's even a top-floor pigeon coop, converted from the sleeping loft the home's earlier inhabitants used on hot Phoenix nights.

The fact that it has no heat or air conditioning, and toilets which flush only occasionally, endeared the place to the artists. When they moved into the house six months ago, Lehman and his friends made it their own. They placed a giant cockroach on the second floor balcony and three android figures in the middle of its unkempt lawn, touches which must have produced thousands of puzzled looks from commuters every morning as they drove into downtown along Seventh Street.

While the building's history appealed to the artists, its location was what made it valuable to its owner, Jim Kaufman, president of Kaufman Companies. The Phoenix Union, as the artists call the old house, is cater-cornered from the Mercado, the 72,000-square-foot shopping "experience," and two blocks east of the Arizona Center. The Rouse Development Corporation's 150,000-square-foot retail and office complex is expected to open in November.

And that, says Kaufman, is more like what he wants to see on his property.
"Having them there is an impediment," says Kaufman, who gave the artists their notice at the beginning of April. The five, who will have vacated the building by the end of this month, include Arie Knoops, a sculptor and performance artist; Robert Nelson, a poet; Holly Vesely, a mixed-media painter and sculptor; Chris Winkler, a painter and underground-magazine publisher; and semi-autocrat Lehman, a sculptor and painter.

In the time they have occupied the building, the artists have had three art shows and added just the kind of artistic presence to downtown the city says it likes.

But Kaufman, who also owns Phoenix Union High School across the street, has more practical plans, and can ill afford having his property tied up by five Bohemian-style artists whose walls are adorned with chained, naked women.

"Access is the name of the game. Seventh Street will be an incredible street carrier," says Kaufman, who envisions a new Seventh Street commercial corridor--more cars, more traffic and more business. He is estimating a 25-percent increase in Seventh Street traffic passing his project after the freeway opens.

Kaufman, like other developers, is betting on the Papago. He is gambling his dollars that the on- and off-ramps at Seventh Street will boost land values between the interchange and downtown. The Phoenix Union is located in just that stretch.

Although he is nudging out the artists, Kaufman says he doesn't know what he will do with the house, but it seems most likely he will simply bulldoze the structure. The property's favorable location insulates it from an otherwise inhospitable Phoenix real estate market.

Bedeviled by economic roadblocks and preservation regulations, saving old homes is not on Kaufman's special projects list. Kaufman, in fact, bristles at the mention of historic preservation. Last year, his company tore down Montgomery Field, PUHS' football stadium, to the dismay of some alumni. The field was christened in 1927, in an opening-day game that saw the PUHS Coyotes beat the San Diego Hilltoppers in a "thrill-packed" 7-0 victory. It was also the site for the annual Turkey Day Game against North High, a game traditionally held in front of 15,000 screaming students and alumni.

Also causing dismay is the approaching demolition of the school's gymnasium, built in 1941. It contains one of the few wooden support domes in the state.

The developer, who is renovating the Phoenix Union High School property adjacent to the gallery, is "sensitive" to historical buildings and any criticism of his project.

"I'm busting my ass to keep historical buildings intact," Kaufman said.
The developer is referring to the four school buildings that line Van Buren, included in the National Register of Historic Places. They will be converted to office space.

The artists, needless to say, look at the situation from a less practical viewpoint, and see art being flattened in the name of progress.

"We'll lose another piece of the soul of Arizona," Lehman laments. Although the artists were told when they moved in that the lease was a short-term one, they never took it quite seriously. Because they see the building in the halo of its original elegance, they want the city to preserve what they see as an architectural treasure, even if it is absorbed by a different use.

The eviction of the artists at Phoenix Union puts two of the city's goals into conflict. For his part, Kaufman is doing exactly what Phoenix officials have been nagging developers to do for years--redevelop the crumbling core of downtown. The city has encouraged, subsidized and promoted dozens of downtown development schemes.

But the city has also tried, as part of that redevelopment process, to bolster the fledgling art community--but not on Seventh Street. The city's targeted area for artists has been Jackson Street. That's where the city put Beatrice Moore, activist artist and founder of the Art Detour. Her studio, as well as the nearby Madison Studio, was taken for the Suns' planned America West Arena.

Moore grieves the loss of Phoenix Union, but doubts its demolition will have any effect on downtown artists.

What concerns her is what she sees as the two-sided squeeze play the city uses with developers. Phoenix wants to redevelop downtown, Moore points out; developers need incentives and large land tracts to be financially attractive. Artists, she says, are stuck in the middle because they have no cash and no clout.

She would like to see the arts community band together to form co-ops to buy buildings and ensure their existence.

"They're not Trammell Crow," she says, referring to the multinational development corporation. "They're people with a dream."

Kaufman agrees. He thinks Phoenix's Draft General Plan proposal to encourage artists to the Jackson Street warehouse district is a stroke of brilliance. He sees an energized art colony where tourists reverse their present route and trek from Scottsdale to Phoenix.

Meantime, the salvation of the Seventh Street Victorian home looks bleak.
The Phoenix Historic Preservation Office predicts meager chances that the city would be interested in preserving the house. If Kaufman asks for a demolition permit, the city will research the house to see if it's worth saving.

Its disadvantage is that the city prefers to save entire districts, and nothing is left of the original neighborhood that used to surround the Phoenix Union house. It stands alone on Seventh Street. Many of the houses behind it on Polk Street are boarded up. "Some of it is so far gone, it is hard to get back," city historic officer Deborah Abele said of the area.

Lehman and Nelson, meanwhile, have learned their lesson. They are moving to the Coronado Historical District at Oak and 11th Street. The rest of the artists have been scattered with the blowing desert dust.

The owner can ill afford having his property tied up by five Bohemian-style artists whose walls are adorned by chained, naked women.

LEAPIN' LIZARDS ... v4-25-90

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J. W. Casserly

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