History

Chicken Fight: Neighbors Want to Save Duke Building to Stop Raising Cane's

The 70-year-old Duke Building in Phoenix could end up being razed for a new Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers fast food restaurant.
The 70-year-old Duke Building in Phoenix could end up being razed for a new Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers fast food restaurant. Todd Grossman
Gabrielle Sikes keeps an eye peeled for demolition signs in her neighborhood. They get posted far too frequently for her liking.

“When I saw the demo sign for Duke Photography, I was really sad,” said Sikes, who lives in the Encanto Manor historic district adjacent to the 70-year-old Duke building. “And then when I heard they were going to put another fried chicken place on that spot, I got angry.”

Sold last month to local development investor Aaron Klusman for $2 million, the Duke building at Seventh Avenue and Thomas has been home to Arizona’s largest photographic portrait studio since 1951. Plans to tear down the single-story structure and replace it with a Raising Cane’s fried chicken stand have neighbors concerned.

“Raising Cane’s has filed a zoning adjustment application for the site that would let them do a drive-through lane,” said Sikes, who's gearing up to oppose the demolition alongside other concerned neighbors. “That would mean a lot more traffic on that corner, and it’s already a busy corner. Not good for our neighborhood.”

City of Phoenix Historic Preservation officer Michelle Dodds said the city placed a 30-day demolition hold on the building last fall. “We do that if a building is older than 50 years,” she explains. “Then we send an email to preservationists and local community groups to see if there are any objections to a demolition.”

The HP office also posts a sign on the property and adds the building to a demolition-approved list on its website.

“There was no outcry,” Dodds reported. “We didn’t hear from anyone last November saying they didn’t want that building torn down.”

Dodds believes it could be the use of the property that neighbors are objecting to. Others, like Sikes — who lives in the former home of James Duke, the photo studio’s founder — say the building is significant because it’s part of local history.

“I think it’s a little bit of both,” said Brent J. Kleinman, president of the Encanto Palmcroft Historic Preservation Association. “But it’s mostly that this corner isn’t right for such a busy business. If you go look at any Raising Cane’s at dinner time, there’s always at least a dozen cars in their drive-through. We’re not set up for that in this neighborhood.”

Kleinman is unhappy that, after Duke Photography owner Darrell Duke wrote a letter to nearby neighborhoods claiming he had no plans to demolish the building, he then sold to someone who does want to bulldoze.

“I guess Raising Cane’s offered $2 million dollars, and [Duke] changed his mind,” Kleinman said of the sale.

Some preservationists argue that the low-slung, rectangular brick structure has no architectural significance. Historic Preservation Commission board member Sherry Rampy understands.

“Some people want to preserve any building that helps tell the story of Phoenix,” she said. “In many ways, that’s what historic preservation is really about — saving buildings that give us a sense of place and time. It’s one of the big debates among preservationists, because eventually you have to draw the line somewhere. You can’t save every single building.”

Rampy is hopeful that the distinctive Duke Photography sign will remain, "because they can’t take that sign with them when they move," she said of Duke’s plan to relocate its photo studio. “You can’t put up a sign that big anymore. It’s against the current signage code.”

While Sikes ramps up a social media campaign to save the Duke building, Kleinman is preparing his best arguments against the Raising Cane’s use permit. He’ll present his notes along with members of the Willo Historic District at a city zoning adjustment hearing on June 17.

“It’s no mystery why Raising Cane’s wants that corner of Phoenix,” Kleinman said. “They’re paying a crazy price for a little over half an acre because they know how busy they’ll be. You have to sell a lot of chicken fingers to recoup $2 million.”
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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