Tip of the ICEHOUSE

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Yet despite Therrien's belief that his late-night madhouse was essentially immune from the law, the space was closed several years later. CRASHarts' death warrant? A citation for an unpaved parking lot. Therrien, who characterizes the violation as "selective enforcement" on the part of the City of Phoenix, refused to remedy the problem to the city's satisfaction.

Fed up with what they viewed as petty bureaucracy in Phoenix, Hestenes and Therrien were planning to relocate to San Francisco when the pair stumbled across an old ice house in the bowels of downtown Phoenix's ramshackle warehouse district. Built in the early 1900s, the three-story building was used for the manufacture and storage of ice, much of it to refrigerate perishable cargo for the nearby rail line. Eighty years later, however, the crumbling brick building was in need of serious repair. It had most recently been used as a storage lot for police evidence, including the wreckage of murdered Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles' death car.

But where others saw blight (assuming they'd ever seen that section of town at all), Hestenes and Therrien saw beauty. Not to mention the opportunity to turn the orphaned bunker at 429 West Jackson into a huge multi-use alternative arts space capable of handling everything from massive art installations too large for other existing Valley venues to performance art pieces and concerts. In 1991, using funds from the Hestenes family, the pair bought the property from the city for $150,000. They dubbed the venue "CRASHarts at The Icehouse" -- and set out to show Phoenix what art was really all about.

And they succeeded. For a while.

While ensconced in its old Seventh Street location, the CRASHarts site exuded a sort of punky antiestablishment seat-of-the-pants charm. No one seemed to mind if events started hours after they were scheduled -- or even if they sometimes differed radically from the way they'd been advertised.

But by comparison, the stately Icehouse was strictly uptown -- even though it could hardly have been more downtown. Located just down the block from the train station and across the street from a dingy van-line moving building that looked like it was straight out of film noir, the dimly lighted neighborhood might have been just around the corner from the forlorn diner in Edward Hopper's Nighthawks.

From the outside, the Icehouse looks pretty much like any other warehouse in the area. Inside, however, it doesn't look like any other place in town.

Visitors enter through the Cathedral Room, a Gothic-looking brick chamber whose most remarkable feature is its lack of a ceiling. (Depending on whom you believe, the startling effect is deliberate -- or the result of a remodeling project that just never got finished.) Beyond that is the Silver Room, a spacious shiny assembly hall that owes a visual debt of gratitude to the Factory, Andy Warhol's 1960s studio, which was entirely covered with aluminum foil, silver Mylar and silver paint. A third area, called the Column Room for the floor-to-ceiling roof supports that break up the space, is used for more intimate installations. And outside, to the west, is a large chain-link-fenced courtyard facing a three-story wall, onto which images (videos, slides, light patterns) are often projected during outdoor events. Until it was stolen several years ago, visitors could even ride the "Fear Coaster," an aging metal kiddie roller coaster Therrien had tricked up with flames, lighting effects and fake skulls.

"It's a phenomenal space," says Heather Lineberry, senior curator of Arizona State University's Art Museum. According to Lineberry, the Icehouse was one of the most exciting cultural discoveries she made upon arriving in the Valley eight years ago. Says Lineberry: "And to a large degree, it's fulfilled a lot of that promise and still continues to play an important role in Phoenix."

During its early-'90s salad days, the Icehouse hosted some of the Valley's most spectacular -- and prestigious -- forays into alternative art. From Hestenes' standpoint, the space's most shining hour was an international art exchange program involving 10 artists from Mexico City. Coveted by spaces around the country with much bigger reputations and much more clout, the Icehouse landed the show under a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

On a more outré note, people are still talking about the 1996 piece in which two female performance artists juiced several hundred pounds of carrots while riding stationary bicycles.

And for sheer spectacle, nothing can rival the 1996 Icehouse-hosted art apocalypse staged by the San Francisco-based Survival Research Laboratories. Described as a "cyperpunk monster truck rally," the traffic-stopping outdoor exhibition featured remote-controlled fire-spewing machines fighting it out while blazing department-store dummies catapulted through the night sky.

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Dewey Webb