When he revisited the site a few days prior to the New Times dance, Woolum discovered Hestenes had made none of the required improvements, prompting him to issue a cease-and-desist notice. (Because Hestenes couldn't bring the building up to code with such short notice, the New Times event was held elsewhere.)
"We didn't [initially] come out there to bust her chops, but we gave her some advice," says Woolum. "Then three or four weeks ago, I got a liquor application saying 750 people were going to be in there for a party. Evidently, my friendly advice had not been good enough for her; we felt she was probably going to go ahead and do what she wanted anyway."
Woolum says that's when he organized a full building survey involving representatives from the city's fire, electrical and structural departments. The result? An order declaring the building unfit for occupancy.
Hestenes' problems -- or at least a portion of them -- with the fire department have since been temporarily resolved. Hastily recruiting what she calls "scavenged labor" (including a temple builder who helped with some construction problems), she has been able to make enough improvements to allow her to hold a smaller-scale event. (However, Hestenes estimates that additional major repairs, including "panic escape doors" that cost $5,000 apiece, may run up well more than $100,000.)
"As strange as it sounds, I enjoy a challenge," says Hestenes, a magna cum laude graduate of ASU's Fine Arts programs. "Sometimes, just when it looks like you're going to lose is when you win."
Although she once posed topless for a 1978 "Girls of the Pac-10" Playboy, the doyenne of alternative arts is now a single mother of two -- Carbon, her 10-year-old son, and Tesla, her 7-year-old-daughter. She's had no shortage of challenges to keep her occupied for the past several years. Fortunately, she says, she has the spiritual and financial support of her father, who came into a substantial inheritance, that's helped keep her self-described "money pit" alive.
A physics professor at ASU, Helen's father David Hestenes confesses that he's almost totally removed from the day-to-day activities at the Icehouse. That said, "You can't afford to lose money forever," he concedes. "I can tell you this. The only reason we've been able to sustain [the Icehouse] is because we think the value of the property has gone up to compensate for the losses. The losses have been spectacular -- sure, I'm the one that's been encouraging them. There's always the temptation to fold it, but I'd much rather prefer to see it work."
A 1998 appraisal of the property for Bank One Arizona put the market value at $550,000 -- about $400,000 more than Helen Hestenes and David Therrien had paid for it in 1991.
Like his daughter, David Hestenes is able to see opportunity in adversity. Referring to the city's on-again, off-again plans to create a historic downtown arts district, Hestenes says the controversy helps raise public consciousness about the preservation issue. "This has provided a platform for Helen to call attention to what needs to be done down there."
One of the few platforms on which Helen Hestenes won't take a public stand is her divorce from David Therrien four years ago; he took off to Asia for a year, leaving her to raise two small children. "We have very different ways of looking at things," she says tactfully. "David, with his artwork, did a lot for the Icehouse. He got a lot done."
Therrien is back in Phoenix, living in a makeshift bachelor pad in the Hyster Building, an industrial compound on South Ninth Avenue that formerly housed an International Harvester industrial and farm machinery showroom. He is considerably more forthcoming about the split that fractured their joint artistic dream and helped send the Icehouse down the road to raves.
"That building wrecked our marriage," says Therrien. "You can't work nine, 16- to 18-hour days in a row without it having some impact on your marriage."
As for Hestenes' current work overload, Therrien says: "She's frazzled. There's just so much going on that it's pushed her over the edge a few times."