Hey Preservationists, the Central Avenue Macayo's Facade Won't be Such a Big Loss

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That cacophonous din you hear is the screaming of local historic preservationists who’ve recently learned that yet another significant Phoenix building is about to be torn down.

Earlier this month, the owners of Macayo’s Mexican Kitchen announced that they’re looking to sell their iconic Central Avenue building to Atlanta-based Wood Partners, which has lately been gobbling up lots all over downtown. Following the potential sale, Macayo’s plans to move its 64-year-old restaurant up the street.

People who care about old buildings are freaking out about losing the big neon Macayo’s sign that’s become part of the midtown skyline since the restaurant opened in 1952. Many are already bemoaning the loss of that beloved Mayan-inspired staircase façade that appears to tumble out onto Central Avenue.

But that deliberately garish street frontage is a late-1970s addition, and not part of the building’s original design. The former façade was a simpler, box-like structure with street-front parking and more neon lettering. The only other upfront details were a rounded roofline and a pair of shallow, built-in planters. It was a Bauhaus-inspired design built to show off all that pretty neon. And it’s long gone. Has been nearly 40 years.

Rumor has it that Macayo’s wants to take that iconic sign with it when it relocates, and that its new building will be closer in design to the simpler original. But will this console preservationists concerned about another Central Avenue teardown, only weeks after the Stewart Motor Company debacle? Probably not. They’re likely worried about another spiritless design blighting the light rail trail (the Wood Partners design is a typically boxy tower, not unlike the mostly featureless facades of the developer’s other projects). Or that the tear-down will leave behind another vacant lot should Wood Partners lose backers or momentum on the project. Maybe this is the tear-down to pass on while we focus on bigger, more important buildings. Where the proposed Macayo’s bulldoze is concerned, things could be worse.

Macayo’s will remain on Central, albeit in a smaller location, downsizing from 22,000 square feet to about a quarter of that space. The scaled-back restaurant would slot into the building to the south that now houses Toyowest Automotive Inc. in a preservation-friendly adaptive reuse project that would retain some of the auto building’s original details.

It may not be enough for locals who love Macayo’s also-ran cuisine and don’t like change. But out-of- town developers don’t care that President Obama ate enchiladas there, and only there, during a visit to Phoenix. Or that the first scene in Chastity, the infamous 1969 Sonny and Cher movie bomb, occurs in front of Macayo’s, where Cher insinuates that a man in a convertible has a tiny penis. Or that Macayo’s founder Woody Johnson might have invented the chimichanga there. Central Avenue is prime property for developers, and we’ll likely see a lot more of our history ripped asunder in the near future by people who don’t care where we like to get our sopapillas.

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