Polar Vortex be Gone: You Should Move to Phoenix, Arizona!

Torvea Castle. Image courtesy of realpics.net

Welcome to “You Should Move To…”, in which Lindsay travels the country scoping out beautiful, under-the-radar old house-filled cities and towns where big charm can be had for little cost. Have a city, town or neighborhood to recommend? Send it along to [email protected]!
The New Year always starts with big plans, high hopes, and lots of motivation, and this year moving or buying a house is probably at the top of many of your lists. Over the last ten years my own moves have been largely motivated by something other than just an intense love for a city (mainly driven by the location of the school I’m attending), and as I get close to graduating this year, I am beginning to think about what’s next, and where I can go when I have the full freedom of choice. Any of you East Coast-based Circa fans know that 2014 has started with some pretty brutal winter weather —- polar vortex?! frigid twister?! —- which has me constantly daydreaming about escaping to warmer months or warmer lands. This week I’m inspired by (and maybe even a little jealous of) the parts of the country with weather warm enough to leave the house without half a wardrobe on, and the Southwest is calling my name. For those of you with looking for an adventure and a new place to call home, you should move to Phoenix, Arizona, where the promise of more than 300 days of sunshine a year is beckoning you!

Phoenix, known for its pleasant climate and sunny days, has long been stereotyped as just a place to retire to —- a stereotype that makes most people think of golf courses and air conditioners. But Phoenix is so much more than retired souls in white polo shirts and sun hats. Located in the Salt River Valley and at the foot of the White Tank Mountains, Phoenix is a paradise for snowbirds, retirees, the year-round outdoor explorer, scholars, and creative minds alike. With everything going in Phoenix these days it’s not surprising that it’s not only the largest city in the Sonoran Desert, but according to the United States Census is also one of the fastest growing cities in the country -— the sixth largest to be exact. In spite of its growth, Phoenix has done a great job embracing its history: historic districts abound, adaptive reuse has taken off in an unimaginable way, and of course, there are old houses aplenty. We can all get on board with that (and pretty much endless sunshine), right?
Current day Phoenix was first home to Hohokam cultural groups for over two millennia, who made the desert land inhabitable by building a system of canals for irrigation. The first non-native settlement in the Phoenix area dates to the 1860s, when a Mr. Jack Swilling came upon the Salt River Valley and, like those drawn to Phoenix today, saw an ideal place for settlement (I’m certain he knew about the 300+ days of sun, too). After a supposed series of disagreeable names, friend and co-founder Lord Duppa suggested the name Phoenix to Swilling, inspired by a rebirth of the civilization from the ruins of the Hohokam culture that were still present at the settlement site. By 1865 the new settlement was recognized as a town, and by 1881 it was incorporated as a city, predating the formation of the state of Arizona by more than 30 years. The late nineteenth century was good to Phoenix: the Southern Pacific Railroad expanded and radically altered the economy there, which was expressed in the urban landscape with the building of streetcar lines, new suburbs, and the nearby Arizona State University (originally “Tempe Normal School”). The early twentieth century brought the building of dams to the west, which propelled Phoenix into the energy production sector; by the 1940s Phoenix found a new role in the war effort, as both a distribution and manufacturing center and site of prisoner of war camps.
The post-war decades saw a shift in the city’s greatness, as scandal and organized crime fed deurbanization throughout the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1980s, Phoenix, like so many of my favorite cities, was hardly more than its crime statistics. People feared the city and it seemed there was little to be done about either the street crime or organized crime, at least until aliens appeared in the late 90s. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the Phoenix Lights that brought people back to the city. No matter the cause of Phoenix’s rebirth, people are quickly catching on to how great it is to be in the city, and have been moving back by the thousands over the last decade.
Maybe it was the UFO sightings that drove migration back to the city, but I think it was probably because people started catching on to Phoenix being a pretty great city—full of architectural gems, countless outdoor activities, and some great city initiatives and public involvement. Why wouldn’t anyone want to live in a place like that? Sounds pretty much perfect to me. And the best part is that there are cheap old houses. Lots of cheap old houses. Cute cheap old houses. Yards attached to cheap old houses. How I love cheap old houses.

3713 N 12th Street, c. 1937, for sale for $140,000. 


3713 N 12th Street interior. Swoon. 

Phoenix is full of historic districts, which usually means a hefty real estate price tag, but here the market defies all laws, with some of homes with price tags hovering around $100k. The little gem at 1541 E Pierce Street in the Garfield Historic District has so much potential, and can you imagine that porch on any one of those 300+ sunny days? And that price! Coming in at just under $115,000 it’s tough to say no. You’d be hard pressed to find a three bedroom in a historic district for that price anywhere else! I also cannot resist the 1925 Spanish Revival charmer at 1406 E Moreland Street, a true Southwest dream home! Find me a starter this cute for $99K somewhere else. Anyone?

1541 E Pierce St, c. 1936. All yours for just $114,900. 


1406 E Moreland Street, c. 1925. $99,900. 

Looking for a turnkey retirement mansion? No problem, Phoenix has some truly magnificent gems. You can own your very own historic hacienda with nine fireplaces and a vegetable garden. A little bit pricier, but you have to imagine all of the climbing you can do up the property ladder in Phoenix. Give yourself a few years and that hacienda is yours.There’s something for everyone in Phoenix, whether you want to start as low as $7500, or as high as a few million, but I’m particularly attracted to the ridiculous amount of adorable desert abodes in the $50-150k price range.

1530 E Earll Drive, c. 1940. $219,900.


1530 E Earll Drive. Cute stove alert!

I’ll bet some of you are thinking you can’t stand to live in the desert–brown, dry, and dusty. Let me dispel another Phoenix myth: there is no shortage of green in this fine city! Head on over to the tree-lined Willo Historic District, full of houses from the 1920s and 30s, antique shops, and the Phoenix Art Museum. Not only are these houses adorable, none of them have garages, harkening back to a bygone era. The real estate in Willo is a little pricier than some of the other historic districts in Phoenix ($300-400 range), but for those who can’t afford to buy, there’s always the annual historic home tour. What a great chance to see inside these beautiful homes for inspiration for that fixer upper you’re thinking about!

921 W Willetta Street in the FQ Historic District, c. 1926. $460,000. 


921 W Willetta Street. Now THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about! 

One of the things I really love about Phoenix (besides the cheap old houses) is that it truly lives up to its name. The city is in serious rebirth mode right now and it seems like old buildings are at the center of it all. (Hooray Phoenix!) More and more people are picking up on how important these old buildings are to our cities and our enjoyment of places, and Phoenix seriously raises the bar about what that means. The folks in Phoenix have tried their hand at a number of revitalization mechanisms—all impressively successful—from the more traditional arts and culture-based redevelopment plans, to the less traditional, and maybe even a little risky, renewal through adaptive reuse.

1135 W Culver Street, c. 1936. $279,000. 


1135 W Culver Street

It depends on the day, but sometimes I love a good adaptive reuse project more than an old house, and Phoenix is full of exceptional adaptive reuse projects. I am beginning to think Phoenicians are more creative than some of the rest of us. Don’t object to that just yet, all you non-Phoenicians. These projects might convince you. I can’t help but dote on the 1926 A.E. England Building, which was built as a car dealership and restored in 2008 after citizens voted to save it from demolition using the Historic Preservation Bond Fund. How is that for community participation? In 2011 there were 37 recorded adaptive reuse projects, which by 2012 had almost doubled, coming in at just under 60. The city offers great financial incentives for reusing old buildings, with the goal of increasing civic pride through heritage. Sounds like there are some business ventures to be had in Phoenix right now! Calling all architects and designers!

The A.E. England Building, c. 1926. Image by Jane’s Walk Phoenix

Phoenix is unmatched in its art initiatives. Roosevelt Row is but one of many examples where old buildings have been embraced for revitalization in Phoenix. Known for its cultural events and art walks, Roosevelt Row, or RoRo, “is a walkable, creative district…that connect downtown Phoenix to its historic neighborhoods.” The arts district is located in a once blighted area plagued by crime and drug use, and is now home to art walks, food events, and community gardens. Dotted with restored historic bungalows, the mission behind RoRo has even helped transform vacant lots into usable community spaces (does this remind you of Buffalo at all?). My favorite has to be the Valley of the Sunflowers, a once vacant lot on which, until recently, hundreds of bright yellow flowers replaced a dirt-filled wasteland.

Valley of the Sunflowers. Image by Urbburb

When you’re done soaking in the arts scene you can’t miss one of the many tours through Phoenix’s historic neighborhoods. You can take your pick of a self-guided tour or a more structured, human led tour; either way you’re in for seeing Phoenix like a local. You can pick up maps for self-guided tours at pretty much any antique shop (how perfect is that?) or you can sign up with one of my personal faves, Marshall Shore, and get on board for the hippest tour you’ll ever have. Don’t miss out on the self-guided Mid-Century Marvels tour, where you will see some fantastic designs by the biggest names in architecture, including Frank Lloyd Wright, and the landmark neon Chevy sign on Central Avenue. All of these tours sounds like a great place to start house shopping!

1618 W Flower Cir N, c. 1947. $315,000. 


1618 W Flower Cir N features nice architectural details typical of Phoenix. 


1618 W Flower Cir N bathroom. Love it! 

My list of potential future home cities is ever growing, but I hope Phoenix tops your list like it does mine. Sunshine, history, old houses, arts, culture, nature, big but not too big —- the great things that make a place home, and make Phoenix great. This one is too hard to pass up! I’m just worried that by the time I finish school, get my act together, and pack up years my life, all of the adorable and inexpensive Spanish Revivals I have my heart set on will be taken up by those of you ready to go. If anyone wants to reserve me a house in Phoenix, I will gladly accept!



1821 E Willetta Street, c. 1916. $191,000. 


413 N 18th Drive, c. 1926. $119,900. 


1633 E Willetta Street, c. 1929. $169,900. 


334 N 15th Street, c. 1905. $87,900. 


136 N 11th Avenue, c. 1914. $239,000. 


1234 E Portland Street, c. 1930. $79,000. 


1330 W Roosevelt Street, c. 1924. $175,000. 


1106 W Culver Street, c. 1935. $409,900. 


2325 N Edgemere Street, c. 1926. $269,000. 


9520 N Central Avenue, c. 1947. $124,800. 


2205 E Cambridge Avenue, c. 1945. $134,500. 


4718 N 10th Street, c. 1946. $136,500. 


1602 W Lynwood Street, c. 1932. $323,000. 


511 E Roeser Rd #A, Phoenix, c. 1944. $105,000. 


539 W Mariposa Street, c. 1946. $279,000. 


1329 E Monte Vista Road, c. 1939. $273,400. 


1108 W Mackenzie Drive, c. 1939. $349,000. 


1537 W Fillmore Street, c. 1935. $97,995. 


3721 N 12th Street, c. 1940. $179,000. 


335 E Alvarado Drive, c. 1939. $339,000. 


1510 E Harvard Street, c. 1940. $214,900. 


1529 W Wilshire Drive, c. 1939. $324,950. 


2714 W Melvin Street, c. 1930. $49,900. 


4339 N 20th Street, c. 1930. $230,000. 


2237 N 8th Street, c. 1929. $265,000. 


1502 W Lynwood Street, c. 1926. $186,900. 


2029 W Adams Street, c. 1930. $80,900. 


73 W Lynwood Street, c. 1925. $300,000. 


Seeking a real a fixer-upper? The Queen Anne W.R. Norton House (one of the few Victorians in Phoenix!) needs some love! 2222 W Washington Street, c. 1906. $167,500. 


110 E Hadley Street, c. 1930. $112,500. 


2208 W Washington Street, c. 1916. $149,000 (sale pending). 


1041 N 26th Street, c. 1935. $85,000. 


2309 N 13th Street, c. 1925. $150,000. 

Lindsay is a Brooklyn, NY-based architectural historian with a soft spot for all things Victorian. Her obsession with beautiful houses began when she discovered her dad’s collection of house plan and construction books as a child, to which she attributes her enthusiasm for hunting down the most perfect wooden windows, most over-the-top gingerbread, and the most impressive arrangement of Minton Tiles.

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