Book – Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row

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A new book is out on Phoenix’s downtown art district, Roosevelt Row. Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation board vice president Greg Esser and Nicole Underwood, the corporation’s director of operations, will discuss their new book on the art district.


Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of ArtBeat looks at a new book on Phoenix's downtown arts discrict. The book is titled, "Phoenix's Roosevelt Row" and it chronicles the history of what's become one of the city's most vibrant areas. Here now are the co-authors, Roosevelt Row community development corporation board vice president, Greg Esser and Nicole Underwood, the Corporation's director of operations. Good to have you both here.

Nicole Underwood: Thank you.

Ted Simons: What is Roosevelt row?

Greg Esser: Roosevelt Row is an area just to the north of the urban core of downtown Phoenix where there is a strong presence of artists, cultural activities, and now an increasing number locally-owned businesses and increasing residential base.

Ted Simons: How did it become a beacon for artists to come?

Nicole Underwood: There are so many artists that are attracted to this area. It's a blank canvas for the community. It has vibrant buildings and streets and right now, they created that vibrancy but 30 years ago, there was nothing. As artists starting to come into the community, it went from a blank to a very vibrant community.

Ted Simons: They came into the area because there was an opportunity there?

Nicole Underwood: There was a really big opportunity there. There was affordability at the time. There was nothing else in that downtown community and as people were coming in, they were renovating the houses and providing opportunities for more artists to come.

Ted Simons: And, wasn't there a sports stadium that was supposed to go in somewhere around there and that kind of spurred some of this?

Greg Esser: The cardinal stadium was going to go in just south of Roosevelt street that would have annihilated all the buildings that provide hubs for a lot of the cultural activity that anchors the area. Had that plan moved forward, we would have a very different character in that area today.

Ted Simons: Because the plan didn't go forward, a lot of property was left there?

Greg Esser: The zoning and the decisions that lead to the changes area goes way back to the early 1970s when the first economic re-development area was established and the area was re-zoned as high rise in fill incentive. The upside and the positive outcome of the stadium not moving forward is that the City of Phoenix was able to recognize the biomedical campus and its hub for research and the future of that site is going to lead to some very exciting elements.

Ted Simons: And as far as the arts are concerned, there was an unusually high proportion, I'd imagine there still is of artist-owned buildings?

Nicole Underwood: Absolutely. There is a very high percentage of artist-owned buildings in the area. So that gets them the opportunity to speak on behalf of their properties, on behalf of how the area's growing and represent the community in a specific and authentic way.

Ted Simons: Let's take a look at some of the buildings down there and some of the attractions there. I'll start with the Alwun house because I'm old enough to remember that the Alwun house was considered quite the enterprise. The Alwun house was all systems go and lots of crazy things happening there, parties and events and the whole nine yards. We're talking the 70s here when nothing else was happening. Talk about the Alwun house.

Greg Esser: Going back to 1971 and Dana Johnson and Kim Moody have been the leaders of that organization and they have been instrumental in revitalizing the neighborhood; this month they have students from the community exhibiting their work and it's a great opportunity. They have just been driven in resources.

Ted Simons: They were there before others and they're still there.

Greg Esser: They were.

Another biggie was modified, Kimber Lanning attracted a lot of folks downtown when very few. The building was kind of on its own?

Nicole Underwood: Kimber Lanning is a pioneer in our state as an artist herself and musician. It used to be a music venue and I even remember going there and it was one of the first places I visited as, you know, my ripe old age of 31. At recent as 8 or 10 years ago, it attracted a lot of our generation and it's a vibrant place of art and a gallery and home to local first Arizona.

Ted Simons: The grow house is also shown in your book. What is the grow house?

Greg Esser: So Kenny Barrett is an artist and he was instrumental in developing the field of sunflowers, the valley of the sun flowers. You see some of the sun flowers there that were his inspiration for that much larger temporary installation. It's also grow-op, which is a handmade boutique of curated items and community garden beds and they grow and sell food to local restaurants.

Ted Simons: I would imagine an area like this has a ton of coffee shops. I see them all the time down there. We have -- is it Jobot?

Nicole Underwood: Yeah, Jobot coffee house and that's been in the community for a number of years. In that same block, there's Melt ice cream and Flowers Beer and Wine Shop owned or rather ran by John Sagasta. A really fantastic crew of food lovers and coffee lovers that attract musicians to the area and it's really become a hub.

Ted Simons: There's so much vibrancy and lots of stuff going on, including moving some of these historical buildings from one spot to the other. The worth house, which we're looking at right now, ain't where it used to be.


Greg Esser: This was a tremendous accomplishment and Kimber Lanning was instrumental in moving Roosevelt from the North side to the south side where it's now in its permanent location. It's in a two block area that's slated for infill development for new apartments. The ability to save the building preserves a critical piece of our history and there are amazing stories about the families in that house that are still currently living here in town.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Art detour, first Fridays, I remember when art detour, you wouldn't go anywhere near the Warehouse District, but when you did, you increasingly saw places like Monorchid. This is the one I remember as being a biggie early. Talk about the Monorchid Gallery.

Nicole Underwood: It is a fantastic place and it's also multi-venue space. They have tenants that are designers, architects, curators of art, there is a studio in the back where they do a lot of video production. It's also a venue for coffee at the coffee house inside and the future dressing room, which is going to be a small restaurant that will also be a catering space. It's also a venue so people are able to host events there, weddings any kind of events you want to think of. and it's attached to a pop-up park that's just adjacent and has a very wonderful mural. So it's a transformative place like many of the places downtown.

Ted Simons: A lot of places along Roosevelt row in the general area have murals and some of these are just fantastic. We couldn't possible list them all. This is one a lot of folks recognize if you've driven down Roosevelt. The concept of lots of mural activities?

Greg Esser: This mural was created in 2009. It was a local artist. It was one of the first to be created in the neighborhood and spurred a lot more street art and a lot more vibrancy on formerly blank walls that have become canvases.

Ted Simons: Yeah, I mean, we have another one with sun flowers here. This is gorgeous.

Greg Esser: Isaac Curoso painted this on the back of the Monorchid as a tribute to the valley of the sun flowers.

Ted Simons: We're seeing a lot of great things. Critics are saying too much gentrification. How do you respond to that?

Nicole Underwood: Growth is inevitable when there's so much desire to be in this place that's really special and unique so there's going to be a change, there's going to be a shift. Really I think the important part to respond to that is creating affordable options for artists and for the people who have been there. There are so many properties like this, Like the Monorchid owned by Wayne Rainey, Kimber Lanning and so many others that have invested in the place. How do we maintain the artist area? And so we will be creating a pilot project for a container housing that will be a duplex for artists but that's really as an anchor to speak about that importance of livability and affordability in the area.

Ted Simons: The future of Roosevelt row?

Greg Esser: We are going to experience an explosion in the residential population in the area and I think that's compelling for the businesses that have invested in what the area is today.We are keenly interested in how we create new points of entry for the new generation and new people coming into the area and looking at how the area will be.

Ted Simons: Well, it's certainly, for someone who used to work in the general area some odd years ago, let me tell you, it has changed big time and congratulations on the success.

Greg Esser: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Friday, it's the journalist roundtable and discuss the fallout and we'll look at the winners and non-winners of Tuesdays vote. That's on the next journalists roundtable.

Ted Simons: That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thank you for joining us. You have a great evening.

Greg Esser: Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation's Board Vice President,
Nicole Underwood: Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation's director of operations

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