Art Deco Architecture in Phoenix

Susan Kleinman |

A mix of smooth swirls, curves and high-gloss finishes, Art Deco style evokes 1930s movie star glamour.

If you’ve seen Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Shall We Dance, you’re probably well acquainted with Art Deco style — the swirls and curves, the steps and mirrors, the 1930s movie-star glam.

The style was partially inspired by artifacts discovered in 1922 in King Tut’s tomb, and many Art Deco buildings include the repeating designs and vivid color common in Egyptian artwork. Though it draws heavily from antiquity, Art Deco was considered ultramodern at the height of its popularity, with some of the first Deco designs coming from the edgy Bauhaus School in Germany.

The style combines the circular, trapezoidal and rectangular motifs of the Machine Age with the high-gloss finishes and glamorous black-and-white color palette of the silver screen. Art Deco’s appeal began to fade in the 1940s. However, it enjoyed a resurgence in the 1980s, when Miami’s South Beach arose from the ashes of neglect to become a colorful Art Deco vacation paradise, and post-modern architecture around the world re-popularized fanciful touches on building exteriors.

Key Elements: Flat Roofs. Smooth walls. 

The walls of Art Deco homes are often made of smooth stucco and have rounded corners. Bold exterior decorations. Buildings in the style were often decorated with zigzags, swans, lilies and sunrise motifs. Experimentation with interior materials. Art Deco designers used “new” materials such as glass block, neon, chrome, mirrors and opaque glass panels.

Phoenix Examples:

The Luhrs Tower, 49 W. Jefferson St. – Finished in 1929, this 15-story building was the tallest in Arizona when it was built. Designed by Trost & Trost of El Paso, it is the closest thing Arizona has to a desert Empire State Building. Notice the windows and doors, and the great classic Deco lettering above the front entrance.

The City-County Building, 125 W. Washington St. – When it opened in 1928, the city and Maricopa County shared office space in this incredible Pueblo Deco building, constructed primarily out of terra cotta – that means it’s a pottery building. Look at the eagles on the west façade and the scrolled finials on the roofline.

Orpheum Theatre, 203 W. Adams St. – The refurbished theater is once more one of the city’s great landmarks. It had been left in a state of neglect and decay, but the remodeling of the original Lescher & Mahoney building by Dijk, Pace and Westlake, finished in 1997, restored the incredible – and often lovingly tacky – details to the venerable theater.

Phoenix Title and Trust Building, 114 W. Adams St. – Another Lescher and Mahoney building, the one-time office building is now the Orpheum Lofts residential building. Although fairly plain by Deco standards, if you look closely, there are myriad fine details to tickle the eye.

Winters Building, 39 W. Adams St. – This small commercial space from 1931, now home to a classy restaurant, is a beautiful Pueblo Deco, with Native-American inspired etching on black marble around the cornice, and beautiful carving along its columns and mullions.

Professional Building, 15 E. Monroe – The least prepossessing of the Depression-era buildings, it has a rather dull upper story section, but its first two floors are loaded with wonderful detail, including lacy bronze scrollwork over the door and triangular Pueblo Deco lintels over first-floor windows.

Security Building, 234 N. Central Ave. – Don’t miss going in to the foyer of this old-money building and gaze upwards at the ceiling painting. Built in 1928 by Curlett and Beelman, it has a Renaissance tower on its southeast corner and a crudely bland penthouse added in the 1950s.

Practically Speaking: Hassles and Headaches 

Because Art Deco interior style often includes a lot of mirrors and glass, it may not be the best style for young families or those with exuberant house pets. Also, because original Art Deco apartments were built before the introduction of many modern conveniences, you may have to consider the cost of re-wiring for electricity and installing air conditioning as in any older apartment. But before you break out the sledgehammers and screwdrivers (or, better yet, before you buy) make sure the building you want to buy in isn’t landmarked; if it is, there may be restrictions on how much of the architecture you can change. 

House Hunting 

The Art Deco style was used more often for office buildings than for private homes, so you’re not likely to find a Deco home with a yard and a garage in most geographic areas. Every once in a while, a Deco home comes on the market in an unexpected place — try these neighborhoods:

Coronado Historic District

Country Club Park Historic District

Country Club Manor

Encanto-Palmcroft Historic District

Is your heart set on Deco living? Skip suburbia and look closer to downtown Phoenix.

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