Last month DPJ visited a downtown building undergoing renovation for its new tenants in Warehousing ASU’s School of Art: Part One. The second part of this story explores the warehouse’s history from the perspective of its owner, developer Michael Levine.
Over the past century, many of the warehouses of Phoenix have been either demolished or disappointingly modernized. All too often, they acquire a regrettable aura of Brutalism reflecting the utilitarian design of structures like Symphony Hall and its surrounding skyscrapers.
But a handful of these venerable buildings are slowly regaining their ageless appearance, re-emerging as majestic, enduring dowagers anchoring the architecture of downtown, thanks to preservationist-developer Michael Levine. “I’m very protective of the properties,” he says. “I try to look at the long-term effect and where they’re going to be in a hundred years.”
As a handful of graduate studios from Arizona State University’s School of Art prepare for the Third Friday opening reception on January 17 at Levine’s 605 East Grant Street warehouse, the School’s director, Adriene Jenik, is full of enthusiasm. “Our gallery and critique space will present greater opportunities to engage with [the public],” she says. Later, as Jenik describes the adaptive construction, she adds with a laugh, “It’s like an artist’s wet dream.”
The School of Art’s move comes as a new dean prepares to lead ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts beginning July 1. Steven J. Tepper comes from positions at the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy and Vanderbilt University, where his research and teaching focus on creativity in education and work as well as conflict over art and culture.
Graduate painting and drawing programs will move downtown with the Step Gallery, followed by sculpture, fibers, and intermedia, ultimately occupying 26,232 square feet including plenty of mouthwateringly spacious 250-square-foot individual studios. One large room, built in 1959, features a 15-ton A/C unit and seven studios with LED lighting and no ceilings, allowing vast expanses of natural sunshine through overhead windows.
“Spatially, it’s been really fascinating,” says landlord Levine. “Because the [warehouse] ceilings are so high and you have ten-foot-high [studio] walls, you feel like you’re three years old. For the artists…to stand back…they’ll have no claustrophobia — they’ll have all the light they’ll want.”
CCBG Architects and Kitchell [construction company] have been working at a rapid pace to accommodate ASU risk management concerns while maintaining historical integrity. “They overbuilt,” says Levine with some satisfaction as he surveys the gallery. “This is a building inside a building…so they don’t touch the existing building.” For example, in one area an interior glass wall simultaneously protects and reveals the beauty of restored brick. “Conceptually, for historic preservation, it’s the same outcome,” he says, adding with a laugh, “Everything has been like a really beautiful puzzle — I’m watching all the pieces nest together, but it’s not a 2-D puzzle…it’s like a weird 3-D puzzle.”
Levine, who fabricated a Batmobile and a steampunk balloon for his family in the warehouse, has found it somewhat painful to give up his own “dream” creative space to provide fire egress for the new ASU construction. ”It was like the worst seller’s remorse I’ve ever had, because this is the perfect studio,” he says with a sigh, still grinning. “Having two cranes is like having two employees…two employees I don’t have to talk to.” He’ll move Levine Machine into the oldest warehouse in Phoenix: the Seed & Feed building at 411 South Second Street, built in 1905 by Swedish immigrants.
His other renovation successes include The Duce (at 525 S. Central), Arizona Cotton (at 215 S. 13th St.), and Bentley Projects (at 215 E. Grant St.), along with the 2007 grand prize in the Arizona Governor’s Heritage Preservation Awards.
Levine attended art school himself, studying architecture and drafting. He moved to the Valley 23 years ago and established his AAARDVARk AARMAdILLO Corporation for design and construction. As he points out features of the warehouse, Levine’s boundless enthusiasm for industrial restoration is palpable.
“This site’s really interesting,” he says, pointing toward the southwest area of the property. “The back corner…goes back to 1895 as the Phoenix Cotton Oil Company.” Levine gestures toward Grant, indicating original windows and concrete openings. “This corner building was built [around] 1909…this was McCall Cotton.” As Phoenix grew, so did the warehouse.
In 1917, as the United States began to prepare for war, a young vice-president of Goodyear Tire named Paul Litchfield came to the Valley. “With the power of the U.S. government and Goodyear Tire he buys…everything,” says Levine. “He buys every cotton field down here, he buys all the cotton gins, and he buys the entire ecosystem. Then they came and they built this two-story building…and as far as I can tell this was the headquarters for Goodyear.”
The warehouse operated under the subsidiary Southwest Cotton Company, Levine says. “The construction methodology that they used was board form and they had slits in the wall for the belts to go through and all the pulleys,” he describes. “And all that stuff is still there — all the slots are there, all the bolts. If you look at the very top you can still see the ghost [sign painted on the brick], and it says ‘Pure and uniform in quality,’ and on the left near the door it says ‘The best is the cheapest.’” He smiles and adds, “I try to leave all that history, all those scars.”
Levine learned that Andrew Karlson, an undocumented Norwegian immigrant and the first certified welder in Arizona, worked on the Roosevelt Dam before purchasing the warehouse in 1943, according to his granddaughter Mikelene Karlson. In tribute to the longtime owner of Karlson Machine Works, Levine hung a black-and-white photo of Karlson and his wife Marie on one of the structure’s restored brick interior walls.
“I had a Robin Hood mentality about saving these buildings,” Levine says, explaining his history of reinvesting in downtown warehouse preservation. “I’ve been holding on to these things against my own economic interest….” He continues, “The theme that runs through everything I do is…site-specific, so it’s all about…deconstructing and peeling things back.”
“I’ll try to do the restoration based off of the history, to find out what the character is,” Levine adds. “When you’re dealing with industrials…they’re living documents — they’re living buildings.”
He says matter-of-factly, “The greenest building is an existing building, and the best historic preservation is neglect, and that’s really what saved this building. Demolition’s easy to see, but historic equity disappearing by a thousand small cuts will still kill you.”
- ASU’s School of Art grand opening and open studios in downtown Phoenix
- Friday, January 17, 2014, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. (more information at ASU.edu)
- 605 E. Grant Street
- Michael Levine and Levine Machine, including past and ongoing warehouse projects
Update: An earlier version of this article referred to Michael Levine as an art teacher in Peoria, which is incorrect.
As part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts on ASU’s Tempe campus, the School has found its development somewhat hindered by geographic constraints.
“The School of Art is actually in 13 different buildings,” says Adriene Jenik, professor and director of the School. Student and faculty facilities have historically been scattered haphazardly, sometimes occupying leased off-campus venues.
“We have a space…called the Community Services Building, and it’s on Curry and Mill,” describes Jenik. “It’s an old children’s hospital, so we have two wings and the upstairs…they used to be patient rooms.” She continues, “We also have studios in…University Commons…between 7th and 6th [streets], kind of just tucked north of campus. And then we have other students…in what we call our Cornerstone Building, which is at the northeast corner of Rural and University, tucked back behind the comedy club. They’ve been all over the place.”
Jenik adds with a rueful smile, “A lot of the spaces are actually not proper studios at all — they’re just sort of a closet…areas that people took over. All these different crazy places…you know, you make do. I mean, artists — we’re good like that.”
“But…everybody knows that every artist needs a studio space of some kind,” she continues. “They have different…ways of working, but you make use of that studio space for different things. And…also the field changed, so now…basically everybody expects to have a studio when they come in — it’s a general requirement of any baseline MFA program.”
As the School of Art grew, so did its reputation, giving it a ranking among the top five public university art programs. “I think there’s been…conversations…for a long time…at the upper administrative levels,” says Jenik. “for the concept of…having some downtown presence for the arts.” Not long after the School’s faculty asked Jenik to work toward a more unified, cooperative space, she explains, “we were told that there was another need for a building that we were occupying [the Art Annex]…we would be relocated into another space.”
She says, “That was a concern for me because…I just didn’t want to be another mile and another building.” Working with Herberger Institute interim dean Michael Underhill — himself an architect-planner — Jenik seized the chance to expand into downtown Phoenix, increase the School’s appeal for prospective applicants, and benefit current students.
“Instead of just going ‘woe is us’ and having a pity party,” she continues, “I said, ‘Hey, is there a way that we can use the opportunity of getting kicked out of a building to think about the bigger issue of how we need to be consolidated?’” Jenik adds, “We really wanted to develop the school as a cultural hub for the region…and I felt charged…by the faculty…to move quickly.”
ASU’s solution was to rent warehouse space from Michael Levine, a developer renowned for his commitment to the preservation and restoration of historic industrial buildings and the downtown Phoenix art scene. Levine counts The Duce (at 525 S. Central), Arizona Cotton (at 215 S. 13th St.), and Bentley Projects (at 215 E. Grant St.) among his renovation successes, and he won the 2007 grand prize in the Arizona Governor’s Heritage Preservation Awards. He agreed to adapt a turn-of-the-century structure housing his own offices and studio space, Levine Machine, at 605 E. Grant Street, leasing 26,232 square feet to the School of Art.
The first phase moves ASU’s painting and drawing graduate programs and studios, together with a critique space and the Step Gallery. The second phase, due to be completed in May, adds the programs for fibers, sculpture, and intermedia. “What’s particularly unusual and interesting about that space as it will be configured,” says Herberger Institute communications and media staffer Deborah Sussman Susser, “is…MFA students in their studios making work, then being able to immediately display it in a gallery setting.”
Students will work in fifteen studios, each sized expansively at 250 square feet. Other areas are designated for a computer lab, project space, a wash-out sink, a flame cabinet, storage for chemicals, and “a little nest for…faculty,” says Jenik.
The move was spurred in part by ASU’s plans for the Art Annex, the historic building currently housing the Painting and Drawing programs on College Avenue in Tempe, but another impetus was the pending massive development taking over the southeast corner of Mill Avenue and University Drive. Both catalysts led to a compressed timeline: preparation for the warehouse move spans only 11 months from its inception last spring to its opening event on January 17. Concurrently, the Ceramics Research Center is moving north on Mill Ave. into the former Borders bookstore in downtown Tempe.
“It’s sort of nutty,” says School director Jenik with a smile, “but on the other hand it feels like it wouldn’t have happened if a whole bunch of things hadn’t fallen into place. Obviously the construction’s on the fast track, but…if the upper university administrators and leaders hadn’t already been thinking about this…if Michael [Underhill] hadn’t been interim…there were a lot of pieces that kind of fell together.” She continues enthusiastically, “This is really a quantum leap for us…it’s raw space, but it’s fantastic. We’re really thrilled.”
“A common practice in grad programs that’s really nice is that usually once a term or at least once a year they have an open studio…and donors, collectors, the public, other artists…can come through,” Jenik adds. “So maybe we’ll do that with Art Detour but also we might just have our own…we’ll tour the space.”
“One of the great things about having the open studio tours is then they can be part of First and Third Friday,” says Sussman Susser, “and there can be advantages for both…the whole arts community that’s thriving down there…and for the students.”
Undergraduate classes and some graduate studios will remain on ASU’s Tempe campus. “Other art programs…have done this same thing,” says Jenik, “outgrown their facilities and had a satellite facility specifically for grad students.” She continues, “There’s a history of it actually working out well…not just for the program but also fostering activity in the area…so that’s what we’re hoping for downtown Phoenix.”
Part two of this article will explore the warehouse’s venerable history and Michael Levine’s vision for historic preservation and adaptive reuse.
If you go
- ASU’s School of Art grand opening and open studios in downtown Phoenix
- Friday, January 17, 2014, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
- 605 E. Grant Street
All photos by K Becker.
You may have noticed that increasingly downtown Phoenix galleries are opening their new exhibitions on Third Fridays. This Third Friday (tonight) brings a much-anticipated show at Modified Arts, featuring new work from 3CarPileUp, a downtown Phoenix artist collective since the 90’s, featuring originating members Randy Slack, David Dauncey, and James Angel. For 14 years, 3CarPileUp has presented the Annual Chaos Theory exhibition featuring over fifty local creatives.
As a part of the 3CarPileUp exhibition, local film and video artist Perry Allen (a periodic contributor to DPJ) will premiere his new animated work, “Town of Product.” In 2012, Allen was awarded an Artist Project Grant Distinguished Merit Award (that’s a serious mouthful!) from the Arizona Commission on the Arts to create this piece, which premieres tonight.
“Town of Product” is an animated installation using still image advertising from the 80s to create 24 hours of life in a suburban town, complete with people that move down streets, peek in windows, and shop; breezes that ruffle trees, in world that interacts. Perry Allen digitally animated the project to reflect this 24-hour cycle then sped it up to screen in 24 minutes.
“There was kind of an interesting documentary element to the project,” said Allen. “I put out a call to my network of friends and contacts looking for examples of print advertising and people started sending me all these magazines from the 80s. I didn’t start with a focus on that time period, that’s just what happened.” The ads that Allen used came from the leading mainstream, pop culture magazines of the time – such as Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Vogue and Cosmopolitan, to name a few.
Every element of the town comes from the ads Allen discovered in the magazines: houses, trees, people, cars, and buildings. “There’s no storyline,” says Allen. “It’s more of a meditation on time and place, on our consumer culture and suburban lifestyle as it looked thirty years ago.”
To make it even more interesting, Allen was inspired by a conversation with Kimber Lanning to project the video onto the windows of Modified instead of an interior wall. In this way, the installation will be visible from both inside the gallery and to the people passing by on Roosevelt Street. Should be pretty cool!
The exhibition runs through June 7.
If You Go
Where: Modified Arts, 407 E. Roosevelt
When: Friday, May 16 through Friday, June 7
For more info: 602-462-5516 or Facebook
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
There are just a few seats left! Reserve your spot on the Third Friday Collectors Tour on January 18!
Artlink’s Third Friday Collectors Tour returns on Friday, January 18, and includes three of downtown Phoenix’s most acclaimed galleries.
The participants will have a private viewing and the opportunity to meet the artist(s) and curators one-on-one, and learn more about their processes and vision.
The exclusive guided trolley tour will include:
- Bentley Gallery – “Mark Pomilio / Jeremy Thomas,” a delightful exploration of nature’s geometry, with Curator John Reyes and Mark Pomilio.
- monOrchid – Introducing new Curator Justin Germain with artist Linda Ingraham’s unique project “Off the Beaten Path: A Departure From The Norm,” and Matt Dougan’s personal retrospective “As the Crow Flies.”
- Willo North Gallery – “Youth: New Work by Bob Adams” with Bob explaining his inspiration to re-enter the world of solo gallery shows after two decades.
The tour will be hosted by Robrt Pela, Willo North curator and arts critic for Phoenix New Times, whose NPR “Morning Edition” radio essays are occasionally themselves the talk of the town. Pela will provide context on the contemporary art scene in downtown Phoenix and background on the artist spaces and galleries on the tour.
Event: Artlink’s Third Friday Collectors Tour
Date: Friday, January 18
Time: 6 to 9 p.m.
Where: Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Ave. Phoenix. The trolley will depart promptly at 6 p.m.
Tickets: $35 per person, $50 per couple. Seating is limited. Light refreshments provided. To reserve your seats please visit http://collectorstourphoenix.eventbrite.com/.
About the Host:
Robrt Pela is known primarily as an arts critic for Phoenix New Times, where he has written a weekly columnthese past 22 years. His radio essays air each week on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” and he’s worked as a writer and editor for national and local magazines including Psychology Today, The Advocate, Phoenix Home and Garden, and Men’s Fitness. His last published book was Filthy, a biography of the film director John Waters.
As a curator, Pela presents a new exhibit each month at Willo North Gallery in Phoenix. Last year he curated shows by, among others, Annie Lopez, Jeff Falk, Jason Hill, Janet de Berge Lange, Paul Wilson, Carolyn Lavender, and Bob Adams. He and his spouse, Todd Grossman, divide their time among their homes in Phoenix, Arizona; Niles, Ohio; and Bargemon, France.
I have buried my sketchbook under books on polar exploration, a plant-based diet and the concept of space in the age of the internet. When I enter my studio space, I take a moment to stare frighteningly at the scattered, messy desktop buried under unopened mail and a few dirty coffee cups. I am haunted by Facebook posts of artist friend accomplishments and the reflection it has on my inactivity.
This is the frozen desert of being at an artistic standstill.
Like pressing on through a frigid, barren landscape with no clear end to the steady, repetitive horizon: the days of inactivity and unmeasurable creativity continue. For many artists, this is when we start to look at whether it might have been better to study as a Latent Print Examiner or follow a more practical career as an accountant. Maybe some have even fantasized about the seemingly simple life as a heavy machine operator or bus driver. Imagine the satisfaction of completing an honest day of work and settling in to relax in the evening.
This possibility is as remote as a constantly shifting magnetic pole and as unappealing as an unseasoned bowl of polenta. Any artist who has attempted this shift in career due to a temporary lack of inspiration soon finds out that they are floating in a virtual world of non-ideas. It is not the world they are cut out for.
Unfortunately, the artist is beset with the drive to produce and put something in to the world. Although one might be able to sit back and be distracted, distraught and disengaged, the pull to act keeps nagging like hunger. I can’t ignore forever that there are thoughts in my head and I am compelled, like an explorer was to the open sea, to find out more about it.
It is time to get out. When in the darkest moments of intellectual despair, sometimes it’s better to turn outward. Luckily, Phoenix has answered with a repertoire of activities to foster ideas, import information and maybe most importantly: generate human contact. Tuesday night Lawn Gnome hosts Books and Beakers, a weekly “bringing science to the people” event on the subject of Time Dilation Theory and more remotely local interdisciplinary artist Chris Danowski opens his show Dogface at the ASU West, Artspace West Gallery. Friday I can visit the multi-media installation by Ann Morton at Modified, Jackalope Ranch’s Manifesto exhibit at Drive-Thru Gallery and the Valley of the Sunflowers Paper Project at Combine Studios.
With so many options to turn outward, I have no reason to fall further into the crevasse of my own artistic inactivity. Instead, I can revel in the collective ability for others in the community to lift me up through their own action and energy and realize that I will get mine back in time. The desert, even in its cold state, need not be bleak.
Suggested reading: The Race to the White Continent: Voyages to the Antarctic by Alan Gurney; Below the Convergence: Voyages Toward Antarctica, 1699-1839, Alan Gurney; City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn, William J. Mitchell; Thrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health, Brendan Brazier