Ashland Place Historic District of Phoenix
In contrast to its peaceful setting, Ashland Place was born, in fact, during an era of frenzied, rapid growth. Developed in the 1920’s, Ashland Place grew from a housing demand driven by economic factors tracing their origin to the earliest days of Phoenix, some 50 years before, when Jack Swilling began to cultivate the land along the north bank of the Salt River. Using the remnants of an elaborate system of canals along the Salt, created by the ancient Hohokam Indians, in the third century BC. The Swilling Irrigating and Canal Company spawned an agricultural trade, as fertile fields gave rise to crops supplying the US Army troops at Camp McDowell, 20 miles to the northeast.
While water gave the city life, it also regulated its growth. Given to the cycles of floods and droughts, the fluctuating waters dictated growth at a moderate and cautious pace. The effects of flooding moved residential development northward, away from the Salt River flood plain. By the turn of the century, Center Street, now Central Avenue, had become the city’s major thoroughfare, sporting prosperous commercial and residential developments.
Bounded by Central Avenue, Third Street, Vernon Avenue, and Hoover Street, the future site of Ashland Place was more than two miles north of the downtown core. But in 1909, visionary leader Dwight B. Heard ventured north to subdivide an entire quarter section of land immediately to the south of the future Ashland Place. Naming it “Los Olivos”, Heard positioned his subdivision of five-acre, estate sized lots to capitalize on what he sensed would be a powerful surge of growth in the Valley.
From the time of his arrival in Phoenix in 1895, Heard was a key player in the aggressive lobbying efforts of Valley promoters to secure government funding to resolve the problem of fluctuating water supplies, which hindered the Valley’s expansion. These efforts ultimately were rewarded in 1902, when congress passed the National Reclamation Act, establishing a framework of dams and engineering projects throughout the country. In Arizona, the Reclamation Act led directly to the construction of the Roosevelt Dam, the first major project funded by the Act. Completed in 1911, Roosevelt Dam was the largest masonry dam in the world at the time. The Dam formed th basis for providing a consistent supply of water to the Valley on a year-round basis, which led to accelerated agricultural expansion, enabling Phoenix to flourish as a major city.
The benefits flowing from reclamation projects and the economic boom following the First World War teamed to create a thriving real estate market in Phoenix. Building companies prospered as well and, for the first time, began to build speculative residential structures in the city.
Prominent among these companies was the developer of Ashland Place, Home Builders Inc. Formed in 1910 by the real estate firm of Greene and Griffen, Home Builders, Inc. gained national attention for its innovative approach to residential construction and marketing. By pioneering the financing of houses and lots, the firm was able to supply its middle-class buyers with fully-equipped “dream homes” for as little as $25 per month. The triumph of the firm’s efforts are evidenced the dramatic success of Ashland Place. Platted as a subdivision in 1920, 85% of the district’s current 58 structures were constructed between the years of 1923 and 1927.
Along with the economic transition, architectural styles were changing as well. At the dawn of the 20th century, the Bungalow was the most popular style of home in the city. Its single story, simple box like plan made the Bungalow economical to build. The deep, shaded porches of the Bungalow were well suited to the searing Valley heat.
By the 1920’s, however Americans embraced a new wave of Period Revival Style architecture. These styles were inspired by three basic “period” sources: revivals of Spanish and Mediterranean forms, English and French domestic styles from the European countryside, and American Colonial architecture. The romantic images invoked by these “country houses” proved popular throughout the country and were brought to Phoenix primarily through the influences of Los Angeles architects who extended their practices into Arizona.
The architecture of Ashland Place is dominated by the Bungalow and Period Revival Traditions. The homes in Ashland Place clearly depict the visually intriguing transition in styles which occurred during the 1920’s. The Bungalows of the district are typical in their single-story gable roofed design. As is common in Phoenix, they are built of brick, which is different than other regions of the country. The Period Revival homes in Ashland Place fall into two major categories. The first is an eclectic mix including Spanish Colonial Revival, Mission, Monterey and Pueblo Revivals, featuring details and forms such as flat roofs trimmed with red clay tiles, stuccoed walls, parapets, canales and vigas. These forms contrast with the English influenced styles comprised of brick walls and trim, with steeply-pitched roofs. Many of the Period Revivals were designed by C. Lewis Kelley, who called himself a “Home Artist”, and was one of the most prominent designers of Period Revivals in Phoenix.
The distinctive mix of architecture within Ashland Place is unified and distinguished by its setting. The homes are uniformly placed, along the district’s narrow blocks, on 60-foot lots with shallow front lawns and regular set backs. Mature landscaping and the namesake ash trees grace the streets, and the original fluted, concrete street lights add to the character and imagery of the period. The integrity of Ashland Place, it’s setting, scale, design, materials, and workmanship – brand it with identity and place it among the most picturesque historic neighborhoods in Phoenix.
Information and history provided by the City of Phoenix Historic Preservation office.