Phoenix contractor-developer works to preserve city’s architectural history
May 19, 2023, 4:35 AM
(KTAR News Photo/Luke Forstner)
PHOENIX – Phoenix is growing, and change is inevitable. However, there’s still room for some of the historical architecture that defined how the city used to look.
Heather Lennon has been a residential and commercial general contractor for 25 years, and she’s also a real estate developer with a passion for preserving Phoenix architecture.
“I think that we all have to take personal responsibility, to make things better than when we found them,” she said.
Retrofitting and repurposing old buildings isn’t easy – and it requires a lot more work and know-how than just tearing a building down and starting from scratch.
“You need to understand how things used to be built,” Lennon explained. “From old brick walls that can’t handle loads anymore, to old bow truss ceilings that really should only last from 60 to 80 years.”
Despite that hurdle, she said clients still show an interest in putting in that work and carrying on the legacy of Phoenix in the process.
“There are people that are willing to put forth that extra effort, and find ways to create scenarios where the history of the space still exists,” she said.
Lennon’s work in Phoenix has led to many stories of old buildings being given new life, from work on houses in historical neighborhoods to retail projects.
“We had an opportunity to work with a client who owns a building that was one of the very first funeral homes here in Phoenix, called Merryman’s,” she recounted. “We were able to save the building for them, and now Chuckie Duff has an amazing restaurant there called Sin Muerte.”
Some of the projects she takes on involve reusing historic architecture in a more abstract way.
“I purchased some flooring that happened to be from the Suns arena when it was America West [Arena],” she said. “Then we found out that it was the flooring from the season where they got to the Finals against the Bulls.”
She then turned that flooring into furniture, including metal tables with tops made of slats of the historic hardwood.
“The Suns actually hosted a beautiful party where they were celebrating that season,” she said, “and we were lucky enough to have the legacy and current players sign our tables.”
To Lennon, projects like that are just another example of Phoenix’s history being repurposed and co-existing with the present.
Then there’s Warehouse 215. Once known as Phoenix Linen and Towel Supply, the building opened in 1918 has now been converted into a multi-purpose event space.
As with all jobs like this, it presented some unique challenges.
“I think with Warehouse 215, a lot of the saving grace was actually the fact that it was a linen and laundry business, there was steam involved,” Lennon explained. “I believe that moisture helped save the bow trusses that are up there. They now have a steel structure in them that helps support.”
She sees Warehouse 215 as an example of what the future of once-bustling warehouses can look like.
“The Downtown warehouse district is near and dear to my heart,” Lennon said. “I see that that neighborhood is in need, and I see great opportunity to actually create change in that area.”
Some Phoenix residents may look at one of her future projects and see nothing more than an empty building. However, Lennon said that when she walks in, she can visualize what the space will eventually become, and understands its importance to the fabric of Phoenix.
“If you have an opportunity to travel around the world, you realize what a young country we really are,” she said. “There are so few old warehouses that tell the story of what we were, and I just think you should never forget where you come from.”
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