Chronicling the city’s first residential high-rise, Phoenix Towers.

Phoenix Rises

Written by Arren Kimbel-Sannit Category: History Issue: August 2016
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Phoenix is a relatively squat city – by and large, what we lack in height, we make up for in sprawl. And that makes general sense: Heat rises, and it’s difficult to cool a towering building. Nevertheless, the city got its first residential high-rise, Phoenix Towers, in 1957.

Work on the towers began in 1956, based on ambitious designs by Chicago architect Ralph Harris. It would be the tallest and largest residential structure in the state, with the city’s first underground parking garage and mid-century modern flourishes  like slab floors and projecting balconies. 

Located at the northeast corner of Central Avenue and Monte Vista Road, adjacent to what would become the Heard Museum, the towers – somewhat presciently – shirked desert sprawl in favor of vertical growth. Advertisements touted spacious, luxurious apartments in an urban core for $32,500 to $61,000. The apartments were as chic as they were large, with 24-hour doormen, a terrace on the roof, swimming pool with private cabanas and even a putting green. 

The building opened in September 1957 as a co-op, with each resident serving as a shareholder. Unlike many of Phoenix’s architectural marvels from that era, the towers survive in more or less the same form as when they opened nearly 60 years ago. 

“I love it here,” says resident Ruth Kaspar, who moved into the apartments in 1984. “I love the distinct style. And it’s a community within itself.” Kaspar says some things have changed – you are no longer forbidden from wearing high-heeled shoes in rooms with wooden floors, for example, and the demographics now swing toward young professionals rather than retired out-of-towners. The apartments currently sell in the $200,000-$500,000 range. 

Another significant change was getting the apartments on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. “There was nothing like it when they were being built,” says 16-year resident Dan Shilling. “When Phoenix Towers was constructed, Thomas Road was like… out there!”