Did You Know: Olde Towne Square Is A Section Of Historic Homes

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, December 19, 2014 - 6:01pm
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(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/KJZZ)
The main entrance at the Olde Towne Square on the corner of Rio Salado Parkway and Ash Avenue.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/KJZZ)
The Cole Residence at Olde Towne Square in downtown Tempe.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/KJZZ)
The gazebo area was added at Olde Towne Square as a way to invite visitors to tour the grounds.

In the last decade downtown Tempe has gone through many changes. There are now skyscrapers, an entertainment district and an ever expanding university. But, there is one little corner in the area where things haven’t really changed.

Nestled between the light rail path and Tempe Beach Park is a place called Olde Towne Square. The corner lot is adorned with manicured lawns, a white gazebo and five homes.  Did You Know…these structures are historic houses that were relocated here as part of a preservation effort?

“In the late 80s the city of Tempe was involved in pretty aggressive campaign to redevelop the downtown distric," said Stu Siefer, an architect who specializes in historic preservation and helped create the quaint historical neighborhood. “And as a result they were demolishing quite a few of the historic buildings, commercial and residential.”

Siefer said the city’s downtown redevelopment project required demolishing 19th and early 20th century homes still standing on and around Mill Avenue. The city also wanted to convert this piece of land into a business district. Siefer and a few other preservationists suggested that some of the old homes be preserved and placed here as office buildings.

“The concept was essentially to create a little neighborhood that would give a sense of what old Tempe was like," Siefer said.

Five homes were chosen. Three of them are single floor residences that sat near Mill Avenue. The other two, the Frankenberg and the Cole houses are multi-story homes that stood on the ASU campus on Myrtle Street. They were all built between 1896 and 1914.

“One of the first thoughts we had we would move these houses, like using house moving technology at the time and we thought that would be pretty easy. We would just plop the houses onto a big truck bed and move them through town and that proved to be unfeasible," Siefer said.

So instead Siefer says the team decided to do the next best thing—disassemble them. Each home was taken apart brick by brick, column section by column section, and brought here. Each home was put back together the same way.

“The columns that you’re looking at right here, when they were taken apart were just stacked one on the other, it was just gravity that was holding them together.  So, when we rebuilt them we had to put re-enforcing bars in them.”

The multi-level Cole Residence was lost for nearly 20 years until Siefer discovered it in a junk yard.  He says during the disassembly of the other two-story historic house, the junk yard owner came by and mentioned that he had taken it down himself, piece by piece, and had saved all its parts.

Siefer said a few of these houses were kit homes, or homes you could buy from a Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog in early the 1900s.

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