This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Why the ceilings are just a little bit lower now than when Chase Tower was built - asbestos


If you work inside of the tallest building in Arizona, Chase Tower, at Central Avenue and Monroe, take a look up at the ceilings. They were lowered in 1990, just a bit, because of the asbestos up there, which is still there.

Now, don't panic. The asbestos, which was put there in 1972 when Valley Center was built, is still doing its job, protecting the building from any fires that may spread. And it's only disturbed asbestos that's hazardous (when you breathe in the fibers), so as long as it's sealed up, it's OK. In a building as big as that one, trying to remove asbestos would have made a terrible mess, so they just lowered the ceilings a little and sealed it up.

The reason I know this is that when I first started working for Valley Bank around that time, different departments were relocated, for months, all over the valley. The Marketing Department, where I started, was at Corporate Center across the freeway from MetroCenter. You know, over by Fajitas. When the asbestos was sealed up and all was safe, the departments were moved back in. For me, it was 1991. That's the first time I saw Valley Center (now Chase Tower).

I'm a Graphic Designer, but a frustrated architect (I couldn't do the math) so I was immediately fascinated by the building, which was called the Bank One building while I was there in the 90s. It's still an amazing building now, and it has been lovingly cared for since the day it was built. The design is really late 1960s, in the way that architects imagined that space stations would look like in the future. Even the fonts used by the elevators are the classic 1960s "space age" fonts. I loved working there, and it really did feel like a space ship.

I doubt anyone nowadays cares that the ceilings are slightly lower than when the building was built, or that there's sealed asbestos up there, and it really doesn't matter. People, and buildings, learn over time.

Image above: Valley Center under construction in 1972. You are looking northeast. The original headquarters for Valley Bank was in the Professional Building, which you can see at right, and which is now the Hilton Garden Inn.