This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

The "re-skinning" of the buildings of Phoenix


In addition to tearing down old buildings, Phoenix does something that I call "re-skinning" buildings. That is, it takes old buildings and covers them up with a modern exterior. There are a lot of old buildings like that around Phoenix, and the example that I often point to is on the northwest corner of Central Avenue and Adams, the Gooding Building. Take a look at it if you work or live downtown, or take a look at it on Google Street View, and you'll see what I mean. This building was built in territorial times, and was "re-skinned" in the 1950s. And now it's such a plan box with windows.

Now waitaminute here, this isn't a conspiracy, man. There aren't a bunch of evil people walking around Phoenix laughing maniacally. This was all done with the best of intentions. I'll see if I can explain.

As a designer myself, I cringe when someone makes a mess of something by "fixing it up". It could be a friend who just invested a lot of money to make a mess of the design of his car, it could be someone who re-designed the porch of their house to look like a horror. Invariably these people post photos on Facebook and proudly proclaim what they'd done, and their friends "like" it. I just turn away, sadly. Because they'll never know.

My parents, bless their hearts, were very good at making a mess of things. One of my prized possessions is a cedar oak chest that had once belonged to my great-great-grandmother. In the 1970s my parents covered it with paint, and in the '90s, when I got it, I took the paint off, revealing the beautiful oak underneath that had been "re-skinned" to make it look better (I guess).

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The same thing happens to buildings. With the best intentions, people "fix them up", usually to fit in with the current design fad. Suddenly bricks are considered unsightly, and are covered with stucco. Or maybe stucco is considered unsightly, and is covered with bricks. Either way, the original design integrity is lost. And as a designer, I prefer to see how it was originally, what I call "off the drawing board". I look for this everywhere, even at car shows. I walk past all of the cars from the 1930s that have been chopped up and modified with fiberglass. No, I won't criticize (that's no way to make friends!), but I wish they wouldn't do that. I look for cars that have their design integrity intact, as if they rolled off the assembly lines yesterday - and yesterday was 1935.

So that's where I stand on re-skinning. I understand it, and I understand that most people like it, and that's it's done with best intentions. But I don't like it. And when someone is restored back to look the way it did when it was new, I love it. I time-travel.


Image at the top of this post: the Gooding Building in the 1920s, northwest corner of Central Avenue and Adams, Phoenix, Arizona. The tall building next to it, the Heard Building, is still there, but has been treated with more respect.