Stewart Motor Co., the Studebaker dealership, in the 1950s.
I knew they would do it, only when and whom the "they" would be. After Circles Records closed in 2010, I worried every time I passed the empty building. The only surprise was the speed with which much of the cherished former Stewart Motor/Circles Records, built in 1947, was demolished.
Aspirant Development, a unit of Scottsdale-based Empire Group, says it wants to build apartments on the site at Central and McKinley. It bought the parcel for $2.65 million. The company had even scheduled a meeting with the Roosevelt Action Association neighborhood groups on the Monday when...ooops!...two-thirds (or less) of the streamline moderne structure was torn down.
In a way, it's a salutary development that there was enough outrage to stop the tear-down and cause Aspirant to hire the ubiquitous Jason and Jordan Rose to handle damage control. Mayor Greg Stanton had this to say on Facebook:
I am angry that in the middle of negotiating a plan to save the iconic Stewart Motor Company building, the developer began demolition. After my office participated in discussions between the developer and neighborhood leaders, I was confident that a resolution would be found. However, sadly, it appears that the developer was acting in bad faith.
The City’s Community and Economic Development Department was in the middle of discussions with the developer, Empire Group. Some of the agreed terms of the discussion stated that the developer would not demolish or remove any portion of the existing building on the Site prior to submitting for construction permits. Empire has plans to build a 19-story apartment building on the 1.24-acre site.
If only such consciousness had been around when hundreds of irreplaceable buildings were bulldozed in the 1980s and 1990s. Yet even now, the unofficial Preservation Police can't be everywhere at once, particularly when so much of the deck is stacked against them.
The developer even apologized. But here's the rub: Aspirant appears to be holding the remains — basically the facade — hostage in order to secure a tax break from the city. Something like a 25-year moratorium on property taxes. In exchange, it would build the 19-story apartment tower with pieces of the old building incorporated into a boring new glass lookalike design. After the developer's behavior, this will be a tough sell to Council.