- Address:823 S. Maple Ave.
Tempe, AZ 85281
- Historic Buildings
- Tempe Historic Register
- Address:823 S. Maple Ave.
Survey Number: HPS-417
Year Built: 1931
Architectural Style: Southwest
The 1931 Harris House is located on Lot 2 of Block 21 of the historic Gage Addition subdivision, on the east side of Maple Avenue mid-block between University Drive (old 8th Street) and 9th Street. Located just west of the main campus of Arizona State University; Gage Addition forms the northernmost portion of Tempe’s historic Maple-Ash neighborhood. It is bounded by University Drive, Mill Avenue, 10th Street, and the Union-Pacific Railroad tracks. Platted in 1909, Gage Addition contains homes built primarily during the first half of the twentieth century, and still qualifies today as an historic district although it has not yet been designated historic.
The Harris House was built in the Gage Addition as later infill construction after the majority of homes in that subdivision had already been constructed. In fact, the continued shortage of housing led to opening of the Park Tract, just south of Gage Addition, in 1924. By the time the Harris House was built in 1931, the residential neighborhood had begun to significantly expand southward to meet the housing need.
After the turn of the century local businessman and pioneer George N. Gage, with other capitalists from Tombstone and California, formed the Tempe Land and Improvement Company to take advantage of new real estate opportunities resulting from railroad access, and also to initiate the purchase and formal development of the settlement as a townsite. The company, under the local supervision of Gage, promoted the sale of lots, helped build commercial buildings to form the nucleus of the business center, helped organize the bank of Tempe, and helped provide construction materials through operation of a local lumber yard. Tempe’s growth fluctuated but steadily increased for the two decades at the turn of the century, and in 1909 Gage opened 80 acres for development as the Gage Addition. This was the first major residential expansion in the original townsite.
The Gage Addition subdivision is identified as a Cultural Resource Area in Tempe General Plan 2030. Cultural Resource Areas are considered culturally significant to the character of Tempe and GP2030 states it is desirable to maintain the character of these areas. General Plan 2030 recommends the underlying zoning in place at the time the plan was adopted should remain the highest appropriate density for Cultural Resource Areas. Accordingly, Cultural Resource Areas are indicated on the GP2030 Projected Land Use Map with the density of the zoning in place at the time the plan was adopted on December 4, 2003.[i]
The 1931 Harris House is significant as a prime example of Southwest style residential architecture in Tempe. The property has been well maintained and the house is completely intact and retains most of its original materials. Mature landscaping surrounding the house is typical for the Maple-Ash neighborhood.
The Harris House is one of only three Tempe properties believed to survive from 1931. Based on data from the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office and Tempe HPO files, 144 standing Tempe properties are thought to predate this historic house having year-built dates earlier than 1931. The house is in the ninety-ninth percentile (n = 145/53,665 = 99.7) of all Tempe properties in terms of age and, therefore, is considered to constitute a rare surviving example of early residential architecture in Tempe.[ii]
Historic eligible residential and nonresidential structures within the area of the Gage Addition subdivision were built between 1888 and 1954, with 1932 being the median year-built value (74 years old) and 1929 the most frequently occurring construction date (4 occurrences). The Solliday Survey (Solliday 2001) identified 63 lots in the Gage Addition and added 6 properties built between 1950 and 1954, to the 44 properties previously identified as potentially contributing properties in the Tempe MRA (Ryden 1997). Solliday indicated 6 properties were not listed due to integrity.[iii] [iv]
The Harris House derives significance from several important associations including surviving as an example of infill construction in Tempe’s 1909 Gage Addition; Tempe’s oldest surviving residential subdivision. Located immediately west of the ASU campus, Gage Addition subdivision forms the northernmost section of Tempe’s historic Maple-Ash neighborhood and contains homes built almost exclusively during the first half of the twentieth century. The Harris House is also significant for its association with the Pioneer Tempe families of Ellen Mary Sears Harris Bell (1869-1951), and particularly her son Fenn John Harris (1896-1976) who built the house in 1931. Fenn Harris was a carpenter and worked as “head of buildings and grounds” at Arizona State Teachers College for 32 years. In 1931, he built his home at 823 South Maple Avenue along with the one adjoining at 821. Finally, the Harris House is significant simply because it exists in the upper ninety-ninth percentile (99.7%) of all Tempe properties in terms of age. Consequently, the 1931 house is considered to be a rare surviving example of early residential architecture in Tempe. It also provides an excellent example of the Southwest style masonry house, surviving with a high degree of architectural integrity and the preponderance of character-defining features intact.
Integrity is the ability of a property to convey its significance. To be listed in the Tempe Historic Property Register, a property must be significant under ordinance criteria and must also possess adequate integrity to communicate this significance to persons familiar with the property and to the community at large. The integrity of a property is evaluated according to aspects which must be present in different combinations depending on the criteria from which historic significance is derived.
Like many historic properties, the Harris House derives significance from several important associations with community history. Through “association with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of community history,” this property survives as an example of early residential development and infill construction in the historic 1909 Gage Addition subdivision. A building eligible for listing under this criterion must possess integrity of Location, Materials, Feeling, and Association.
Tempe’s growth since its beginning circa 1870 is most conveniently viewed as a series of developmental periods corresponding to both local and national economic and political trends. During the Settlement Period (c.1870~1887) Tempe evolved from a small river crossing site into a recognizable town with distinct residential, commercial, and farming areas. The Development Period (1888~1909) was a time of organization, land speculation, and major growth stimulated by the Tempe Land and Improvement Company, by arrival of the railroad, and by establishment of the Territorial Normal School. The Growth Period (1909~1930) saw the completion of Roosevelt Dam, Arizona statehood, tremendous expansion of the agricultural economy, increased development of subdivisions, of city services, of the Normal School, and of transportation systems. The Harris House is significant for its association with the Gage Addition but it was built during Tempe’s Post-Automobile Period (1931~1945). This development stage was marked by increasing automobile ownership and by the introduction of air conditioning. These conveniences, accompanied by slow but steady growth, changed the form of residential development and set the stage for the rapid expansion of the community following World War II. Broad patterns of development established during each of these historic periods remain visible today amidst the contemporary suburban fabric of Tempe.[v]
Additionally, the Harris House is significant for its association with the Pioneer Tempe families of Ellen Mary Sears Harris Bell, her son Fenn John Harris, and his wife Mildred Coweesta Masterson. When Gage Addition opened for development, deed restrictions defining building setbacks, architectural criteria, and minimum costs for construction were included as conditions of the sale of lots for the first time in Tempe’s history. Although zoning would not be adopted for another 25 years, these early covenants served to establish a distinct character for the subdivision and prominent citizens initially constructed several large houses for their families there. Only over time did the area evolve to support a more balanced mix of working-, middle-, and upper-class residences.
Ellen Bell was a pioneer Tempe resident who settled in the Valley in 1883. After the death of her husband, she supported her eight children through the successful management of a local dairy operation. She also rented numerous Tempe properties to students and others as a means of augmenting the family income. Bell secured mortgages on several vacant lots on Gage Addition Block 21, allowing her son to develop the property that is today known as the Harris House.
Like the vast majority of American communities, Tempe experienced an astonishing economic downturn during the early 1930s, as the Great Depression initiated a malaise not fully lifted until the wartime boom of the early 1940s. With the collapse of the banking system, credit dried up, home loans became rare, and home ownership rates decreased.
With the advent of New Deal programs still in the future, the Harris House represents a rare example of a home built in Tempe during the Great Depression. It remains as one of the last of its kind, a home built the old-fashioned way; not with a minimum down payment and 30 years to pay, but with generations pulling together to improve the family’s lot. It stands today a material demonstration of the continuing hope that pervaded Americans during that period as they strove to better their own lives and the prosperity of their community. A building eligible for listing under this criterion must possess integrity of Materials, Feeling, and Association.[vi]
Finally, as an example that “embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represents the work of a master” this property distinguishes itself on two counts; first it is significant for its historicity simply because it exists in the upper ninety-ninth percentile (99.7%) of all Tempe properties in terms of age. Consequently, the property is considered to be a rare surviving example of early residential architecture in Tempe.
Today, due in part to its pronounced architectural integrity, the Harris House is significant as an early remaining example of Southwest style masonry house in Tempe. Southwest style architecture came into high-fashion during the 1930s, generally concentrated in California and the Southwest. The form blends Pueblo Revival styling with Spanish Colonial Revival forms to produce something of authentic origin in the American Southwest. A building eligible for listing under this criterion must possess integrity of Design, Workmanship, Materials, and Feeling.[vii]
The Harris House is considered eligible for historic designation and listing in the Tempe Historic Property Register under National Park Service Criteria A, B and C, at the local level of significance based on the continued integrity of Location, Design, Materials, Workmanship, Feeling, and Association.[viii]
Next this report evaluates aspects of integrity to substantiate findings of eligibility under multiple criteria. This is followed by an in depth discussion of various historic contexts from which the Harris House derives significance followed by a preliminary determination of eligibility and a staff recommendation.
Location – This property exists in its originally developed location. Gage Addition subdivision encompasses a collection of historic resources directly associated with the early growth and development of Tempe and the Salt River Valley. The evolution of Tempe over the past 140 years holds national, state, and local significance for its important role in the development of the Salt River Valley as a center of commerce and education, as a critical link in the transportation networks during the settlement of the Territory, and for its associations with important political figures. Tempe’s unique heritage is exemplified in its significant residential architecture and infrastructure. These exist today in Gage Addition subdivision as manifestations of those Arizona pioneers who transformed the desert environment of the Salt River Valley into a community of enduring consequence and unequalled character unique in Arizona.[ix]
Sited on the east side of Maple Avenue mid-block between University Drive and 9th Street, the Harris House is located on land that was originally included within the boundaries of the 1894 Tempe Townsite. Although not subdivided until fifteen years later, Gage Addition was never annexed into the corporate limits of Tempe – rather uniquely, it was an integral part of the community from the onset. Today, this historic subdivision includes a vibrant residential neighborhood. The clear and present landmark character of the Maple Ash Neighborhood retains popular historic identity recognized throughout the community and beyond.[x]
Design – Design is the composition of elements that constitute the form, plan, space, structure, and style of a property. Because properties change through time, changes may acquire significance in their own right and changes do not necessarily constitute a loss of design integrity. The Harris House continues to maintain original spatial relationships between major features; visual rhythms; layout and materials; and the relationship of other features as they were originally constructed and developed. Southwest style architecture came into high-fashion during the 1930s, generally concentrated in California and the Southwest. The form is a hybrid of Pueblo Revival style with Spanish Colonial Revival style. This blending of architectural forms produced something of genuine origin in the 1930s American Southwest. Architects initially embraced the style and adapted it for larger estates and commercial projects. As they perfected the form over time they gradually simplified design details making them more elegant and refined. Design aspects of the Harris House typify the Southwest style and continue to communicate this aspect of integrity.
Setting – Setting is the physical environment of a historic property that illustrates the character of the place. Integrity of setting is not a condition precedent to designation in this case; however, the property retains connections to the physical environment of its surroundings. Many original relationships of buildings and structures to the streetscape and landscape; layout and materials of alleyways, walks; and the features of flood irrigation and other infrastructure remain intact. Although the fragile edges of the Maple Ash Neighborhood are constantly being eroded by modern infill development out of character in this historic neighborhood setting, the interior of the Gage Addition, Park Tract, and to some extent the College View subdivision continues to exemplify the residential lifestyles of a bygone Tempe. Careful maintenance of flood irrigation and the resulting mature landscape at the Harris House easily conveys the sense of place that originated at this property 80 years ago.
Materials – Materials are the physical elements that were combined or deposited during a particular period of time and in a particular pattern or configuration to form a historic property. A property must retain key exterior materials dating from the period of its historic significance. Integrity of materials determines whether or not an authentic historic resource still exists. The Harris House retains key physical elements as they were originally configured to reveal the preferences, to indicate the availability of particular types of materials, and to exemplify technologies characteristic of the Southwest style house form. Specifically the smooth stucco finish newly painted in a period correct pastel color, the red tile accents at the entry porch and rear sun room, and the pueblo-like modulated parapet lines combine to typify materials characteristic of the Southwest style. The presence of original windows, doors, and exterior trim further reinforces the historic character and the ability to convey historic significance.[xi]
Workmanship – Workmanship is the physical evidence of the crafts of a particular culture or people during any given period of history. Workmanship is important because it can furnish evidence of the technology of the craft, illustrate the aesthetic principles of an historic period, and reveal individual, local, regional, or national applications of both technological practices and aesthetic principles. Fenn Harris built this house himself, by hand, as a home for his family. Fenn was a carpenter and worked as “head of buildings and grounds” at ASTC / ASU for 32 years. In 1931, he built the house at 823 along with the neighboring house at 821 South Maple Avenue. Before the War, houses were typically built by hand – one or two men completing the entire project. One man forming the foundation, laying masonry walls, framing partitions and roof, placing stucco and setting the roof tiles, working from rough carpentry to finish trim, doors and windows, with maybe another man or a family member to help when the job required it, maybe not. The craft of the house builder included many trades, electrical, plumbing, painting and plastering were all done by the builder. What’s more, most of the construction was done on site using only hand tools. It was only after World War II that the skilled tradesman began to be replaced by new materials and methods that saved time and money on the job site by value added in manufacturing. Not here though, the Harris House continues to convey physical evidence of the crafts attendant upon Southwest style masonry residential construction in Tempe during the 1930s. The Harris House was built by hand and it was built to last.
Feeling – Feeling is a property's expression of the aesthetic or historic sense of a particular period of time. It results from the presence of physical features that, taken together, convey the property's historic character. This property expresses the aesthetic sense of its interwar period of significance. The physical features of the Harris House, taken together, are sufficiently intact to convey their significance to someone familiar with the original property as well as to persons throughout the community to whom the property distinguishes itself as historic. Retention and good maintenance of original design, materials, workmanship, and setting as described above is sufficient to create a discernable sense of place at the historic property.
Association – Association is the direct link between an important historic event or person and an historic property. A property retains association if it is the place where the event or activity occurred and it is sufficiently intact to convey that relationship to an observer. Like feeling, association requires the presence of physical features that convey a property's historic character. This property maintains direct links between important events in community history and is emblematic of the consecutive waves of suburbanization pushing outward from the original settlement along the Salt River. Today, the Harris House provides an excellent example of that early wave of residential development that radiated in bands within the core of the original townsite.
Letter Receipt of Nomination : : 06/08/2011 HPO to Applicant with links to relevant websites
Research Report to Historic Preservation Commission : : 07/14/2011 Neighborhood Meeting at HPC
Staff Summary Report to Historic Preservation Commission : : 08/11/2011 Public Hearing at HPC
Staff Report to Development Review Commission : : 08/23/2011 Public Hearing at DRC
Staff Report to City Council : : Public Hearing at CC
Staff Report to City Council : : Public Hearing at CC
ORDINANCE NO. 2011.19
[i] City of Tempe, Tempe General Plan 2030 Adopted: December 4, 2003, Chapter 3, Land Use, Design + Development, Land Use Element, accessed online 06/16/2011 at: http://www.tempe.gov/generalplan/FinalDocument/chapter3.pdf Cultural Resource Area (existing density allowed by zoning) Areas identified on the density map, which are considered culturally significant to the character of Tempe, based on the 2001 Post World War II Subdivision Study. It is desirable to maintain the character of these areas. The underlying zoning should remain the highest appropriate density for these areas. These areas are shown as Cultural Resource Areas, with a projected density to match the zoning at the time this plan is adopted.
[ii] City of Tempe Historic Preservation Office 2006; Gage Addition Park Tract College View 4
Historic Property Designation Attachment to SSR 10/12/2006 data accessed June 13, 2011 online at:
http://www.tempe.gov/historicpres/docs/MAHD-SSR101206%20PDE%20version100306.pdf “Platted over a 36-year period, and substantially built-out over a 50 year period, the Gage Addition, Park Tract, and College View subdivisions represent consecutive waves of residential development begun in response to both local and national economic and political trends.”
[iii] Solliday, Scott, 2001; Post World War Ii Subdivisions Tempe 1945-1960 Neighborhood & House Type Context Development and 1997 Multiple Resource Area Property Survey Update Tempe Historic Preservation Commission December 14, 2001 http://www.tempe.gov/historicpres/PostWWII/Context-Solliday2001.pdf [The Tempe Post-World War II Context Study builds on previous key studies of the history of the built environment in Tempe. The original 1983 Tempe Historic Property Survey and Multiple Resource Area Nomination provides a thorough narrative history of Tempe, with emphasis on the development and early expansion of the original townsite. The 1997 Tempe Multiple Resource Area Update continues that narrative through 1945. The Post WWII provides a broad contextual view of Tempe and its neighborhoods during the period from 1945 to 1960 to help City staff and the Historic Preservation Commission, as well as home owners and neighborhood associations, to assess, appreciate, and plan to conserve Tempe's postwar resources. The field survey examined approximately 4,500 Tempe properties built between 1945 and 1960. From this survey, inventory forms were completed for 62 subdivisions containing nearly 1,800 individual properties. Only those houses that conveyed a high level of architectural integrity (i.e., that still possess all elements of their original design) were inventoried in detail.]
[iv] Ryden Architects, 1997; City of Tempe Multiple Resource Area Update, Volume 1: Survey Report, City of Tempe Historic Preservation Office [The 1997 Survey re-evaluated surviving resources identified in the Janus 1983 study and expanded the time period of study from 1935 through 1947. The results of the 1997 Survey and the accompanying National Register amendment assist the City in protecting the community’s significant historic resources and in assuring that properties will be sensitively preserved and protected for use of future generations. This survey was partially funded by a matching grant from the Arizona Heritage Fund administered by the State Historic Preservation Office of the Arizona State Parks Board.]
[v] Janus Associates, 1983; Tempe Historic Property Survey and Multiple Resource Area Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, Tempe Historical Society, ASU GOV DOCS CALL NO I 29.76/3-2:Ar 4i/T 4 [The Tempe Historic Property Survey was a collaborative project produced by Janus Associates, Inc., and the Tempe Historical Society, and funded by a grant from the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office. Phase I of the survey (1980-1981) involved identifying more than 350 buildings and structures in Tempe that exhibited potential historical and/or architectural significance. Phase II (1982-1983) involved research and documentation of the 150 most significant resources. As a result of this effort, 30 Tempe historic properties were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.] 1999.0000.404
[vi] City of Tempe, Tempe Historic Preservation Office data accessed 11/24/2009 2:02:03 PM
[viii] Garrison, James, 1999; Aspects of Integrity: Generalized Application http://www.tempe.gov/historicpres/Centennial[SampsonTupper]House.html [State Historic Preservation Officer Jim Garrison created a matrix titled “Aspects of Integrity: Generalized Application” to indicate aspects of integrity that must be present for different property types to remain eligible.
For example, to identify aspects necessary for a Building to maintain eligibility under Criterion C, enter the Criteria row at “C – Design/Construction” and move across to the property type column for “Building”, to see that four of the seven aspects of integrity must be present to maintain the integrity of a district that has significance under criteria C, they are; Design, Workmanship, Materials, and Feeling.
[ix] City of Tempe, Tempe General Plan 2030 Adopted: December 4, 2003, Chapter 3, Land Use, Design + Development, Land Use Element, accessed online 06/16/2011 at: http://www.tempe.gov/generalplan/FinalDocument/chapter3.pdf “Tempe is one of the oldest incorporated cities in the valley and enjoys a rich multi-cultural heritage evident through its historic buildings, open spaces, neighborhoods, and structures. Less visible, but equally important, are the archaeological resources of Tempe’s past, including the remains of several Hohokam villages. Protection and enhancement of Tempe’s heritage is critical to preserving the unique identity of our community. Tempe’s built environment tells the story of Tempe’s growth through a blend of the past with the present, thus enriching our city, residents and visitors.”
[x] As evidenced by the abandoned effort to designate the Maple Ash area historic whereby over 100 letters in support of the designation and listing were received by the city from concerned citizens throughout the community.
[xi] U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, How To Evaluate The Integrity Of A Property accessed 06/16/2011 online at http://www.nps.gov/history/NR/publications/bulletins/nrb15/nrb15_8.htm