Before it became a celebrated gastrohall, DeSoto Central Market was a jalopy of an historical car dealership.
DeSoto Central Market is bustling on a Friday afternoon in early November. The black shades over the garage door-size front windows have not yet been drawn against the afternoon light, and so the dozens of people milling about the spacious main area are bathed in bright sun while squinting at their laptop screens or chattering over Arizona craft beers at the bar. Upstairs, people peruse the local art hanging on the walls, and relax in buttoned brown leather chairs and couches.
The scene is a stark contrast from three years ago, when this structure was an empty eyesore on the corner of Roosevelt Street and Central Avenue. Vacant since 2010, the building was in a severe state of disrepair – with busted windows, crumbling drywall, orphaned electrical wires, and a hole in the roof the size of a smart car – when K Diamond cattle brand owner Ken Cook bought it in 2012.
Contractors recommended Cook tear the dilapidated structure down. He had a different vision. “The easiest thing is to raze it. No fuss, less unknowns, in the end the costs are less. Those are the arguments to demo,” says Cook, who splits his time between Phoenix and Washington state. “What attracted me to the building in the first place? I like a challenge. Year after year, the building just got worse. Certain things, even though they are inanimate, give you a feeling, and if you study it long enough, like in the case of the DeSoto building, it will tell you what it wants to be.”
In this case, the building told Cook and project partner Shawn Connelly it wanted to be a food hub. DeSoto Central Market opened in April 2015 and houses a full bar and six restaurants, including the larder + the delta, DCM Burger Joint and Adobo Dragon. But for more than five years, the building housed only dust and decrepit darkness. Its makeover has been both marvelous and miraculous.
The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and according to the registration forms and records, the property was first purchased in 1920 by a woman named Alice S. Hine. She had a small home constructed on the site, and it served as her residence until 1928, when C.P. Stephens DeSoto purchased the lot and the current building was constructed. Connelly says when they were renovating what is now the coffee bar area, they unearthed the foundation of an older building – presumably the home of Hine.
Until 1955, the 14,000 square-foot building housed the DeSoto Six Motorcars dealership. Its showroom floors and offices were dedicated to various automotive-related businesses – Stephen Franklin Motors; Stallings Imported Cars; Eiffel Automobile, Inc. – until 1970. When Cook’s team began refurbishing the old motor mecca, they found dozens of boxes of auto sales records dating back to the ‘30s, the details of every transaction carefully recorded in cursive on lined manila folders. “That was pretty cool,” Connelly says, pointing to some of the files they’ve framed and hung on the second floor of the market. “Look at some of the addresses – Willetta Street, Portland Avenue. These were people in this neighborhood buying cars here.”
In 1970, the building became the Air Trade School Center. It was a short-lived tenancy; just two years later, a motorcycle dealership called Honda House moved in. James and Suzanne Ledbetter bought the building in 1976 and turned it into Ledbetter Antiques and Appraisals. For the next 24 years, local artists from the neighborhood, including Grand Avenue Arts District matriarch Beatrice Moore, wandered among the wares in the antiques store. Arvizu Advertising bought the building in 2000; Compass Bank took control after foreclosure in 2010. The structure sat empty and atrophying for the next four years.
Cook and crew started work in the fall of 2013. It was a formidable undertaking. “In the end it’s execution that matters,”Cook says. “I could not have accomplished this by myself. It took everyone working together to make this building what you see today, with the history preserved for all Phoenicians.”
Robert Graham, principle of Phoenix-based Motley Design Group, oversaw the redesign. “The thing I really love about that project… there’s a story in almost every little detail,” he says. “For example, all the cast stone ornamentation that was on the side of the building fell off somewhere around 1950 – we don’t really know when, because we don’t have enough photographs to pin that down. We had the original architectural drawing from 1927 – it was in the Republic – and it was a pretty sketchy architectural drawing. You could see the general impression of what the ornamentation was supposed to look like, but not any of the detail.”
So Graham says they created a modern replica: “While it follows the general pattern and shape of what the original ornament was, it’s got all sorts of modern things up there, like tires and pieces of old cars… things they wouldn’t have done in 1927.”
With help from a $250,000 grant from the Historic Preservation Office, the team was able to make reconstructions to reclassify the building as historic, and complete renovations that incorporated original parts of the building – like the showroom floor tile and exposed red brick walls downstairs – and modern aesthetic tributes to the building’s history, like a 4,200-square-foot mezzanine embedded with a giant metal sculpture of an automobile grill and the Art Deco sconces that adorn the sides of the booths on the patio.
Arcadia-based Mackenzie Collier Interiors handled furnishing of the space and decorative touches. “The DeSoto creative team meditated on the idea of Art Deco design crumbling at the onset of the Great Depression,” Collier explains. “We also considered the streamline modern automotive designs that dominated the design world in later years. We knew this incredible building had a very important story to tell.”
There’s a hidden mini-museum of Downtown Phoenix’s bygone buildings in DeSoto Central Market, incorporated piecemeal throughout the gastrohall’s decor.
Lighting fixtures salvaged from the Walsh Brothers Office Furniture building cast a soft upward glow from the edge of the mezzanine above the bar. Motley Design Group renovated the old furniture store at 28th and Washington streets in 2013. It’s now the Arizona Opera Center. “They were originally downlights over the storefront display areas,” chief architect Robert Graham says. “They had been sitting in boxes in my office for two years, looking for the right place [for me] to put them.”
The coffee bar is partially barricaded by a terra cotta corner piece of the façade from the Luhrs Central building. The two-story office building was constructed in 1914 and demolished in 2014 to make way for an $80 million Marriott high-rise hotel, slated to open in late 2016. The drinking fountain on the second floor of DeSoto Central Market was also rescued from Luhrs Central.
Slices from out-of-state structures literally lie at every door. With the exception of the reproduction doors in the back-bar wall, every door – fallow wood portals with single, textured glass windows – comes from a courthouse in Missoula, Montana. DeSoto building owner Ken Cook had them in storage for years. “Like the lights, he was just looking for a place to use them,” Graham says. “It was a 1930s courthouse, so that fit right in with the Depression-era theme we established for the interior.”