Take it slow

Phoenix should get all the facts before deciding on the fate of a historic house

The Phoenix City Council is right to take the long view on the future of a house that may have significant historical value. By agreeing to wait at least 90 days before voting on the property owners' request for a demolition permit, council members are ensuring they have all the facts before making a final decision. But when they decide, they should be sure they respect the owners' interests as well.

The house, at 301 W. Second St., likely was built by the pioneer Steadman family in the late 1800s. The owners, Marion and Alice Moore, purchased it in 1966, lived there for more than a decade and then rented it out. Now retired, they want to return to the property, but they say they house doesn't meet their needs in its present condition. They applied for a demolition permit in October.

The house is not on the National Register of Historic Places, but it is identified as historically significant by the city of Phoenix. The Phoenix Historical Society initially voted to support the demolition, but members said they did so in the mistaken belief that the house was not restorable, and have rescinded their approval.

The building lacks a foundation and insulation, and the kitchen is not up to modern standards.

Historic preservation consultant George Kramer, who has been hired by the Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency to survey historic properties in the town, looked at the house and pronounced it structurally intact and historically significant.

The question for the city and the owners is whether the cost of restoring the house would greatly exceed the cost of tearing it down and building a new house, which the owners want to do. That question should be thoroughly answered before the city decides on the demolition question.

Preserving historic buildings is something cities should try to do when it's possible. But restoring old structures takes money, and city officials should think twice before forcing the Moores to do something they don't want or can't afford to do.

The city also could help the owners find money to pay for restoration work through the urban renewal agency, or help them find a buyer who would be willing to move the house to another location.

Historic preservation is a desirable goal, but it isn't always possible, and the owners of the property ought to have the final say.

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