Thursday, October 28, 2010

In Praise of Little Mid-Century Ranch Houses

The Joys of Remodeling....

While most of my business week involves travel, I love to return home for the weekend. It is my time to recuperate and recharge.

My zen is skimming leaves from the pool in long swirling motions and washing my cars. I love driving clean, properly operating, old cars.

The home I recharge in, is one of those ubiquitous ranchers from the 1950's located in Phoenix's "North Central" neighborhood.

North Central was part of Phoenix' 1940-1960's wave of urban expansion. My neighborhood was built in a former citrus orchard. To this day many orange, tangerine and grapefruit trees remain. So our lots are flood irrigated. Yep, many of us still annually grow too many oranges and grapefruits to count on trees that are 100 years old. Every spring the air is filled with jasmine scented citrus blossoms. Flood irrigation for the uninitiated means my house is slightly raised and a little earth berm surrounds the property. When the water comes (usually in the middle of the night) our house becomes an island in its own little lake. We wake up to ducks swimming on the front lawn. 

There are no sidewalks in our neighborhood and many of us diehards have our original carports instead of garages. There is an alley behind my house where our dumpsters reside, where burglars prowl, and where our power lines run.

The House
(Piestawa Peak in the Background)

My house is about 1,800 square feet. Seems tiny and quaint in an era when new subdivisions all seem to feature houses twice that size.

The houses were all built with simple floor plans and are single story. I love them.  After living in a variety of multi-story houses on tiny sites, I will always defer to a single story home on a decent sized lot. I wonder how many people in Boston die each week taking laundry down a steep set of stairs to a washer in an ancient basement?

Our house has a big porch both front and back. And while a few two-story infill houses have popped up here and there, we welcome them as we would a turd in the pool.

When we relocated to Phoenix 16 years ago, many of the owners on my street were original. Today, after those owners pass to the next world, a big dumpster shows up. The houses are gutted and modernized to standards prescribed by IKEA and then a family moves in with two smallish kids, a dog, and one Infiniti and a Tahoe, Yukon or Armada (love that name!)

The lovely old carports are then morphed into garages to protect their precious urban assault vehicles and somewhere in Saudi Arabia a heart goes pitty pat.

Most newcomers leave the character of the houses intact. Some try to make them into bizarre metal trimmed fantasies. They always look stupid.

The families are frequently people who grew up in the area and want to raise their own kids in the same neighborhood.

Works for me.

Well anyway I decided to start remodeling my own little abode. Not adding any rooms, just changing out windows and doors to be more energy efficient and making what is there more open and functional. Moved the front door. It was a hoot to watch the dogs run and stare at the wall where the front door used to be when the doorbell rang. 

In the meantime we live in a minefield of temporary stuff, sheetrock dust, and delicate power.

When it is done it will still be a modest mid-century rancher.

It will still have a simple plan.

It will still all be on a single floor.

It will still have porches.

It will still be the home I look forward to returning to every weekend.

Roadboy's Travels © 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Upside Down Fall

Adoring the Fall - The Start of Arizona Time!

I took a quick trip to Denver last Friday. It was a lovely day. Temps in the high seventies and blue skies. But as I met with a client the reality of fall was registering in the trees. They never lie.

In Colorado The Aspen's Have Started to Glow

It made me think about how reversed everything is for us in Arizona.

People in Arizona take pride in being contrary. And I'm not even talking about our goofy politics.....

The rest of the nation changes their clocks twice a year for daylight savings time, not us here in AZ. Here we say "the heck with that! Why would we want to stay up an extra hour to experience searing heat?" 

For us it is just better to crank up the old AC and call it a day. 

When fall comes you (the rest of America) eagerly anticipate the "foliage". You know that you'll be raking soon. And right on the tail end of the falling leaves comes the snow.  You feel a little extra bite in the air each evening, AZ gets temperatures that are finally coming down to reality.

Here with perfect days come perfect nights complete with the fragrance of piƱon burning in fireplaces.

You put the bicycles away, we pull 'em out and oil up the chains.

Your dogs have been running around with you all summer and are fit as a fiddle, ours have gotten fat as they have been hiding out with the rest of us indoors (believe it or not we have to be careful when we walk dogs here as the asphalt gets so hot it actually burns their feet - PetSmart sells walking booties!).  So when fall arrives we all pile in the van to take the dogs to Dreamy Draw and they can start to lose summer blubber.

As the rest of North America starts to look for covers to their lawn furniture, Phoenicians venture out to the back porch to clean off the furniture.

I always find it funny to see Target clearing out the outdoor stuff right when we need it. They have to make room for halloween stuff. Target's garden center starts folding up right when we start thinking about planting bulbs.

Everyone loves the fall - but I think we have plenty of justification to love it more. So for the rest of you folks - enjoy your next few months of "indoor time". As for us in AZ, well we are gonna be a bit hard to find for a few months. It is our time again. Time to ride bikes, hike, and just get the heck out of the house!

Roadboys Travel's © 2010 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Losing The Vision One Day At A TIme

Southwest Gobbles Up AirTran

I am one of this nations legion of road warriors. I travel every week. I fly commercially almost every week. I spend most nights of the year sleeping in a hotel bed.

So this weeks announcement of the "merger" of Southwest and AirTran was a bit of a shock. 

I fully comprehend mergers between legacy carriers. The United / Continental merger doesn't seem odd. Delta absorbing Northwest - probably makes sense. 

But somehow the Southwest and AirTran merger, well it just doesn't seem to  add up.

Southwest has always concentrated on a mostly point-to-point travel model. Nearly every flight on AirTran goes through Atlanta or Orlando.

Southwest ONLY flies 737's. AirTran's fleet is filled with MD85's (now called Boeing 717).

Southwest has a sterling safety record. AirTran was born by changing its name from ValuJet to avoid the bad press associated from a horrible crash in Florida.

Southwest has amazing Customer Service. AirTran, well lets just say it falls short of Southwest.

Southwest flies 100% domestic routes. AirTran flies various international routes.

While I hope the merger goes well for both parties, as an outsider looking in I have to say it seems like this is the event we will all point to someday and say "that is where Southwest lost its vision".

Herb, where are you?

Roadboy's Travels © 2010

A Walk at Mill's

One of Oakland's Many Treasures

I grew up in probably the most misunderstood city in California - Oakland.

And while no less than Gertrude Stein and The Simpson's have delighted in making it the butt of their jokes,  I will always love Oakland and the entire East Bay.

Last week I went back and took a quiet walk with Miss "M" among the lush 135 acre campus of Mill's College in Oakland. Mill's is a women's college founded in 1852. And according to the 2011 US News Best Colleges it ranks number 4 among Tier 1 regional universities in the West. Pretty heady for a private college with less than a thousand undergraduates.

As a child a friend's father was a professor at Mill's - so we'd visit his lab and explore the campus. I loved its groves of fragrant eucalyptus trees and beautiful assemblage of architecture by Julia Morgan. There is no question the latter helped confirm me in my desire to become an architect.

When a friend graduated from Mill's years later I witnessed the bestowing of an honorary degree on the pioneering photographer Imogen Cunnigham and listened to a commencement speech delivered by Maya Angelou. There are few times in my life when, in the space of a single day, I have been in the presence of two of America's living treasures.

Now almost 40 years later, I wanted to see how Mill's looked.

Well, it has lost a lot of its eucalyptus trees*, but it has never looked better.

Julia Morgan's Masterpiece - The 1904 El Campenil 
(The First Reinforced Concrete Structure West of the Mississippi
Still Chimes Faithfully)

It still echoes with the bells from El Campenil. Its main entry Richards Road is still tree lined. Mill's Hall, its magnificent Victorian, has been carefully seismically stabilized, and it offers some wonderful new buildings like the Lokey Graduate School of Business.

Richards Road

Mill's Hall From the Oval

Our walk included a stop at the bright little Tea Room for some wonderful coffee and a great turkey and ricotta sandwich. We also ventured back to the Aron Arts Center. This was the area that borders the MacArthur Freeway which was just being built when I was a kid. Back then they weren't sure how the freeway would impact the campus and this area was in disrepair. Today it is lovely.

The Aron Arts Center

The Art Museum

Building Detail

Lobby of Littlefield Hall

The New Uber Green Lokey Building

Mill's is still a special place for a very lucky few.

It is an Oakland treasure. 

It is a California treasure. 

Roadboy's Travels © 2010

*I know they burn like SOB's, are dirty, are not native, and have shallow roots - but I still miss these big old Australian transplants.