Friday, February 22, 2013

Phoenix Update; The Devenney-Steadman House

Since last posting on this topic, the history of what we now know as the Devenney-Steadman House has come a bit more into focus.  The house was almost certainly built about 1880 (possibly as early as 1875), by the Devenney family.  It eventually came into the possession of Callie Devenney Steadman.  “California” Devenney, born in that state in August 1864, moved to Phoenix at the age of ten and lived there, probably in this house, for the rest of her life.  At some point she married,  Mr. (Robert?) Steadman, and then was divorced (by 1900), but stayed in the family home.  Callie appears to have enjoyed a long and full life in Phoenix, surrounded by relatives and one son, Douglas.  Callie also raised several nieces and nephews from infancy, two of whom, Mrs. Milo Furry and Mrs. Elva Furry, married into another prominent Phoenix family.  Elva and Robert Furry lived on West 2nd Street, next door to Callie, in another 19th century Phoenix house that is still standing.  Callie Steadman passed away at her home, aged 79 years, in November 1943.  Her obituary described her as “A real friend to all, she will be deeply missed by her many friends and neighbors.”

As it turns out, the Devenney-Steadman House was most recently occupied, as a rental, in October 2012.  The owners, who have owned the house for many years, apparently want to move back into it in their retirement.  They felt the house wasn’t in good condition and, with some confusion, the planning department and Phoenix Historical Society originally agreed with that assessment.  However, I think that there isn’t enough information on that, and know full well that little vernacular houses like the Devenney-Steadman House, are built for “stout.”  Such houses, built of high-quality old growth timbers, are usually pretty resilient  and I’ve seen nothing in the main volume that would indicate otherwise.

Earlier this month, the Phoenix Historical Society "recanted" on their approval (their president's term, but I like it....) The Phoenix City Council issued a “stay” of the demolition permit, with the hope of finding a solution and a meeting with the owners to discuss rehabilitation options will happen within a short time.  There are several good options, I think, that would allow them to get what they want and keep this important part of southern Oregon history standing for the future.  Keep your fingers crossed!

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Future of 100-Year Old housing in Phoenix, OR

As expected, the RLS survey of Phoenix is turning up some hidden gems from the 19th and early 20th century.  Some have been lovingly maintained or restored, while others have been, um, converted or improved to meet differing demand.

But that isn't what this blog is focused on today.  It's about the doubtful future of several 100-year old Phoenix buildings that need a hero.  One, known as the Rose House, shown above, is a fine turn-of-the-century volume that is vacant, boarded up, for sale, and assumed to have a questionable, if not immediately threatened, future.  And then there is the Steadman House, as I am told it’s called.  At this point I don’t much know all that much about it, other than it surely looks to be a late-19th century vernacular farmhouse that has been ignored for a bit longer than it should have been.  My understanding is that there is a pending demolition request…whether that is from the owner, or the building official, I do not know.

Most people look at little old buildings like this and see nothing but work and dollar signs.  Demolition is the proverbial “clean slate” that allows people who are daunted by the challenges rehabilitation and restoration might bring a chance to convert a problem.  Or so they tend to believe.  And let's face it, it's often pretty easy to demolish a house and "start over." Permits are cheap, and demolition removes all the potential unknowns.  Anybody can build on a vacant lot.  But not everyone does and in Phoenix it is hard not to recall an owner's decision to demolish what was left of the NR-Listed Samuel & Huldah Colver House after it burned.  That lot, a big huge gap right on Main Street, has been vacant for what is now pushing a decade.
The other, better, way to look at a house like this is as an opportunity.  Whatever you think about 19th century vernacular farmhouses, we can all agree that they are not building any more of them.  Not all of them can be saved, of course, but most can.  Tearing the "Steadman"  house down will destroy forever one more bit of Phoenix and Oregon’s history.  Restored it could be a gem, and the good thing about these little vernacular structures is that in general they are so simple and straightforward that they are pretty easy, and inexpensive, to restore to glory.  That is if anyone wanted too. And the good news is that there are lots of qualified contractors and others willing and able to help, if they are asked.

The Phoenix City Council is apparently reviewing the demolition request in the near future.  I don't really know enough about this to have an opinion, but I hope somebody in Phoenix gives the little house a shot to survive.  It already has for quite some time and could become a gem, just like several other fine old homes brought back from death's door by creative individuals.  I'll write about Phoenix's successes in the near future too, just to be even-handed.