Arizona State University is demolishing a former bank building at Rural Road and Apache Boulevard, to the dismay of historic preservationists who had urged the university to preserve the structure because of its unusual architecture.
ASU officials said they will preserve the geodesic-dome roof of the building, its most interesting architectural feature, and reuse it for another purpose. However, details of how the dome will be reused have not been determined.
“We are still considering our options,” ASU spokeswoman Leah Hardesty said. “We expect to have a few proposals, but we’re not sure of the timing.”
The building, which was built in 1962 as a branch of the Valley National Bank, was acquired by the university in 1989 and was used as a visitor center. The visitor center closed late last year as the university laid plans to develop the Barrett Honors College on the site.
Preservationists hoped ASU would incorporate the building into the honors college complex, but university officials said it didn’t fit with their plans for the prominent location.
Vince Murray, president of the Arizona Preservation Foundation, who led the efforts to preserve the building, called the demolition a great loss.
“It’s not just the loss of the building. It sets a precedent that a state agency (ASU) doesn’t have to comply with the state law regarding historic preservation,” he said.
According to the Arizona Historic Preservation Law, state agencies are supposed to consider ways of reusing historic buildings they acquire and to work with the State Historic Preservation Office in developing reuse plans.
Preservation office officials asked that ASU save the building, but they lack the power to require the university to follow their recommendations. Instead the Arizona Board of Regents decided to preserve just the dome.
That compromise didn’t satisfy many preservationists.
“That is salvage, not preservation,” Murray said.
Hardesty said the decision to preserve the dome complies the goals of the preservation law while also meeting the needs of the honors college, which is scheduled to be completed in 2009.
“The dome is the most unique piece of the building, and we know it is important to people,” she said, adding that the university will work closely with the state and the Tempe historic preservation commissions in planning a new use for the metal structure.
The 90-foot-wide faceted dome was lifted in one piece off of the building during the past weekend and placed in the parking lot next to the building, she said. It will be disassembled in sections and put into storage pending the development of a reuse plan, she said.
The rest of the building is being demolished to clear the site.
Murray said preservationists will try to convince the Arizona Legislature to strengthen state law and give the preservation office more enforcement authority.
Also, he said, his group will keep a closer watch on ASU in the future, particularly as the university develops its downtown Phoenix campus, where historic or unusual buildings could lie in the path of progress.
“ASU has set a precedent here,” Murray said. “I think it (strengthening the state law) will be necessary if we want to prevent this from happening again in the future.”