Historic preservationists are mounting a last-ditch effort to try to save the former Valley National Bank building at Rural Road and Apache Boulevard in Tempe, which Arizona State University wants to remove to make room for a new academic complex.
The Arizona Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit organization, is asking other preservation groups and area residents to urge the Arizona Board of Regents to preserve the building, which features a distinctive geodesic dome.
“These are the types of buildings we should preserve because no one will build things like them again,” said Vince Murray, president of the foundation.
To mollify preservationists, ASU officials are considering saving the dome — the most distinctive feature of the building — and placing it somewhere else on the Tempe campus. However, they have not determined where they would put it or what use it would serve.
For Murray and other preservationists, that’s not sufficient. They want the full building restored at its present location.
“That (the plan to move the dome) isn’t preservation. That’s salvage,” Murray said.
ASU plans to use the Apache-Rural corner to construct buildings for the Barrett Honors College, and the former bank building isn’t a match for that program, said university spokeswoman Leah Hardesty.
However, she said, “we plan to disassemble the dome and locate it somewhere on campus. The dean of the College of Design is working on a plan on how to best incorporate the dome into the campus.”
Details of the plan have not been finalized, but she said the university has been working with preservationists to try to address their concerns.
Hardesty said the removal of the dome will begin in mid-January, and construction of the honors college could begin this year with occupancy in 2009 if the project gets final approval from the Board of Regents.
The honors college, which was founded in 1988, is for top undergraduate students of various majors, who have their own dorms and classes and must complete a thesis for graduation. The college was endowed by Intel chairman Craig Barrett and his wife, Barbara, in 2000.
Currently the college uses existing facilities on campus, but it is rapidly expanding and needs more space, Hardesty said.
Murray maintains that ASU hasn’t done enough to try to incorporate the historic building into the honors college expansion. He points to the Orpheum Theater in downtown Phoenix, which was restored as part of a new city building, as an example of how an historic building can be included in a new building complex.
Other preservation organizations have joined the protests.
“The footprint of the (former bank) building is fairly small, and it sits close to the intersection, so they’re not giving up that much space,” said Bob Gasser, chairman of the Tempe Historic Preservation Commission. “They say they can’t find another use, but they’re not trying.”
The Arizona State Historic Preservation Office also has asked ASU to preserve the building, but the office lacks enforcement powers to require other state agencies to follow its recommendations, said Bob Frankeberger, architect for the office.
“The state historic preservation law says they are supposed to preserve it, but our office is only advisory,” he said. Also the city does not have jurisdiction over the university.
Murray said the preservation groups might as a last resort seek a court injunction to block the dismantling of the building, but he added that action is unlikely because of the expense.
“At least we can make people aware of what’s going on,” he said.
The building was constructed in 1962 as part of a program by Valley Bank CEO Walter Bimson to create architecturally distinctive branches. It was the first Tempe branch for Valley Bank, which later became Bank One and Chase Bank.
ASU acquired the building in 1989 and has used it as a visitor center. The visitor center was closed several weeks ago.
Tempe resident Esther Gardner, whose husband, James, was manager of the branch when it opened, said it is “very sad” that the building is about to be dismantled because she believes Tempe will be losing “a beautiful landmark.” She said the plan to move the dome to a new location is “nice, but it would be better to leave it where it is.”