O'Connor's former home to be moved to Tempe - East Valley Tribune: News

O'Connor's former home to be moved to Tempe

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Posted: Saturday, April 26, 2008 12:54 am | Updated: 10:31 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Sandra Day O'Connor's Paradise Valley home was once the place where seemingly unsolvable disputes were mediated while O'Connor, then a state lawmaker, cooked for the warring sides, calmed them down and got them talking.

Legend has it that state laws were written after such meetings in her simple adobe home, but it had since been destined for demolition by a builder who planned to replace the 50-year-old house with a mansion.

But philanthropists and activists have stepped in to save the home and move it to Tempe for preservation in honor of the nation's first female Supreme Court justice. By this time next year, it should open in Tempe as the O'Connor House and Center for Civic Discourse and host various events that aim to resolve tough problems.

Those close to the former justice said the home will be allowed to resume the problem-solving function it once served until O'Connor sold it in 1981 to move to Washington, D.C.

"All of the barriers would break down and they would sit down and reach consensus," said Elva Coor, who has known O'Connor for decades. "She was very good at reaching compromise and reaching consensus on contentious issues."

Coor is the wife of former Arizona State University President Lattie Coor, and like O'Connor, she grew up on a cattle ranch.

O'Connor chose adobe because that's the kind of home in which she was raised at the Lazy B Ranch in southeastern Arizona. The 1,700-square-foot structure's roof will be transported in several sections while each adobe block is removed, numbered and then replaced at the Tempe site.

The effort started with two Arizonans active with the Smithsonian Institution - Barbara Barrett and Gay Wray. They heard of the pending demolition and started a foundation to save the house.

Word also got out to Janie Ellis, whose family owns the Cattletrack arts colony in Scottsdale. She had successfully moved two adobe homes built by her father, George Ellis, and she also knew Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, who heard of the pending demolition at about the same time. Both say each literally called the other at the same time to elicit help in the preservation effort.

Tempe will place the house on the east side of Papago Park, in a desert setting near the Arizona Historical Society Museum. It's also close to the Eisendrath House, an adobe home dating back to 1930 that Tempe owns and has just secured funding to restore.

Several features in the park area will encourage responsible environmental practices in the desert. The Eisendrath House will house environmental experts and events to promote water conservation and will join the O'Connor House as part of the Carl Hayden Campus for Sustainability.

"This is a unique opportunity, and it fits so closely with the campus for sustainability," Hallman said.

It will take $2.5 million to move the home and bring it up to city code. So far, the foundation has raised $735,000 toward that, but those involved said they're on track to generate the remainder.

The O'Connors helped build the home, smoothing the adobe mud and spraying it with skim milk to seal the exterior walls. Ellis is working to move the original home, but not the additions O'Connor and her husband built when they needed more space to raise three sons.

The home has some connection to both Tempe and Janie Ellis. The mud for the adobe bricks came from the Salt River in Tempe. By pure coincidence, George Ellis made the bricks, though his daughter didn't know that until after she got involved with saving the home.

The O'Connor home's architecture was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.

"It's very contemporary and yet it's very Western," Janie Ellis said. "It's just a jewel."

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