Tempe’s historic Eisendrath House is celebrated for its adobe construction.
But that treasured feature also threatens the home’s existence unless volunteers can raise some quick cash and reverse the aging process.
The city-owned structure is essentially melting — deteriorating in a process called adobe melt. The origin of the term is obvious to anybody who has seen walls that resemble a snow fort melting in the spring.
Unless workers stop the melt soon, the house will crumble beyond repair.
“It’s really deteriorated dramatically,” said Vic Linoff, a member of the Tempe Historic Preservation Foundation.
The work could cost $2 million. The city and community organizations expect to make their first significant financial progress this year during various events, including a May 6 fundraiser. Organizers hope to raise $20,000, but Mayor Hugh Hallman said he’ll announce a more substantial funding source at that event.
The home’s melting is obvious from the outside. Deep cracks in the stucco expose areas where walls that were once a foot thick are nearly gone. Some of the rose-tinted stucco is covered with modern, gray patches.
The patches were done with the best of intentions, likely by an artist who rented the house in the 1980s and 1990s. But the patches have done more harm than good, said Darlene Justus, president of the foundation.
The original stucco breathed and kept walls from getting too moist, but the modern stucco mix trapped moisture.
The city’s first priority is to fix the cracks and redo the roof to ensure rain doesn’t get inside. Also, the city needs to shore up the second floor because the adobe construction doesn’t tie it to the walls securely enough, said Joe Nucci, Tempe’s historic preservation officer.
That will cost about $600,000. After that, the city would make nonstructural repairs and prepare the house for some other use. Officials have mentioned a museum, community meeting place or city offices, but no decision has been made.
The Eisendrath House is an important reminder of another era.
Because of the Great Depression, few grand homes were built in the United States for years after the Eisendrath House went up.
“This is like the last gesture of the Roaring ’20s, if you will,” Nucci said.
It was a winter retreat for Rose Eisendrath, a wealthy Chicago resident who bought 40 hilly acres on the edge of what is today Papago Park. Pictures from the 1930s show that anybody looking out of the house would see only desert from Tempe to the Superstition Mountains.
The home was one of the most luxurious in the Valley, and Eisendrath often entertained other wealthy friends there. But after her death in 1936, the home changed owners and eventually was rented to artists. When the city bought it in 2001, officials found an extensive hydroponic system that they believe supported a marijuanagrowing operation.
But Nucci said it’s possible to restore the home’s grandeur. Much of the inside has original ceramic tile and fixtures, and visitors will eventually enjoy incredible views after boards are taken off the windows.
It’s unclear how long it will take to raise money to restore the home but Justus said she’s encouraged about recent interest in the project. The house has been a major focus of her foundation. It also will benefit from Tempe Leadership, whose annual class organized the May 6 fundraiser. And a garden club will improve some of the property’s nine acres.
“People are really stepping up,” Justus said.
Built: 1930, by Robert Evans, architect of the Jokake Inn and Old Adobe Mission in Scottsdale.
History: Built for Rose Eisendrath, widow of a wealthy Chicago glove maker who wanted a winter home.
Current state: A once-leaky roof has caused walls and ceilings to crumble. The house will be beyond repair soon without $600,000 worth of work.
Future: Tempe is trying to raise $2 million to restore the home. Officials may make it a museum, meeting facility or office space.
Important features: One of Arizona’s best examples of the Pueblo Revival style. A rare example of a two-story building of handmade adobe bricks.
Fundraiser: 6 p.m. May 6, Tempe Historical Museum, 809 E. Southern Ave. $75 per person. R.S.V.P. by Friday. Information: (480) 946-2168