Tim Steller: To the barricades! Save cinder-block dream

Razing Palm Shadows to build a sustainable tower is just … wrong
2013-07-12T00:00:00Z 2013-07-12T00:06:10Z Tim Steller: To the barricades! Save cinder-block dreamTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The University of Arizona and developers want to kill the dream. How else would you explain the UA's plan to tear down a piece of history on the northwest corner of Speedway and Campbell - the Palm Shadows Apartments?

The online motto of the Palm Shadows - known by residents through the years as Palm Shady and Palm Ghettos - is "Live the Dream."

How many generations of UA students have lived their dreams in the shadows of those very palms, only to have the UA monster seek to destroy them now? What's next? Will the UA also try to flatten the culturally significant Boston Market and Taco Bell on the adjacent corners?

Let me step back for a minute. It seems that Shenkarow Realty Advisors and the University of Arizona have dreamed up a development plan for the northwest corner of East Speedway and North Campbell Avenue. That, of course, is one of Tucson's premier intersections - and three of its four corners boast signature Old Pueblo architecture: ramshackle apartments and fast-food restaurants.

It's the northwest corner where Palm Shadow Apartments, as well as the Babcock Apartments, have gracefully hosted university students for decades. Both buildings went up in the 1960s, representing the era's classic cinder-block design.

It's bad enough that we've lost the sleepy Sheraton Four Points, replaced by the annoyingly bustling Aloft Hotel. Now Shenkarow and the UA propose knocking down the apartments on the opposite corner and replacing them with a gleaming tower that would have a Whole Foods store at the bottom, commercial and residential space above, along with a bunch of fancy sustainable-development details.

They don't seem to appreciate the Old Pueblo's history.

Don Abbott does. His most vivid memory of living in the Palm Shadows while attending the UA in the early 1990s was the morning he went outside and saw a bicycle and an oven at the bottom of the pool.

Abbott, who now owns a local video production and animation firm, had a broken door at Palm Shadows. The company replaced the door but didn't paint it, he said. Abbott, a fine-arts student, used his charcoal to scrawl "Please paint me" on the door. Management never did, but from then on visitors used the door as a graffiti canvas.

See? Palm Shadows appreciated art!

My colleague Dylan McKinley, who lived in Palm Shadows during the 1999-2000 school year, recalls residents climbing onto the roof and taking running jumps into the pool two stories below. Such fond memories.

This planned destruction of Tucson history outrages me so much I contacted Bob Vint, a local architect who has worked to protect local landmarks.

It happens that Vint lived in the Palm Shadows back in 1978, so he knows the place intimately. But he surprised me with his perspective.

"That was a horrible place to live. Cinder block, uninsulated with single-thickness aluminum frame windows," he said. "Everybody put tinfoil on the windows to beat back the sunlight."

For some reason, Vint only lived there for one semester before moving out. Still, Palm Shadows changed his life.

"After that semester I decided to transfer to the architecture school because I thought there's got to be a better way to build than this," he told me.

Surprisingly, Vint declined an invitation to join my Save Palm Shadows effort.

"That was not a good era of architecture," he said. "I think it has zero historic significance."

So that makes one of us. But I hope someone out there will make it two - heck, maybe even three or four. Come join me between the bulldozers and the sunset-colored cinder blocks.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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