Tucson Oddity: Spiral Building marked twist in '60s design

Coca-Cola bottler built adventure in Modern architecture
2012-12-31T00:00:00Z 2014-09-01T17:13:19Z Tucson Oddity: Spiral Building marked twist in '60s designTom Beal Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 31, 2012 12:00 am  • 

You may have glimpsed the intriguing facade of the Spiral Building peeking over the rows of self-storage units on North Romero Road.

The building, also known as the "Twist," was designed as a 200-seat auditorium for community use when businessman Gail Hummel moved his Coca-Cola Bottling franchise from downtown to the site of the former Gilpin Airport in 1963.

Hummel, whose brother Don was mayor of Tucson from 1955 to 1961, hired Tucson architect William Wilde to design his bottling plant. Wilde's design, which staggered block to create a faceted exterior, was an adventure in Modern architecture, said Tucson architect Chris Evans.

"The unique geometries and building textures were part of the expressive phase of Modern architecture, where designers were exploring a broader range of forms and pushing the limits of materials," Evans said.

Wilde is known as one of the fathers of Modern architecture in Tucson. His designs include the downtown headquarters of the Tucson Police Department and the former Station 1 of the Tucson Fire Department, now transformed into the Museum of Contemporary Art.

The Spiral Building was used for a short time as the logo for a line of flavored "Spiral" sodas. The brand never caught on, said George Kalil of Kalil Bottling.

Hummel sold his Coca-Cola franchise in 1967 to pursue a new business - beverage-carrying trailers that rolled cases of sodas by gravity along a slight incline, allowing deliverymen to unload full cases from one side and load cases of empties on the other.

That business never caught on either, Kalil said. It came along as delivery models changed and deposit bottles were disappearing.

The site sat vacant for years after bottling operations moved to Casa Grande. It was bought by Garold Brown in 1995 as the site for his first A-Family Discount Storage operations.

The family business now has 17 sites around town, said April Worden, Brown's daughter and CEO of the Garold C. Brown Family Limited Partnership.

Worden said she was excited when her father bought the site. She remembered taking tours of the bottling plant when she was a student at nearby Walter Douglas Elementary School.

The tours would begin with a movie in the auditorium, she said.

The Spiral Building became offices for the firm until expansion created the need for more space.

It was most recently rented for use as a church, but is vacant at the moment.

The building was nearly torn down, Worden said.

The city of Tucson started proceedings to acquire it by eminent domain as a site for a Sun Tran bus depot that was eventually located just east of the Tucson Mall.

In opposing that move, Brown wrote the city, warning that demolition of the building would "give a negative perception to the public."

"The 'Twist' building and the ambience it affords personifies Coca-Cola and a time in the American socio-economic evolution that may very well be the best and most peaceful time. . . . In my youth, Coca-Cola was as institutional, wholesome and all-American as apple pie and Mickey Mantle," Brown wrote.

Sandra Johnson, regional manager for the partnership, said she is seeking a tenant for the building and is hoping to attract one with an interest in midcentury Modern architecture.

"I just love that building," she said.

Worden said her father usually seeks out abandoned properties for reuse. The company has self-storage units at a former golf shop and driving range and at the former east-side emissions-testing station.

"He doesn't believe in tearing anything down," she said.

Find out more

If you're interested in renting the Spiral Building, or simply curious about it, you can attend an open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at 3929 N. Romero Road, or see it by appointment. Call 293-7191.

Got oddity?

Is there something you've noticed while driving through Tucson that has piqued your curiosity to the point you wish you could find out more about it? Drop us a line, and we'll look into it.

Call the Star newsroom at 573-4142 or e-mail oddity@azstarnet.com

Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet.com or 573-4158.

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