JOHN F. LONG-SUB/URBAN DREAMS

Acclaimed as Arizona’s largest homebuilder, John F. Long is best known for bringing modern, affordable single-family suburban homes to valley residents. Maryvale, his iconic post World War II development was the first—and not the last—completely master-planned community in Arizona. Virtually built by hyperbole, Maryvale offered the best, largest, and most modern amenities for the suburban family. The 30,000-plus homes bearing his name tell the familiar suburban story, only 21 tell the alter-tale. John F. Long is credited with yet another, lesser-known, superlative: building the first urban in-fill development in Phoenix.

Between 1945-1960, “Maryvale’s” mushroomed across the country, luring central city residents out of old “streetcar” suburbs into newly fashioned, cul-de-sac-laden, “sitcom” suburbs (i). White flight, redlining, urban disinvestment, population growth, and the federal subsidization of newly constructed homes in the periphery created a new geography: the City’s first suburbs urbanized.

“The Coronado” is one such sub-to-urban neighborhood. Built between 1907-1942, this working-class streetcar build-out transitioned to a central city urban neighborhood in less than 30 years. In 1975, when Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) chose Coronado for their pilot urban revitalization program the neighborhood was in rapid decline. Deteriorating housing stock, abandonment, blight, and a declining population of homeowners rendered the community highly unstable. By 1978, NHS had achieved two major accomplishments through strategic partnerships between residents, financial lenders, and the City of Phoenix: the creation of a high-risk revolving rehab loan fund and the City’s first in-fill development.

John F. Long, Western Savings & Loan, and NHS partnered to erect 21 new homes on vacant lots in the NHS target area bounded by McDowell Road, 7th Street, Thomas Road, and 16th Street. As if to prepare the fledgling neighborhood for the uphill fight they would endure the next 30 years, John F. Long built only two models in the Coronado: The Challenger and The Champion. Built from the identical design, materials, and streamlined construction methods as John F. Long’s sprawling master-planned developments, these urban models came with different amenities: a City pool, an old public park, urban hospitals and schools, a gay-friendly church, an Indian church, a strip club, a funeral home, liquor stores and much more. Valued at $27,000 (ii) at the time they were built, The Challenger & Champion models in Coronado were worth $10,000 (iii) less than their suburban counterparts.

Undoubtedly a critical investment in the Coronado neighborhood at a crucial moment, the in-fill development likely contributed to increased property values, a rise in home-ownership, improved resident morale, and future financial investment. Yet, the significance of these new additions became less visible, and therefore less memorable, with time. By 1985, when the neighborhood was making the case for their “historic” significance, the attributes that were initially praised on John F. Long homes—modern construction and the contemporary suburban aesthetic—became detractors. “New” was out, “old” was in. The historic survey inventory forms conducted of all structures in the neighborhood during this time make no mention of the builder, financer, or “historic” significance of these homes.

Today, few of the 21 homes maintain their original 1970s suburban flair; some appear neglected, while others have “gone under the knife”, in a futile attempt to retain the youthful features of the latest suburban models. Unlike the neighboring brick Bungalows, who sit comfortably in their sub-urban liminal state—their past and future already re-imagined—these 21 John. F Long homes are tethered to the fate of places like Maryvale. Presently undergoing the painful stage of suburban succession that the in-fill project helped Coronado challenge—and champion over, Maryvale is in decline. The “world’s greatest home show on Earth” is over. The first master-planned suburban community is in need of urban revitalization.

i Hayden, Dolores. 2004. Field Guide to Urban Sprawl.
ii City of Phoenix. 1979. Building Permits.
iii Long, John F. 1979. “John F. Long….He’s the One!”. Printed brochure.

 

Jen Kitson

About Jen Kitson

Jennifer Kitson is a cultural geographer concerned with the becoming of place through practices of remembering and forgetting. She received a BA in Geography from San Francisco State University, an MA in Geography from California State University, Los Angeles, and is currently a PhD candidate in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban planning. As a California transplant, she is both familiar with and continuously astounded by the unfolding urban landscape in Phoenix. Her current research explores the ambivalence of nostalgic practice and performance in residential historic districts. She expects to graduate in May 2012.

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