Luhrs Family

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Description

Today, Phoenix is officially America's sixth largest city with a population of more than one-and-a-half million people. When the city was incorporated in 1881 only 3,100 people called Phoenix home. During that amazing growth, the Luhrs family built the city's first skyscraper buildings, which became architectural milestones for Arizona. Now reminders of the past, the Luhrs Building and Luhrs Tower once stood as beacons of the future.

Transcript

Narrator:
Phoenix, Arizona, is now one of America's largest cities. It rose not from the ashes, but from the hard work and determination of pioneer families such as the Luhrs.

They built Arizona's first skyscrapers, the Luhrs Building and Luhrs Tower. Today these buildings are little-noticed sentinels of the past. They once stood as beacons of the future.

Robert Spindler:
The Luhrs Tower and the Luhrs Building served as icons that represented to many Phoenicians the transition from Phoenix as a small town to Phoenix to a metropolitan center and a great city of America.

Narrator:
In 1867, George Henry Nicholas Luhrs was about to be drafted into the Prussian Army. Instead, he decided to leave his native Germany and take his chances in the United States. He spent two years building and repairing wagons in the California goldfields, then made his way to the Vulture Mine in Wickenburg, Arizona. Luhrs became a U.S. citizen, headed to Phoenix, and along with a partner started a wagon making business and stable on the corner of Central and Jefferson. While visiting his native Germany, Luhrs married the girl next door, Catharina Gretchen Dodenhof. She bid farewell to her family and Europe to make her home in the dusty, untamed, and isolated land that was then Arizona .

Alan Luhrs:
It was the end of the world. She had the first bathtub and the first curtains on her windows, and all of that. There wasn't anything here.

Narrator:
George Luhrs helped change that. In 1887, he and his partner built the 20-room commercial hotel, and over time, a reputation for fine lodging. Later, Luhrs closed the wagon shop, bought out his partner's interest in the hotel, and changed its name to Hotel Luhrs. It became the family home. The Luhrs' children, Ella, Emma, Arthur, and George, Jr., all grew up in the hotel. The boys were sent to Stanford University. The girls wanted to attend Tempe normal school, the precursor to A.S.U.

Jean Stroud Crane:
Grandfather felt, though, that women should be little ladies. Well, it was Edwardian times, you know, and -- and so they didn't get their education.

Narrator:
In the ten years since arriving in Phoenix, George Luhrs had become a community leader. He served on the Phoenix City Council, school board, board of trade, and became a mason. His opinion was sought after and his advice trusted.

However, he did make mistakes. When the territorial legislature was debating whether Phoenix should be the site of the state insane asylum or the University of Arizona, Luhrs campaigned for the asylum.

Jean Stroud Crane:
We think he was one of the ones that said, "Hey, bring that to Phoenix because that's going to earn Phoenix prestige and money and let Tucson have the University." Well, Tucson was brighter.

Narrator:
Luhrs' willingness to offer help to his fellow Arizonan often went beyond business.

Jean Stroud Crane:
He was a very generous and thoughtful man, and he would loan his friends and people who deserved it money, but would not charge them interest at the same time he was paying 3% a month interest on the money he was borrowing.

Narrator:
Despite being in debt, Luhrs borrowed money and built the ten-story Luhrs

Building in 1924. It soon filled with law firms, insurance companies, and other businesses. A year later, George Luhrs suffered a stroke, leaving him unable to manage the day-to-day business. The Luhrs children stepped in. Son Arthur, a geologist, quit the profession to run the Luhrs Hotel along with his sister, Ella. George, Jr., left a promising law career to manage the Luhrs Building. In March 1929, the Luhrs broke ground on what would be Arizona's tallest skyscraper, the 15-story Luhrs Tower. George Luhrs, Senior, would never see it. He died two months later.

Robert Spindler:
George, Jr., absorbed all of the responsibilities of his father in 1925. He was about 30 years old at that point. And it was an important transition. Four years later you had the depression, which was a significant threat to the survival of the Luhrs property and the Luhrs businesses.

Jean Stroud Crane:
There were times when people would -- insist that he would take worthless stock, and he did it because he needed to keep the buildings filled, and besides, he knew they were having a hard time too.

Alan Luhrs:
There wasn't any business and they couldn't pay, and it wasn't because we were floating in money and told them to wait. There wasn't anything else we could do.

Narrator:
Without any money to pay their loans, George, Jr., begged their lender to extend the loans instead of foreclosing. It was the first time the lender agreed to postpone payment on any major loan. The Luhrs businesses survived the depression, but the experience made the pioneering family of downtown Phoenix cautious about future development projects. Whereas the Luhrs children had no choice but to work at the family hotel and properties, their children were discouraged from doing the same.

Jean Stroud Crane:
Uncle George did not train one of his -- either -- he had three nephews and one niece, and he did not train anyone to follow his footsteps, and I think that was a very great error.

Narrator:
By the mid-1970s, George Luhrs, Jr.'s, health was failing. Faced with competition from new buildings, the family sold the Luhrs Building, Tower, and Hotel in 1976. The nearly 100-year-old Hotel Luhrs was demolished several years later. Arizona's first skyscrapers, the Luhrs Building and Luhrs Tower, remain part of the Phoenix skyline. They, along with a sonnet written by pioneer historian Sharlot Hall, remind us of a man and a family who helped usher Arizona into the 20 th Century.

Sharlot Hall Quote by Narrator:
"Do you remember, when the town was young, the kindly, honest, busy little man who every moment of his lifelong span helped build the place whence his success was wrung?"