Rosson House

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Description

Built during a Phoenix housing boom in the 1880s, the Rosson House stands on land that was first purchased for one thousand dollars by Flora Rosson, wife of Dr. Roland Lee Rosson, a medical practitioner. Construction was completed in 1895. Governor Hunt came to refer to the home as “the half way point” between his house and the capitol. After changing owners and styles several times, the Rosson House was purchased through community donations by the City of Phoenix in 1974 with the goal of restoring it to its original grandeur. Today, the Rosson House stands as one of the eight historical homes that comprise Heritage Square in Phoenix.

Transcript

Narrator:
In the very heart of a city that has seen a population growth of nearly a million people in the past 100 years, there remains one lasting trace of a time long past. Though the restored Victorian Rosson house is an elegant reminder of those times today, she did not always stand so proudly. The year was 1894, and the young city of Phoenix was experiencing its first building boom ever. Horses and carriages tread on unpaved roads, and Washington, not Central, was the main drag. Dr. Roland Lee Rosson and his family were prominent members in the community. Dr. Rosson had established a medical practice and was active in politics. His wife, Flora, came from an affluent family.

Flora Rosen's half sister owned this land first. She bought it after – shortly after this city was first surveyed. It was at the edge of the town site of Phoenix. Flora purchased the land in 1882 for $1,000.

Vickie Beaver:
At the time, newspaper articles were describing this as one of the finer areas in town.

Narrator:
The house was completed in 1895. The Rossons only lived there a short time before renting the house to an influential New York newspaper man named Whitelaw Reed.

Vickie Beaver:
Whitelaw Reed's letters have been saved, and they tell us more information about the house than, really, we've gotten from any other early sources.

Narrator:
In 1897, the Rossons sold the house to Phoenix merchant and legislator Aaron Goldberg. The Goldbergs owned the house for about five years before selling it to Stephen W. Higley. Higley had at one point been publisher and part owner of the early Arizona Republican. He also had some land south of Phoenix, and eventually, the town of Higley was named after him. S.W. Higley then sold the house to the Gamul family, who lived in the house for nearly 35 years.

Georgia Valeer:
We moved here in 1914. I was 5 years old, and I lived here until 1948.

Narrator:
Georgia Valeer is now 85 years old. She was the youngest of the three Gamul daughters. The family kept the downstairs rooms to themselves and rented the upstairs rooms as apartments.

Georgia Valeer:
My sisters and I, we had a -- had a lot of fun here, and we had a lot of friends. Governor Hunt, he would stop here, as he said this was the halfway place between the capital and his home out there on McDowell. And he would stop and sit out there on the porch and -- rocking back and forth fanning himself, and mama would give him lemonade and lemon cookies.

Narrator:
It is no surprise that the house appealed to such prominent early Phoenix residents with its steeply angled roofs, long chimneys, and delicately ornamented gables.

The corners of these gables made excellent nesting areas for pigeons, and one time, the sisters decided they had to have a pigeon of their own.

Georgia Valeer:
We got Tootsie to crawl out this little window upstairs in the attic up there. She crawled out and walked on that 2x4 and got a little baby squab. Well, when my mother discovered what we did, oh, she said, "She could have fell!"

Narrator:
Other changes included enclosing the upstairs patio and painting the house white. After the Valeers sold the house, it exchanged hands several times, and for about 25 years, it served as a rooming house.

Georgia Valeer:
Oh, I used to feel so bad when I'd pass here and notice how the old house was just deteriorating. It just looked terrible. It just made me so sad that I hated to pass by here.

Narrator:
Nineteen people lived in the house when the city of Phoenix bought it in 1974.

A restoration committee headed by former mayor John Driggs was appointed in 1975, and the project was underway. It was funded solely through community support.

John Driggs:
We asked a lot of companies to contribute cash. A lot of them stepped right up and contributed services. Suppliers contributed materials, and it was a true community effort. We had whole teams of architects out here volunteering their time on Saturdays, measuring the entire house in great detail to do a set of drawings that the house literally could have been built from scratch.

Narrator:
The first thing that had to be done was to tear down all of the additional rooms that had been built onto the house. Based almost completely on early photographs, reconstruction of the house began. The iron cresting along the ridge of the roof was recast in New Orleans. The curved corbels were duplicated and replaced, and 2,000 shingles were added to the roof.

John Driggs:
Now, that is the original tower, and those shingles, those oak-leaf shingles, are the original ones that were installed in 1895. Now, the weather vane there is exactly the same, and it's been standing there for 100 years.

Narrator:
As crews were progressing on the exterior of the house, workers on the inside were also making exciting discoveries.

Vickie Beaver:
During the restoration, the workmen felt like they were detectives trying to determine what had been here before. Started with the floors. They were covered in later years with tar paper and linoleum. When they took up each layer, they found parquet borders in all of the various rooms downstairs, and they've been protected over the years as the house was deteriorating. The wallpaper required a lot of work during the restoration. The workmen had to go through each layer, take it off piece by piece, and all of the rooms had different papers, too. Then when they got to the bottom layer of paper, they took as large a sample as they could off the wall, sent it back east to be authenticated. Once it was authenticated, then it was reproduced.

Narrator:
Ironically, the house that took the Rossons six months to build took almost six years to restore, and though the house originally cost only $7,500 to build, restoration costs totaled $750,000. Today, the Rosson House is one of the eight historical homes that grace Heritage Square downtown.

John Driggs:
When you walk in the front door of the Rosson House, it's like a step back in time. It's our roots, and as you go through the house, you'll see so much, and each time you come back, you'll see more. There's so much to our past. History is so important.