Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 6, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Motion Theatre Company

  |   Video
  • During the last week of July, Motion Theatre Company performed works of contemporary theater on the METRO light rail. Find out why these performers have spent the last two summers ambushing people with art.
Category: The Arts

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
The valley’s metro light rail does more than connect communities. It also unites people and they may board the train with different destinations but share the same journey. And it's often routine and sometimes full of surprises. That was the case in July when passengers were ambushed by art.

David Majure:
You're quietly riding the train, off in your own little world, and then it hits you. An explosion of sound. ¶¶ [Music] ¶¶

Mark Jacobson:
We're Motion Theatre Company. And we are dedicated to performing works of contemporary theater on the light rail. Our goal is to make it a much more accessible art form. My name is Mark Jacobson and this was kind of my idea and fortunately, I have a wonderful group of friend who's embraced my crazy scheme and helped make a silly idea a reality. ¶¶ [Music] ¶¶ We try to ambush people with art.

David Majure:
The element of surprise can be difficult to achieve for a man lugging a piano.

Stephen Schermitzler:
There's no secret behind that. I come on with a keyboard and try and look as inconspicuous as possible. I'll usually sit for a while with the keyboard stood up as if I'm traveling with it to some location and slowly hook up a pedal and turn it right side up and then people know the show is on. ¶¶ [Music] ¶¶ And it kind of comes out of nowhere and people are looking around, what's going on here? [Singing]
We try and keep it fresh and tight and short so we have four to five pieces and then get off the train and get back on another one. We don't do too much so not to overwhelm the people not liking it so much.

Katrina Montgomery:
I don't want to annoy people. Show tunes can be very annoying. I would be the first to admit that. It's -- it surprised me. It's been incredibly surprising to me how receptive people have been and how excited they get. [Applause]

Mark Jacobson:
Do you like what you're hearing. We're on youtube and facebook and twitter. It's Motion Theatre and if you don't, we appreciate your patience and tolerance and we only have a couple more for you.

Passenger:
We were sitting at the other end and we were like, what's going on. And -- ¶¶ [Music] ¶¶

Jesse Mapstead:
It's a blast. It's so much fun watching people's reactions when they're surprised or shocked or confused. It's a blast. We'll have people that try and take a video of what we do through their cellphone or if they have a camera, they'll try and do that. We have had people miss their stops several times for us.

David Majure:
Some things are hard to miss, like Katrina letting loose. ¶¶ [Music] ¶¶
Katrina Montgomery:
That -- that very widely gets reaction. [Applause] ¶¶ [Music] ¶¶

Emily Foree:
Musical theater and things when I was a young kid and through high school and haven't really done anything for a number of years and forgotten how much I really enjoyed it.

David Majure:
They sing, they dance, and they act. But most of the performers are not theater or music majors. Stephen has a degree in music composition. He's a recent ASU graduate who takes pride in making sure everyone hits all the right notes.

Stephen Schermitzler:
It can mean the difference between somebody wanting to know more about theater and somebody completely dismissing the entire genre of musical theater altogether. So the music process is incredibly important.

David Majure:
Quality is key. That's why the company rehearsed for about a month before taking the show on the road. Performing in the light rail has its challenges. There's noise and other distractions. Limited room or standing room only. And the stopping and starting is a true test of balance. But Motion Theatre Company hopes it has the perfect balance of songs and scenes to make a routine ride unforgettable. And if they happen to take you by surprise, you just might be surprised by where their songs will take you.

Emily Foree:
I think that art in the community and in the public for free is one of the greatest things that a city and community can have. And I think that this adds a different texture to that landscape of art in the community. [Singin]

Ted Simons:
Motion Theatre Company performers are back in school. They're from Arizona but attend universities in several states. No word if and when they'll be performing again.

Vanishing Phoenix

  |   Video
  • Robert Melikian, whose family owns and operates the historic Hotel San Carlos in downtown Phoenix, is the author of “Vanishing Phoenix”. Melikian talks about historic preservation and shares photos and stories from his book of buildings and landmarks that have disappeared.
Guests:
  • Robert Melikian - author, "Vanishing Phoenix"
Category: Culture

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Good evening, and welcome to this special edition of "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Tonight we take a look at art and history. We start in downtown Phoenix where a commercial development is a sign of progress to some, but to others, as David Majure reports, it's a reminder of a vanishing Phoenix.

David Majure:
In downtown Phoenix stands the hotel San Carlos. Built in 1927, Robert Melikian's family has owned and operated the historic hotel since 1973.

Robert Melikian:
It's an oasis of elegance.

David Majure:
The kind of place where movie stars might stay.

Robert Melikian:
There's where Mae West came in 1929. She chose this hotel because it would charge a dollar more than any other hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. It had a gold spigot in the bathroom and had an air-cooled system and steam heat and the radiators -- we use the same system today, some 80 years later.

David Majure:
Inside not much has changed. Outside is another story.

Robert Melikian:
It's a growth, growth attitude in Phoenix and that's a wonderful successful formula but it has drawbacks. You ignore the history, you demolish your personal identity and lose out on the soul of downtown. We had magnificent buildings. Phoenix had a lot of interesting buildings and for the most part, gone now.

David Majure:
Torn down and replaced. In fact, the hotel San Carlos is among the few remaining survivors.

Robert Melikian:
It's the last operating historical hotel downtown and one of a dozen total historic properties left in downtown Phoenix.

David Majure:
Hoping to preserve those properties, Melikian wrote a book, "Vanishing Phoenix."

Robert Melikian:
You can't effect past behavior-- I'm hoping the book will give people an interest to strengthen our historic preservation ordinance.

Ted Simons:
Here to join me is the book's author, Robert Melikian. Good to have you here.

Robert Melikian:
Thank you very much, Ted.

Ted Simons:
How much of Phoenix has already vanished and why?

Robert Melikian:
We have only 80 to 100 commercial buildings left and 20 in the core, so the last 25 years Ted, a good 50 commercial buildings have been knocked down.

Ted Simons:
Is it just the idea that people -- we're new, grow, go, go, go kind of thing?

Robert Melikian:
It's a bottom line oriented business community we have here that's not really -- they're from somewhere else. Strong individuals. Don't want government to tell them what to do. I can understand that. They have no sense of preserving the past here. I’ll show you some buildings here that are magnets for pedestrian activity and business, and history is good for business.

Ted Simons:
When we look at some of these buildings, I hope we can talk about the craftsmanship and detail on the older buildings. It’s just phenomenal. Was that something unique to Phoenix or was architecture similar around the country?

Robert Melikian:
No, people took pride in their buildings in the turn of the 19th century and made them with quality and labor was less expensive and they could afford to put fanciful features. That today with labor would be prohibitive to do it.

Ted Simons:
And today, it strikes me, you look at the old neighborhoods in Phoenix and Tempe and Mesa and older parts of town, there's an oasis feel. And not so much -- zeroscaping is a big thing. But in those days, you crossed a big desert to get here, we're going to give you green, soothing atmosphere, correct?

Robert Melikian:
It's a common feeling being in an historic building. It's green, it's sustainable. It's the in thing do. The most green thing to do is keep a historic building standing.

Ted Simons:
Lets take a look at some of these historic buyildings, the first is the Clark Church Hill house and -- where was this?

Robert Melikian:
When I was researching my first book, I found an old box of photographs and it had this, and I said this can't be Phoenix. This magnificent Victorian building. So I did some research, fifth avenue on the North side of Van Buren Clark church, the attorney general for the territory built this magnificent building and he couldn't afford to finish the building. There's no windows, there's a man on the roof, on the tower, another man sitting on the roof and it was never finished and in the true nature of historic buildings, given a chance, they can adapt to other uses and he sold the house and six city blocks for $15,000 to the city for the start of Phoenix union high school and served the children of Phoenix for over 50 years until it was torn down in 1949.

Ted Simons:
Interesting, that is a gorgeous building. We showed what's there at that intersection right now and that looks to be Phoenix union high school, the biomedical campus, whatever you want to call it these days, but that's what it was, huh?

Robert Melikian:
Thanks to Clark Church Hill and the panic that forced him to sell.

Ted Simons:
The next building is the Anderson building. It's beautiful, but not quite as intricate as we just saw. But where was this?

Robert Melikian:
First street and Washington, northwest corner and you can see the craftsmanship in the pointed windows. It's a cathedral like, medieval building with the two towers that -- a lot of craftsmanship took place and it was a draw for people. You can see the different eras of transportation there. The horse and buggy, the bicycles and electrified trolley and two years after this was taken in 1900, automobiles to Phoenix.

Ted Simons:
Why was it torn down?

Robert Melikian:
It lasted to about the 1980s. It was a shame. It had lost its fanciful features. It was boxed in but it sat there. It was an office building. Office supply, the berry hill building it became. It was a furniture company, but this one lasted to the 1980s and was torn down.

Ted Simons:
It's still a busy coroner central Phoenix but doesn't look the same, does it?

Robert Melikian:
Doesn't have the pedestrian activity quite that it had in the old days.

Ted Simons:
Not quite. The next building is the cotton building, it looks more familiar in that we've seen other territorial buildings looking like this.

Robert Melikian:
The Queen Anne Cotton building was on the southeast corner of Washington and central and this was the national bank of Arizona. Banks accumulated money quickly because of the commercial scale of agriculture that developed once the railroad came and they were able to sell it. And John Y.T. Smith became a director. He was the supply master for fort McDowell and became the bank direct and discovered wild hay and when they dug the canals, that's how we got the name of Phoenix.

Ted Simons:
Indeed. This is what we have here now. Not as exotic as what we were looking at before. Why was it torn down?

Robert Melikian:
The national bank themselves thought it was old and they tore it down, within 15, 20 years of this photograph and built a larger national bank. The bank grew to quickly they wanted to maximize the lot there.

Ted Simons:
Let's keep it moving. We've got the Fleming building. Looks substantial. Maybe not as ornate as the others.

Robert Melikian:
It had a magnificent, very solid, Fleming building. James Fleming was a local businessman. He added a third and fourth floor and the first elevator in the entire territory was put in this building lasted until the 1980’s and this one could have made a charming distinctive development out of it.

Ted Simons:
They decided to tear it down. Why?

Robert Melikian:
Because the owner assembled the block and had plans for a huge high rise and I understand that, and I don't want the owners to subsidize history. I want the transferable development rights where they've given a incentive to keep it standing and not lose the ability to build a certain amount of space, but transfer it to another parcel or something.

Ted Simons:
This next building, I think I remember from the 1980s. The Patton opera house. This looks very familiar, where was the Patton Opera house?

Robert Melikian:
Fourth avenue and Washington was the shrine of Phoenix culture. It was a 1,200-seat theater for vaudeville and community dances and this important building had the -- a meeting took place where the landowners got together and decided to solve the unstable water supply and became Salt River project and the Roosevelt dam was decided on in this building and this lasted also into the 1980s until the city acquired it and knocked it down for the city -- the present city hall.

Ted Simons:
Yeah, because I knew I remembered -- it didn't look -- well, I don't know if it looked that great there. But -- let's keep it moving. This is what we're seeing in that location now. The present city hall. The fox west coast theater and this looks like what you see in other cities. They're still standing when they have these big beautiful theaters. The fox isn't still standing?

Robert Melikian:
No, unfortunately, S. Charles lee was the architect on this and his inferior one in Los Angeles is considered the best theater building in Los Angeles but designed a more elaborate one for Phoenix. Seating 1,800 people. And great memories of Saturday morning cartoons and double features and on first and second street, Washington and Jefferson, took the whole block and one of the jewels of Phoenix history.

Ted Simons:
Very ornate inside. We have photos of the lobby. Look at that staircase. That's fantastic.

Robert Melikian:
This is the grand staircase, you can see the streetlight, the metal rods were 15 feet high topped with silver globes and gold and silver leafed throughout the building and huge interiors. The promenade outside of the theater, a huge area for people to mingle and interact.

Ted Simons:
That's great.

Robert Melikian:
Look at the ceiling there.

Ted Simons:
Yeah.

Robert Melikian:
They don't make them like that anymore.

Ted Simons:
No, they don't. We have a couple of homes and these are -- these were actual residences and they look familiar and they should because they're related to something that still stands. The Dennis and Jacobs' homes.

Robert Melikian:
On east Monroe. From seventh to central street. The only one we have left is the Rosson house. These great buildings, the one on the right, lasted to the 1950s, and the Jacobs to the 1960s and it's a valuable asset. Buildings like these could have been saved and future generations could have learned what was important to people back then. The size of the rooms, the layouts.

Ted Simons:
Let's go to one last picture of the central school building and this is where the hotel San Carlos stands right now. This looks like something on seventh street. Was it all the same architecture?

Robert Melikian:
Old Adobe and they dug the well which still exists in the basement of the San Carlos, by the way. Dwight herd acquired the lot and the building -- they, the kids were living in the suburbs. And so this building was knocked down.

Ted Simons:
We're looking at these things and seeing a bit of a Renaissance, the idea that people are coming back to the core.

Robert Melikian:
We have a chance to bring back soul and people interaction but we have to require street-level activity. The problem is we have people building huge boxes of office spaces and nothing on the ground level so there's nothing for people do. We lost a window of opportunity to have condominiums and people living downtown. My business is a 24-hour-a-day hotel business and people ask, what can we do downtown? You want people to walk and interact with people and bakery shops and ice cream shops and bars. People want choices. You need many of these things to get people to walk downtown.

Ted Simons:
They certainly walked back downtown in the old days around these gorgeous buildings. Your book is fascinating. It's called "Vanishing Phoenix" Robert Melikian, thanks for joining us. And keep fighting the good fight.

Robert Melikian:
Thank you very much, Ted.

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