Tempe Chamber Building Mystery

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Originally published September 8, 2012 – To say that Mary Ann Miller is a fastidious neat freak is a bit of an understatement. She is a creature of organization. She hates clutter. Mary Ann is President & CEO of the Tempe Chamber of Commerce. Keeping the offices tidy and orderly has long been her mission. And sometimes that’s a good thing.

It was during one of her recent clean-ups in a back storage room that Mary Ann made a puzzling discovery. Lying in box with other miscellaneous papers was a 40 year-old 8×10 photo that has led her on a quest to learn more about her perplexing find. Although there are many unanswered questions, let’s start with what we know.

Back in 1970 Michael & Kemper Goodwin designed an elaborate campus for the Tempe Chamber of Commerce, which for all of its years never had a permanent home – working out of renting space in various locations around town.

The Goodwin’s were Tempe’s hometown architects. Kemper came from a pioneer family – the son of Garfield Goodwin who for many years ran Goodwin’s Indian Store on Mill Avenue. Kemper began his architectural career in 1927. Over the years he designed numerous Tempe buildings and several on the ASU campus.

Michael joined his father’s practice in 1966. Michael & Kemper are probably best remembered for the “upside-down pyramid,” Tempe’s innovative City Hall – that opened in 1971.

At the same time they working on their controversial plan for the City Hall, the Goodwin’s were apparently embroiled in another controversy – creating a Chamber campus on a unique site – Birchett Park, a one-acre triangle of land in front of Gammage Auditorium, bounded by the Apache Curve, Mill Avenue and 13th Street.

In their 1970 prospectus the Goodwin’s explain their concept as “A study for a significant civic building on an important site opposite the city’s major industry; Arizona State University.”

“The ground floor (is) raised to emphasize the civic nature of the building. A large meeting room occupies the main level, anticipating the needs of the Garden Club and other groups. The central court, the landscape and water effects, the light and shadow upon sloping precast wall panels suggest the quality of an oasis. Art shows and other special events (are) to be accommodated in adjunct pavilions.”

Michael Goodwin wrote about the plan in his 2002 book Reflections of an Architect: “The chamber building…(directs) the view of the visitor towards ASU’s showplace, Gammage Auditorium designed by Frank Lloyd Wright… The highly articulated roof structure casts its shade and shadow against the massive rammed-earth sloped walls that enclose and keep the space cool.”

According to Michael, it was never constructed because the Chamber “…abandoned this project when the architect recommended against building on this site as Tempe and ASU would be better served if the site remained open space.”

If you know more about this intriguing story, let me know.

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