Arizona’s Loss, Scottsdale’s Gain
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Startling Landmark at a Scottsdale Shopping Center
By Robert Danielson
“What on earth?”
You probably had a similar reaction at your first glance of the giant, aqua-blue spire at the southeast corner of Scottsdale Road and Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard. My first thought: “That’s one over-the-top church steeple.” Yet there was no church. The spire is an entry monument to the Promenade of Scottsdale office and shopping center.
At 125-feet tall, it’s the height of a 10- to 12-story building. About three fifths as long as the wingspan of a 747. A little shorter than the Chicago Water Tower. Two thirds as tall as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
It turns out that the monument, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was part of his unsuccessful bid to design a new Arizona Capitol Building in 1957. Frustrated by the state’s plans to build a cookie-cutter addition to the original capitol building, Wright took it upon his own to design a new vision for Arizona’s seat of government. He envisioned a complex called “the Oasis.”
Consistent with Wright’s concept of “organic design,” he imagined the state capitol to be part of the dramatic mountains overlooking the Valley from Papago Park, just minutes from downtown Phoenix. The complex included a honeycombed glass
canopy, fountains and trees popping up from within, two symmetrical office wings and, of course, the towering spire.
Light years ahead of his time, state leaders said, “not so much” and moved forward with their original plans to add annexes to the original capitol building. The blueprints remained on file at Wright’s Taliesan West until the early 2000s when Arnold Roy, an apprentice who worked with Frank Lloyd Wright on the capitol’s design, suggested building the spire at the busy intersection in North Scottsdale.
Like much of Wright’s architecture, the spire was inspired by natural organic features. Its height recons to the verticality of the Saguaro cactus. The colors represent the sky and green vegetation. Its sharp edges of the lighting fixtures pay homage to local plants.
Despite its jaw-dropping appearance in a shopping center, due to Scottsdale building codes, the spire is only one third the height that Wright envisioned. Arnold Roy worked with shopping center developers to alter the monument to build and conform to codes, although a height variance was still required.
In its finished form, the $1 million erection, for lack of a better term, features teal and blue glass panels constructed with 1,700 individual pieces of steel weighing in excess of 40 tons. The spire is lit from within by more than a 100 8-foot lamps, emitting an ice-blue glow which can be seen for miles. To save energy, the light system was retrofitted with 11.7-watt streetfighter blue LED lights. It operates from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily.
Most visitors snag a glance at the spire while sitting at a streetlight at the busy intersection, or when speeding by. However, curious visitors may park for free at the Promendade and enjoy the Heloise Crista Sculpture Garden with a nice fountain and small sculpture park. Really curious admirers might travel up the road a few miles to Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s’ winter home that is now an architecture school and educational center. It is also where the original plans for the Arizona State Capitol’s Oasis are maintained.
The spire was formally illuminated on April 28, 2004.
More Desert Dirt
- As you are admiring the spire from the Promenade Shopping Center, be comforted to know that there are 569,000 square feet of shops and restaurants within a few steps. If you work up an appetite, you can pick between 25 eateries, including a Capital Grille, Maggiano’s and First Watch.
- Taliesin West offers one and a half hour tours, reservations recommended, for $34 ($36 for walk-ups). If you are a big Frank Lloyd Wright aficionado, there’s a Behind the Scenes three-hour tour, $75, offered at 9:15 a.m. on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. The highlight of this tour is a mid-morning tea and snacks served in the Taliesin West Dining Room.
- Frank Lloyd Wright is credited with partial design of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. Truth be told, he claimed he had the patent on the design of the trademark square concrete tiles adorning the buildings. He was paid $10,000 for use of the design, although he never owned the patent, nor did he return the money.
- In addition to the Biltmore, architectural treasures by Frank Lloyd Wright can be discovered throughout the Valley. These include ASU’s Grady Gammage Auditorium (1959); the Harold Price House, 7211 N. Tatum Blvd, offering private tours; the Benjamin Adelman House, 5802 N. 30th; David and Gladys Wright House (designed for Wright’s son), 5212 Exeter Blvd.; Pieper House, 6442 Cheney Rd., Paradise Valley; Boomer Cottage, 5808 N. 30th St.; Norman Lykes House, 6636 N. 36th St.; and the First Christian Church, 6750 N. 7th Ave.
- The Norman Lykes House, which most consider Wright’s last residential design before his death in 1959, sold at auction in October 16 for $1.7 million. The 3,100-square-foot house features rounded walls and windows – one of 14 circular houses designed by Wright.
Robert Danielson is a 35-year career journalist, marketing and public relations expert. He joins us here at Phoenix Home and Garden Magazine as he explores the Valley as a newcomer to our region. Please welcome him by e-mailing him at RobertDigsIntoArizona@gmail.com