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History: Al Beadle’s Executive Towers is a Much-Loved Landmark on the Phoenix Skyline

Once Phoenix’s tallest apartment building, Executive Towers embodied luxury high-rise living.

Executive Towers’ original marketing materials promoted the high life. “It was the ’60s. Mad Men were real; Cadillacs had fins; everybody smoked cigarettes,” architectural historian Roger Brevoort says. “At that time, you could get away with marketing hype that you could never do now. You could push the high class.”
“Al’s work has a timeless quality,” says Phoenix architect Ned Sawyer, who at age 18 began working for Beadle to pay for college and gain some practical experience. Their collaboration and friendship would span 35 years. “Other styles have come and gone, but they never last. Good architecture is an art and has a sculptural, lasting quality. That is the nature of Executive Towers.”

By John Roark | Photography by Scott Sandler

Although it has been dwarfed by taller buildings in the decades since it was built, architect Alfred Newman Beadle’s Executive Towers remains a much-loved landmark on the Phoenix skyline. Completed in 1963, the 22-story, 160-unit apartment house (which converted to condominiums in 1971) was the high-end residence for the affluent smart set who worked downtown. Original marketing materials for the property, showing tuxedoed men and women in sleek cocktail dresses, describe it as, “your luxury home in the sky,” and “the prestige address of Phoenix.”

Located just west of Central and Clarendon avenues in what is now midtown Phoenix, the building was a springboard for where Phoenicians were heading. “Executive Towers was important because it took residential architecture farther north of downtown Phoenix than it had ever been,” says architectural historian Roger Brevoort. “In order to accomplish that, they had to amend the zoning ordinance to create a high-rise residential category.” 

The rectangular structure—Beadle’s interpretation of the Miesian aesthetic—was completed when the architect was only 33 years old. “He was so young when this happened,” observes Modern Phoenix founder Alison King. “Executive Towers is one of Beadle’s masterworks; it was an opportunity for him to make a statement and to show his vision of how he thought people should live.” 

Reed Kroloff, Rowe chair and dean of the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology and former editor-in-chief of Architecture magazine, praises the Towers’ timeless beauty. “It’s very sophisticated,” he says. “Considering Beadle never went to architecture school, it’s surprising how good he was. When you put his work up against other work in the city that came after him, it’s kind of startling to see that people haven’t learned from him more effectively.”

The Towers is a prime example of Beadle’s innate gift for designing buildings to their location. “Al’s domain was Phoenix,” Kroloff says. “This building is narrow from east to west because it’s hot on those sides. He knew the coolest exposures in Arizona are north and south. He was very much aware of the environmental conditions, doing the most that he could at that moment in time when no one else was paying attention to such things.”

While the structure is modernist in style, its creator softened sharp angles with rounded corners and integrated artwork and whimsical touches. “Many remember Beadle for the severity of his minimalism,” King says. “He used Executive Towers as a palette to really be playful and to expand his artistic voice.”

1. Beadle was a proponent of Total Design, the Bauhaus principle in which the building is the vehicle for the creation of art. “Even the parking garage is sculptural and beautiful,” Sawyer says. The pool-adjacent structure’s low-relief plasterwork embellishment, titled “207,” was designed using the sgraffito technique by artist Milton Tuttle. 2. The south elevation is distinguished by an exterior fire escape that bisects the form with a distinctive chevron pattern. “That’s classic Beadle,” says former editor-in-chief of Architecture magazine, Reed Kroloff. “He transforms elements necessary in a building into things that help organize and make the architecture understandable. Here, he takes throw-away, utilitarian component and puts it on the outside where it becomes a signature design element—and it divides the building into two equal, mirrored halves.’” 3. Dotting the landscape are cheerful “Beadle Balls,” a signature lighting element of the architect. The curved bottoms of the vertical concrete “fins” that divide the balconies add another unexpected detail to the ground floor’s north and south elevations. Adorning the upper section of the ground level, a 2-foot-high striped mosaic band is another example of Beadle’s incorporation of art in the project. 4. Inside the main lobby, a monolithic floor-to-ceiling, stained glass-embedded concrete sculpture resides in front of the elevator bays. The artwork was created by The Glassart Studio, the leading glass artists in Phoenix in the 1960s and ’70s. “The space is large enough to allow this piece to be seen and appreciated as art, as opposed to just a wall decoration,” Brevoort says. “It makes the whole interior fascinating.”

The Towers is striking in ways that may not be immediately apparent to the casual observer. “It’s compositionally beautiful and proportionally very elegant,” Kroloff raves. “It’s taller than it is wide; the higher it goes, the more elegant and streamlined it looks. Beadle understood that the eye responds well to something that’s slender.”

Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, Executive Towers’ legacy is intact and resonates with proud Phoenicians and beyond. “This property was quite successful in the beginning, followed by a period when it went down. Then it came back strong in the early part of the 21st century,” Kroloff says. “I love the fact that after six decades, it’s still the best tall building in Phoenix.”

Brevoort agrees. “The fact that it is still sought after says a lot about the quality of the architecture—and about the interest and appreciation Phoenicians have for design. This continues to be a frontline address 60 years later.”

The Towers’ porte-cochere heralds the arrival of residents and guests. “This is something elegant that almost needs to be felt rather than seen,” says Modern Phoenix founder Alison King. “Right away you know that there’s going to be something special. When you step inside you are greatly rewarded. It does not fall short on that promise.” The original wood-and-stainless steel doors were replaced with an automatic glass entry.
1. “Without a doubt, one of the stars of the show is the concrete umbrella,” King says of the curvy poolscape installation. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Drawn to specification by Beadle and his team, the structure provides shade and artfully bounces light—and acts as a visual counterpoint to the property’s many straight lines and right angles. 2. A circular projection and reflecting pool provide a visual moment adjacent to the porte-cochere. “I think this was Beadle’s attempt to break the box, to provide a different form,” Brevoort says. “The anomaly was intentional.”


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