Inside Phoenix’s Iconic Haverhoods
Ralph Haver’s historic midcentury designs are en vogue and in demand for Valley homeowners.
By Alison King
What accounts for the beguiling appeal of Haver Homes that so many Phoenicians dream of downsizing to? These modest and low-slung contemporary ranches are found in subdivisions across Uptown Phoenix and, in unaltered condition, they tend to be no more than 1,500 square feet. They’re not especially luxurious unless your definition of luxury is less, and for many that’s exactly what a new generation of Haver homeowners are after: minimalist styling, a smaller property to maintain and a shorter commute.
Built more than 60 years ago during the Valley’s postwar housing boom, vintage Haver Homes are treasured for their integration of indoor-outdoor living spaces, generous walls of glass, rustic modern exterior finishes and low-sloped single-gable roofs. Architect Ralph Haver would be amused to discover that his once affordable starter homes can now fetch more than a half-million dollars on the market.
Bidding can get fierce and fast, especially for unaltered time-capsule homes priced under $400,000. “They can get multiple offers all day long,” says Jenny Hibbard, a midcentury real estate specialist. “Buyers are willing to pay a premium of 10 percent or more for a Haver Home, compared with a ranch of equal age and size right across the street.” Location plays a huge role.
High-performing schools, mature landscaping and a thriving urban culture—essentially fulfilling the vision of a new city that Haver and his contemporaries shaped in the 1950s suburbs—all add intrinsic value.
The Patioport Lifestyle
Having browsed Haver-designed properties through neighborhood tours and Instagram for nearly a decade, Kristin Heggli and Maxwell Moorman finally acquired their own in Town and Country Manor, just off of 42nd Street and East McDowell Road. Their abode is an authentic and early iteration of Haver’s popular model home built in collaboration with developer Fred Woodworth. Known as Town and Country houses, they are easily recognizable for a high angled window wall that faces the street and affords plenty of natural lighting while preserving privacy.
Heggli and Moorman’s residence came into their care in updated yet mostly unmodified condition (a common hazard with Haver Homes, as they practically beg to be tinkered with). The couple added their own touches with brand new xeriscape, a breezeblock entry sequence, op-art wallpaper accents and graphically painted closet doors. “We love to play up the midcentury modern design while not being afraid to blend in some contemporary elements,” Heggli says.
The defining feature of the house is its trademark patioport, a generous concrete slab covered by a trellis or partial roof that connects the carport with the home’s unusually set-back front door. Designed to put the new American status symbol, the automobile, on display with a picture window framing the car rather than the front yard, the patioport is instantly convertible to a much larger outdoor space for weekend entertaining.
“We repainted and added a lot of plants and bistro lights, along with different seating and dining areas,” Heggli says. But instead of gazing at their car, “every evening we open the blinds so we can admire the view of the patioport and all of the greenery from inside the house, which also makes the space feel much larger.”
Partial enclosure of the carport with custom fabricated gates that echo the originals cleverly connects the patioport to the backyard. “This is the perfect spot for a springtime party,” Heggli shares. In fact, she recently rearranged the area to host a rosé tasting. “We had plenty of space to set up seating for 20 guests with different dining and lounge areas, all shaded and with a nice breeze.”
Born to be Styled
The pent-up demand of the postwar housing boom posed a practical problem for American homebuilders. With materials in short supply, the drive was toward mass production in a compressed amount of time. Postwar homes were typically much smaller and featured fewer creature comforts than those of previous decades.
FHA lending guidelines also dictated the size of new homes. Builders who hired architects who stepped out of line could actually be penalized and had trouble getting approvals for flat roofs or other design innovations. The national average FHA home size finally surpassed 1,000 square feet in 1954, and Haver’s designs gladly grew to meet the trend.
Undaunted by limitations, Haver crafted cozy modern homes that were clearly inspired by the rally cry of California’s Arts & Architecture Case Study Home building program, which urged designers to use the best quality materials that could be locally found to create healthy, modern, attractive housing for the average American family. While Haver’s attempts were never formally recognized in the program (nor is it known whether he submitted any designs for consideration), he succeeded in expressing the Case Study spirit. His homes were frequently published, starting with his own residence in Architectural Record in the late 1940s and then later in the local magazine Arizona Homes.
In the years following World War II, Haver’s preferred material was red brick. His father was a mason, and his brother was a contractor. With his mother often signing as financier, homebuilding in Uptown Phoenix was a Haver family affair. The architect’s early custom homes made best use of modest materials through unusual new configurations. Huge walls of glass framed views of generous backyards sited in the newly subdivided citrus groves of Uptown.
Tapered wood porch posts or “spider legs” echoed similar forms found at Taliesin West and in the work of California-based architect Richard Neutra. Narrow clerestory windows that followed the gentle slope of the gable flooded interiors with light while protecting them from the setting sun.
When Haver partnered with developers such as Woodworth, one would expect that these features would be value-engineered out of the picture. Instead, he managed to weave one or two of these touches into many of his mass-produced homes. By changing up front elevation materials, flip-flopping floor plans and cheekily angling them on the lots, he was able to marry his tract homes with lively contrasts in harmonious union, most notably in the Starlite Vista neighborhood at 15th Avenue near Glendale Avenue.
Concrete masonry unit block, a new and affordable material, manufactured by local plants such as Superlite, made building homes faster and easier. Unless a luxurious feel was called for, CMU became the material of choice. Houses were marketed with cachet as architect-designed Haver Homes in their own era; today Phoenicians fondly call the subdivisions by a new name: Haverhoods.
Not all of his designs were contemporary. One of his largest and more traditional red brick projects was Hoffmantown with builder Sam Hoffman, which can be found in the neighborhood immediately north of Christown Spectrum Mall on Bethany Home Road. Hoffman brought these affordable home concepts to both Albuquerque and Denver, becoming the Johnny Appleseed of Haverhoods.
Mi Casa, Su Casa
When the British Invasion took over the airwaves in the 1960s, the Spanish Invasion took over Arizona architecture. With their children grown and changing needs, mature Americans of the 1960s and ’70s sought a different way to live: lock-and-leave condominiums and townhomes. Compact, connected houses were ideal for empty nesters and sunshine seekers. Haver experimented with duplexes and triplexes, many strikingly modern and some just downright quirky. Then the young developer Dell Trailor came along. He wasn’t a legend just yet, but he forever changed the face of affordable housing in Phoenix. He acquired awkward infill lots and hired Haver’s firm, now one of the most productive in the Valley, to design attached housing. Trailor developed his Gold Key Homes across the city. The heyday of the single-family, single-story modern ranch drew to a close.
Trailor ordered up a Mediterranean flair for his split-level homes. A Masons strike encouraged many builders to abandon brick in favor of wood framing and stucco. Complexes such as Golden Keys and Villa D’Este in Scottsdale featured a contemporary interpretation of both vaguely Spanish and Italian motifs. Innovations in manufacturing and fabrication made old-world styling on a mass-produced scale much more affordable.
A drive through Trailor’s tiny Villa Adrian neighborhood, near Camelback Road and North Goldwater Boulevard, reveals a shockingly postmodern Italiante pastiche worthy of a surrealist painting by Giorgio de Chirico. By this point, home design was also a collaborative affair at the large firm. These postmodern Americanized interpretations reflected the changing tastes of a new generation and likely bear the influence of staff architectural designer Jim Salter, whose flair for exotica was immortalized in Phoenix’s outrageously Polynesian Kon Tiki hotel, now demolished. Though these neighborhoods aren’t typically what come to mind when first discussing Haver Homes, they’re an equally important part of the Valley’s pattern of development.
As our city continues to struggle with affordable housing, these relatively abundant Haver Homes fill an important niche for first-time homebuyers seeking to gain a foothold in the midcentury modern market. “Haver has become a brand name in ways that other architects couldn’t achieve,” says Hibbard, reflecting on the success and timeless appeal of his architecture. “Back in the ’50s people really required affordable homes, and that’s still a need today.”