Rescuing History: How a Craftsman Bungalow in Arcadia Found New Life as a Thriving Office Space
Rafterhouse’s conversion of a faded farmhouse into their showcase studio revives the legacy of a famed Phoenix citrus pioneer.
By Douglas C. Towne | Photography by Scott Sandler
It was pure magic,” Austin King says, recalling when he initially spied the mysterious Arcadia home nearly hidden by an overgrown landscape. Enamored, he often cruised by the historic Craftsman bungalow at the southeast corner of 44th Street and Devonshire Avenue. “I would always tell my wife and kids I wanted to buy it,” he says. “When the opportunity came in 2017, it just felt right.”
King’s deep bond with the Avery House, built when the neighborhood was a vast citrus orchard, would later extend to its original homeowner. “Frank Avery was a stud,” King declares. “I wish today’s technologies existed back then, as I’d love to watch an interview of him to hear his voice.” The mystic connection has made King even more gratified that he saved the house from being torn down and transformed it into an office for his business, Rafterhouse, a custom home builder and interior design studio.
The feel-good story begins when Michigan native Frank Avery and his wife, Emma, moved from Wyoming to Phoenix because of her respiratory ailments. They purchased 10 acres in Arcadia in 1910 to raise citrus. A fire destroyed their first house in 1913, and the couple eventually built the Avery House for $15,000 in 1920. The one-story home has 12-inch-thick concrete walls sheathed in brick and stucco and a full basement with a fireplace that connects to the living room fireplace.
“Avery was a prominent player in an important industry during our city’s infancy,” King says. He notes Avery’s leadership roles with the Salt River Valley Water Users Association and the Arizona Citrus Growers Association. He hosted crop-dusting exhibitions and grafted an orange variety, ‘The Early Avery,’ which beat California oranges to the market. “Most of all, he was a good man,” King adds.
Arcadia was out in the boonies when Avery settled there. King cites mail sent to the home dating back to the 1910s that simply read, Mr. F.W. Avery, Phoenix, AZ c/o Scottsdale Stage. “Later mail shows the street name as ‘Chicago Avenue,’ which is what 44th Street used to be called,” King says.
Emma died in 1931 and Frank in 1938 at age 80. The property was left to a friend, George Dewitt Speer, who had cared for the couple in their later years. His daughter, Janice Speer, inherited the Avery House in 1995 and sold it in 2016 to an investment group, which included architect John Douglas. “Austin King approached us with his desire to create the headquarters for Rafterhouse and later purchased the property,” Douglas says. “Austin hired me to remain as the architect for the adaptive reuse process.”
“I was stunned to find the house in original condition, never altered but showing signs of deferred maintenance,” Douglas says. “As you might imagine, the Speers’ daughter had a deep emotional attachment to the property, but we promised to respect the history of the place.”
King, whose wife grew up in the area, often visited Arcadia growing up. “I remember feeling like it was the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ neighborhood: kids out riding bikes, dads playing catch with their sons, perfect green grass,” he says. “Something about it felt completely out of context with Phoenix, yet so magical. Years later, when Rafterhouse started, it seemed like the
The reality behind the complex restoration project soon confronted King. “The main electric meter had a massive bougainvillea growing through it, and the meter was being slowly disengaged from the panel, which was still live,” he says. “It was a fire hazard waiting to happen.” He recalls remediating asbestos and lead-based paint and stabilizing the front and rear porch footings as especially painful projects.
King negotiated the sometimes-treacherous path of transforming the faded Arcadia treasure into Rafterhouse’s showpiece studio. “It’s incredibly comfortable and down to earth,” he says of the space. “It’s a perfect spot to spend your day.”
Accolades flowed in for the finished product from Rafterhouse’s neighbors, and the project snagged the coveted 2019 Governor’s Heritage Preservation Honor Award. “Austin King has brought back the historic house that personifies the heritage of Arcadia and its citrus production,” says historian Roger Brevoort. “The rehabilitation is not academically perfect, but the community visibility of the house is more important.”
King has some battle-tested recommendations for others who are contemplating a home overhaul. “Bring your patience, and some spare bucks tucked deep in your back pocket,” he says. “Stay true to your mission and the home; the rest will sort itself out.” King adds that having Rafterhouse’s project manager Mark Malouf and carpenter Randy Bitzer, who painstakingly rebuilt many of the house’s original elements, was a godsend.
During the restoration, King even managed to rectify his regret of not locating a treasure buried deep within the house, such as vintage baseball cards or an old pocketknife. “I didn’t find anything, so my family left a time capsule of our own for a future renovator down the road to find,” he says.
Rafterhouse, Phoenix, rafterhouse.com. Restoration architect: John Douglas, FAIA, John Douglas Architects, Scottsdale, douglasarchitects.com.