The palatial house dates back to 1924, and it shows. Paint is peeling, the roof is ramshackle, and beams are riddled with termites. But preservationists call this manse—built by Tucson rodeo founder Frederick Leighton Kramer—an irreplaceable Tucson treasure that deserves resurrection. The clock is ticking, however, and a demolition permit is already in hand.
Oddly, it’s an equally historic edifice just across Elm Street that first set this pageant in motion. The 3-acre Kramer mansion property is owned by the Arizona Inn, which is selling it to a development group. And those developers plan to raze Kramer’s palace, replacing it with 13 high-end homes. Per usual, the developers trotted out a spokesman to scoff at notions of sparing the historic mansion. “It’s a noble suggestion,” Tucson attorney and project investor Bob Gugino told The Arizona Daily Star. Gugino then pegged restoration costs at more than $2 million.
Gugino’s mastery of historic repair notwithstanding, The Range decided to contact an actual expert. That turned out to be architect Bob Vint, long ranked among the region’s foremost authorities on rescuing historic properties; his firm’s restoration portfolio stretches from the Mission San Xavier Del Bac to the UA’s Old Main. Vint calls the Kramer mansion a perfectly viable candidate for rehab, at half the cost claimed by Gugino. “It’s absolutely feasible to renovate that building,” Vint says. “It’s an investment that could be recouped if you did it right.”
A development team including Vint even offered a plan to restore the mansion and build eight homes around it—a plan he says was rejected by the Inn, in favor of the “most expedient” route which included demolition.
But if the will to preserve is lacking, the determination of Will Conroy certainly is not. He’s the great-grandson of Arizona Inn founder Isabella Greenway, and currently president of the vintage hotel. In an email to The Range, Conroy writes that money from the Kramer sale will fund the restoration projects at the Inn itself. And rather “than list the property with a broker who would solicit bids on a broad scale (and doubtless yield a much higher price), we put the word out to those few good local builders and developers we felt might best understand and value our neighborhood, and who would propose appropriate, viable, high quality ways forward for the property in question. That is exactly what happened.
“I've never heard from Bob Vint,” Conroy continues in a subsequent email, “and in fact I don't believe I've ever met or spoken to him in my life. To my knowledge he was never part of any team that made any proposal to the Arizona Inn, and the details of the proposal you describe do not exactly match up with any of the actual proposals we heard. He adds that “the idea that the Inn would choose ‘the most expedient’ option available is demonstrably false in this case and obviously contrary the Inn's posture through four generations of our history.”
Still, preservation activists say it’s a bit ironic that the Arizona Inn—which routinely dangles its own 85-year-history as marketing ornament—would reject opportunities to save an equally venerable property right next door.