Be part of the conversation: azarchitecture/Jarson & Jarson Architecture blog covers architecture and civic topics that comment on what’s happening in the Valley’s diverse design community. Here’s what’s happening now:
At azarchitecture Jarson & Jarson Real Estate, a home’s value can exceed its market valuation.
Founded 30 years ago by Scott and Debbie Jarson, the real estate firm specializes in the sale of homes with architectural, design, cultural and historical significance. The couple call these properties part of our community’s “Unique Visual Wealth.”
“We have a credo and a mission statement that we hold our decisions up against: to sell, creatively market and promote good architecture and design regardless of price,” says Scott, who, growing up in the Valley, was inspired by homes and other properties the couple have sold during the last three decades.
Originally known as Jarson & Jarson, their shingle is now azarchitecture Jarson & Jarson Real Estate, with five employees and 14 sales agents, headquartered in the Will Bruder-designed Loloma 5 live/work building (2004) in downtown Scottsdale. “We realized that some people know us only from the internet, and they related more to azarchitecture.com, so we combined these two into one name everyone can relate to,” Debbie explains.
“A house we’d represent could be anything from historic to modern, a building with style and substance,” he explains. The structure may be adobe, the long-time desert building material; a design by Mid-Century Modern exemplar, Al Beadle; or the hand-crafted redwood interior of the midtown Phoenix home architect Fred Guirey built for himself and his family in the 1950s.
Or, perhaps it’s a sensitive post-World War II restoration of a Ralph Haver in North Central Phoenix by the noted designer/builder. The home may have been disregarded and kept in disrepair through the next decades; recent owners sensitively revived it. Vital again in a gentrifying area, it’s market strong and now historically significant.
“We want to share the knowledge we have with those that will celebrate this very interesting place with us. We want to promote good design and perhaps help build or save some good houses,” explains Jarson, who is the company’s director of sales and creative development. Raised in Arizona, he attended Scottsdale public schools and graduated from ASU with a Fine Arts degree.
“Our company allows us to connect with like-minded individuals who share enthusiasm for great design. We get to introduce, connect and celebrate unique talent and useful resources,” adds Debbie, the firm’s designated broker who trains and mentors the firm’s sales agents. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, native attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, then the Tobe–Coburn School of Fashion Careers in New York City before settling in the Valley.
Debbie notes that Jarson & Jarson was Arizona’s first real estate company to publicize the architect’s name in its marketing. “We believe the architect or designer should get credit for his or her work and for adding to our heritage of creative desert design,” she says.
In addition, during the past 30 years, the company has advocated for historic and architectural preservation, Scott notes. He and Debbie were intensely involved in saving the David and Gladys Wright House (1952) in the Arcadia area of Phoenix when a developer recently threatened to demolish that residential vision of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum (1959) in New York City; they received the Wright Spirit Award from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy for those efforts.
Scott was also an original member of the Phoenix mayor’s Post War Modern Task Force and chairs the Hillside Building Committee for the town of Paradise Valley, where he and Debbie live in a Will Bruder-designed hillside home, completed in 2008.
“And, from a lifestyle perspective, our real estate firm promotes, supports and advances better living, conservation and life-enhancing ideals through architecture,” she adds. “This is especially appropriate in our desert city.”
Says Bruder, “Scott and Debbie have steadfastly championed modernism in the Valley.” Since working with the couple while designing the Vale of Tempe condominiums (2004), he has been impressed with their sensitivity to and advocacy for Valley architecture.
“For every listing, they create a narrative that highlights importance of these properties in the story of the Valley’s built environment. Often they educate prospective buyers, who may be two or three times removed from first owners, on the historic context and importance of a property,” he adds. “Scott and Debbie get the big picture of the place and its architectural legacy.”
The Weave of the Valley
The Jarsons married in 1982; a mutual friend had introduced them a year earlier. Debbie was working at Bobby McGee’s, the landmark restaurant adjacent to Papago Plaza, Scottsdale’s pioneer retail strip center which has just been demolished for mixed-use development. “We had an immediate and wonderful romance which has lasted ever since,” he says.
He followed Debbie into the business. “We had a very successful early career in general real estate. But I was just not happy,” Scott says. “Somehow, selling tract homes and ignoring our architectural heritage made me feel like I had become ‘part of the problem.’” Because both of them loved design, art, architecture and history, she suggested focusing on “Architecturally Unique Homes.”
They contacted Peter Shikany, who had a year-old graphic design firm, ps:studios in Phoenix; he created a branding program for the new company. Shikany and the Jarsons have become close friends and continue to work together. In fact, he and his wife, gallery owner Lisa Sette live in the well-known House of Earth + Light (2006) by architect Marwan Al-Sayed, a sale completed by the Jarsons.
“The ability to connect architectural knowledge and expertise to the buying and selling of homes puts them in a unique position for their clients. There are no others who honestly operate from this viewpoint,” Shikany explains. “Because of this knowledge, they have been able to cultivate respect and friendships within the architectural and design communities and have been instrumental in raising awareness and helping to create a vibrant architecture movement in Arizona.”
Scott explains that “defining an architecturally unique property isn’t black-and-white.” The couple have, however, used five basic guidelines: the home offers a unique piece of history; it has been significantly published; it was designed by a significant architect; it offers a unique use of materials; and the home represents a particular period or architectural style.
Occasionally, the choice is intuitive: “We have always been committed to preserving the region’s history and to ensuring the environmental and architectural integrity of Southwest desert communities, so sometimes, you just know it when you see it,” she notes.
Scott believes that the growth of Metro Phoenix can be read through its architecture and design. “It’s a new place and, being where it is, in the West, a place that has had a sense of optimism and unlimited opportunity from the beginning. But, we do seem to have what I think of as ‘waves’ of creativity –– periods that the Valley has done the best in. The building inventory of unique design created during these times reflects the very best part of ourselves.”
“I am proud of our special place in the sun, but sometimes I hear from visitors and others that our area is just too ‘beige,’ not colorful enough with architectural panache and pizazz. We can be, yes, but we’ve delighted in introducing people to ‘threads’ in the creative weave that is our Valley: moments of design that reflect time and place or just a particularly creative spark of genius.”
“It’s not nostalgia, which can be narrow and dangerous,” he adds. “It’s about saying, ‘Yes, here we took a chance!’ It’s about art.”
Stewarding Our Visual Wealth
To celebrate their firm’s 30th anniversary, the Jarsons are selecting a few examples of the metro area’s Unique Visual Wealth –– architectural art –– and discussing one per story.
Some of these places are threatened with demolition or significant alteration from their original use. These include the first location the couple has chosen, Kiva Craftsman’s Court (1955, T.S. Montgomery), whose future is uncertain as the city of Scottsdale’s envisions a revitalized downtown including high-rise development.
Significant residences need advocacy, too, such as Paolo Soleri’s Cosanti (1956–) in highly desirable Paradise Valley. These kinds of homes are often vulnerable because the land they are built on has become so valuable that the new owners prefer to raze and build larger contemporary-style homes.
“Given the metro area’s relatively young age, the depth and range of the history and architecture of homes here is really quite remarkable,” Jarson says. “But our lack of awareness of this history makes these homes and buildings fragile because they are taken for granted or ‘in the way’ of progress.”
He notes that Bruder was the first person to share the saying with him, “Architecture is the most fragile of the arts.”
“The ‘artist/architect’ creates this three dimensional thing of beauty. Its original design is usually the purest, but time, elements, change of owners, encroachment, design ‘trends,’ even HGTV, all take their toll on these buildings,” Scott explains. “Slowly, then all at once, these homes and buildings become something different, most often diminished.”
Owners of these significant properties should, then, have a keen sense of responsibility.
“Scott and Debbie’s interest in culturally significant architecture, specifically homes, goes beyond connoisseurship and into stewardship,” says Darren Petrucci, principal of the architectural firm, A-I-R, in Phoenix and Suncor Professor of Architecture & Urbanism in The Design School of the Herberger Institute for Design and The Arts at Arizona State University.
“Their passion and commitment to finding the right buyer for a significant work is commendable, and, I am sure, sometimes detrimental to their bottom line, but the long view of their efforts outweigh the short-term gains,” he adds.
“If an owner appreciates the original intent of the architect, he or she can make reasonable changes that won’t affect the overall design,” Scott explains.
This is important because generally the new owners can’t return the house to its original, observe the building code in place decades ago or use the construction materials and techniques; they all change. “These designs are really habitable snapshots of the time they were designed in,” he says.
Building an exact copy of a Haver-designed tract home of the 1950s would be difficult. The signature thin single-pane glazing, the near-zero insulation, the antiquated HVAC system: These would not meet building codes or current lifestyle expectations.
“So today’s duplicate would be more efficient, yes, but the lightness of design, the delicate nature of how the roof connects to a small row of narrow clerestory windows, the thin roof that appears to almost ‘float’: All of this would be lost,” he explains.
Materials are also important to consider. In the mid-20th century, wood and lumber, such as clear redwood, were much more available, as in Guirey’s home from the 1950s, he explains.
“But that redwood is cost prohibitive today, and it’s difficult to obtain boards of the same clear quality. “Once they are painted white by a subsequent owner to ‘brighten’ and modernize the interior, that wood is usually lost and, with it, the look and the intent of the architect. Very few would take the effort to restore it again.”
Scott and Debbie Jarson and their associates are available at 480.425.9300, firstname.lastname@example.org and azarchitecture.com.
Brown is a Valley-based writer (azwriter.com).