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Why the Kiva Craft Center is Important – Part 3

Why the Kiva Craft Center is Important – Part 3

In writer David Brown’s three-part series, he examines the life and legacy of artist Lloyd Kiva New, a Cherokee Naval veteran, whose initial goal to bring new attention to American Indian Art through his Arizona Crafts Center and Craftsman Court shops inadvertently lead to Scottsdale’s reputation as a place for fine art, galleries and specialty shops! In the third part of this series, he interrogates the legacy of his shops as a new cycle of development in Old Town begins, with the expectation of harmony to preserve the new existing buildings.

“What makes these buildings special to me is not just the memories; it’s the scale and optimism that are simply so unique to the time and place,” says Scott Jarson. “You find this in the best of mid-20th-century design; a simplicity of material, humble concrete block elevated by the simple but judicious use of deeply raked joints and the considered placement of the storefront windows, some full height.”

He adds: “The buildings certainly have a ‘Modern-Ranch’ feel to them, with exposed dimensional pine ceilings and deep overhangs that have held up beautifully over the years, but perhaps it’s the courtyard and the shade that give it a special anchor.”

“The courtyard created a pleasant cool microclimate with a reflecting pool, landscape, and walkways; it was accessible by a few narrow breezeways off 5th Avenue and Craftsman Court,” adds Doug Sydnor, FAIA, principal of Scottsdale-based Douglas Sydnor Architect + Associates.

The Kiva Craft Center architect, Thomas Stuart ‘T.S.’ Montgomery (1917–1970), established his practice on 5th Avenue in Scottsdale while designing Craftsman Court; three years later, he moved T. S. Montgomery Architecture to the historic Harry Walker House in Tempe.

With 200-plus projects completed, he is also remembered for two local churches, notes Jarson: First Church of Christ Science on Indian School Road in Scottsdale and the “sublime” St. Barnabas on The Desert Episcopal Church on Mockingbird Lane in Paradise Valley, “with its procession of perfect arches: low, sparse and clean like the Sonoran desert.”

Kiva Craft Center exemplifies Montgomery’s crisp, desert-sensitive work: simple detail, a clean line and a sense of place, Jarson explains. “It’s timeless desert architecture, like the work of his contemporaries, Blaine Drake, Frank Lloyd Wright and Al Beadle. All three men took the rigor of living in the desert and incorporated it into their designs.”

The city is now envisioning redevelopment downtown in implementing the Old Town Scottsdale Plan. Its Executive Summary concludes: “Merchants, property owners, and civic leaders need to make strong and innovative decisions within the context of the Old Town Scottsdale Plan to insure a continually vital and sustainable downtown, “where the new west meets the old west”, for generations to come; and to achieve the community’s vision of a “dynamic city center which recognizes its western heritage while boldly looking to its metropolitan future” (page 9). As a Historic Property Overlay Zoning District, any proposed alteration of the buildings or site must receive approval from either the Historic Preservation officer or the Historic Preservation Commission, explains Steve Venker, the city’s Historic Preservation officer.

A number of years ago, Scottsdale’s Allen & Philp Architects renovated Kiva Craft Center and, recently, the city has, in fact, received a rehabilitation application for the property by Sydnor’s firm. including site improvements such as burying utilities, exterior upgrades, lighting, signage and wall finishes.

Sydnor and Simonson anticipate that construction should be completed in late 2021 and plan to nominate Kiva Craft Center for the National Register of Historic Places. “We want to assure our Scottsdale neighbors that Kiva Craft Center will remain a vibrant affirmation of city history and architecture for years to come,” Michael Simonson says. “We are looking forward to working with Doug Sydnor and city officials to restore the luster and panache of this important property.”

As a result, the site will remain as part of the shared “Visual Wealth” of the community, says Jarson –– vibrant as profitable real estate and celebratory of what Scottsdale was and what the city has become in part because of it.

He suggests other places with similar panache and importance, which can harmonize with new builds, horizontal or vertical: the building across from Kiva Craft Center, site of the original Trader Vic’s, with its signature triangular beams from the landmark restaurant; the Cavalliere Blacksmith shop; the Bischoff’s Gallery building on Brown Street; the “charming and quaint” Adobe Apartments on First Avenue; the Christian Science Church on Indian School and designs by architects Ralph Haver and Joe Wong.

Scottsdale residents Sam Campana and Joan Fudala agree that places such as Kiva Craft Center should be enjoyed as Scottsdale legacy sites. “I hope any developer who comes again trying to make changes will take into consideration Craftsman Court and Marshall Way,” says Campana. “These places are worth preserving and finding a compelling use.”  And Fudala: “I would love to see the Kiva Craft Center not only preserved but again populated with arts, crafts and fashion studios.”

For Ryan S. Flahive, an archivist at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, which Lloyd Kiva helped found in 1961, the legacy resonates with stories within the buildings. “The beginnings of the Scottsdale arts and crafts movement was here. This is where it started,” he says.

Jarson compares Craftsman Court to the resurgent Town and Country Shopping Center at 22nd Street and Camelback Road in Phoenix: “The open-air nature of this site invited you to shop, relax and connect. It took the commerce side of a retail shop and made it a more communal ‘village’ experience.”

And today’s retail models, such as mixed-use open-air Kierland in nearby north Phoenix, thrive because of their pedestrian-centric village configurations, similar to Craftsman Court. “This simple space inspired those that occupied it and those who shopped here. It was new, innovative and, what’s more, ‘bespoke’ in a way that shopping is simply is not anymore. In part, that’s because it has the soul of the artist and the ethic of the craftsman.

“Kiva Craft Center signaled in the focus on art, craft and design that made Scottsdale popular,” adds Jarson. “It was what helped make 5th Avenue the major tourist stop for Scottsdale and took Scottsdale from the sleepy ‘West’s Most Western Town’ to the cosmopolitan arts and crafts it is.

“Intimate moments of design such as this, what made Scottsdale popular, need our celebration so that they won’t be left behind as the city takes a new path to the future,” he continues. “Kiva Craft Center shows us the very roots of what brought us together as a community. To lose that would be to lose the collective memory of how that happened and what we are.”

Brown is a Valley-based freelancer ( This is the second in an ongoing series celebrating “Our Visual Wealth.” His article on the Kiva Craft Center was released over three segments, the first and second can be read here and here.

He thanks the many city of Scottsdale employees who assisted, the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe and other resources. The updated Scottsdale downtown plan is here.