The Farmhouse

The Farmhouse

The D. J. Frankenberg House is significant as the home of a member of one of the earliest ranching families in Tempe, for the connection with the development Pima long staple cotton agriculture in the Valley, and for association with Don Juan Frankenberg, former president of Tempe Union High School and Trustee of the Tempe Board of Education. The D. J. Frankenberg House is significant as one of the best remaining examples of the transitional Western Colonial Box/Craftsman Bungalow residential architectural style in Tempe.

Why is the house important to the Valley’s history?

Frankenberg was selected as one of the first farmers to experiment with Pima long staple cotton. In Tempe and beyond, the boom and bust of the cotton market had an economic impact arguably more profound than the Great Depression. Further, cotton’s impact on the landscape would ultimately facilitate unprecedented suburban development throughout the Valley after World War II.

In Arizona, the cotton industry began to develop in earnest around 1912 when a special hybrid of Egyptian cotton, known as Pima long staple cotton, became the most important cash crop for valley farmers. The Arizona cotton boom occurred during World War I as a result of the suitability of Pima long staple cotton for war materiel manufacturing. This type of cotton was developed with the help of Charles Henry Waterhouse and Estmer “E. W.” Hudson of the United States Department of Agriculture. Pima long staple cotton had a greater tensile strength which made it valuable as an industrial fabric. The boom was a result of wartime demand for products such as tires and other heavy manufacturing items from Pima long staple cotton coinciding with a lack of an offshore supply. In 1914, the Salt River Valley Cotton Growers Association joined with several prominent Tempe businessmen to establish Tempe’s first cotton gin. During the harvest season, the gin operated non-stop to produce 12,500 pounds of baled cotton a day.

By 1920, cotton yielded so much money that almost all other crop production from alfalfa to dairy ceased throughout the Valley as land was converted to grow cotton. Cotton acreage in the valley reached a peak of 142,325 in 1919 when war-time prices reached $1.25/pound. Most of the cotton acreage was south of the river in the area of more alkaline soils and Tempe was considered the commercial center for the crop. In Tempe, the boom from cultivation of Pima long staple cotton in turn brought a need for precise quality control. This changed irrigation practices and caused the leveling of 230,000 acres throughout the Valley between 1912 and 1920.

After World War I, many government cotton contracts stopped as demand subsided and alternate sources of supply resumed. The resulting glut on the market ended the Arizona cotton boom. Irrigated acreage gradually reverted back to alfalfa and other crops, but the newly leveled land would help facilitate unprecedented suburban development in Tempe after World War II.

Who was Don Juan Frankenberg and why was he important to Tempe?

The D. J. Frankenberg House is significant as the home of a member of one of the earliest ranching families in Tempe. Don Juan Frankenberg was a member of the pioneer Frankenberg family who were ranchers in the Tempe area as early as 1888. In 1915, D.J. Frankenberg built this house for his family on the family homestead. That same year, he was selected to experiment with Pima long staple cotton as part of the program with the Government Experimental Farm (USDA) at Sacaton, Arizona.

Frankenberg was civic-minded, serving as president of Tempe Union High School and as a Trustee of the Tempe Board of Education during the 1920s. The Frankenberg family lived on the farm until 1932, when the Depression forced foreclosure and the family moved to Phoenix. D. J. Frankenberg died in 1952 in Phoenix.

Why is the house significant for its architecture?

The D. J. Frankenberg House is significant as one of the best remaining examples of the transitional Western Colonial Box style homes in Tempe, featuring a Craftsman interior. Colonial Revival became a popular American house style after it appeared at the 1876 U.S. Centennial Exposition. Reflecting American patriotism and a desire for simplicity, the Colonial Revival house style remained popular until the mid 1950s. Western style Colonial Revival was a reaction against elaborate Victorian architecture. Over time, the simple and symmetrical Western Colonial Box style evolved into the Foursquare and Bungalow house styles of the early 20th century.

The American Foursquare or the Prairie Box was a post-Victorian style which shared many features with the Prairie architecture pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright. The boxy shape provided roomy interiors and many Foursquares were trimmed with tiled roofs, cornice-line brackets, and other details drawn from Craftsman, Italian Renaissance, or Mission architecture. By the 1910s, Foursquares often had the same type of interiors as Bungalows with open floor plans, lots of built-ins, and fireplaces.

The Craftsman Bungalow is an All-American house form and its efficient floor plan became the prototype for housing on a large scale. In the west, two California architects, Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene, are credited with popularizing the Bungalow house style. Homes designed by the Greenes were publicized in magazines, and a flood of pattern books followed. True Bungalows express structural simplicity, efficient use of space, and understated style.

The D. J. Frankenberg House is a single-story building of irregular plan constructed of pressed yellow brick with a concrete apron. The house features three intersecting red tile hipped roofs with three hipped roof ventilator dormers. The house combines the Western Colonial Box format with Craftsman Bungalow detailing notable at the four large, square, brick pillars supporting the roof over the recessed porch (now filled in) and extensively throughout the interior.

Characteristics of the Western Colonial box include hipped roofs, dormers, and porch inset beneath the house roof. A brick exterior chimney is located on the north wing. Windows are double-hung in wood frames with brick sills. Except for the infill of the front porch openings, no exterior changes have been made. The Craftsmen style interior was constructed by local cabinetmakers Thomas W. and Dwight Nichols. The interior of the house is virtually unaltered. Original Craftsman features, such as tapering square wood pillars supported by wood bookcases in a front entry, built-in wood cabinets in living and dining rooms and the kitchen, hardwood flooring, doors, and hardware are all intact and in good condition.

What is the house’s current status?

From September 1963 until its closing in May 1968, the Farmhouse served as Epiphany Day School. The school was part of the Church of the Epiphany-Tempe and upon the school’s closing, the Farmhouse became part of the general church campus. It has served as the church offices for many years with only one major alteration. The front porch was enclosed to provide additional office and meeting space.

In 2005, the Tempe City Council designated the D. J. Frankenberg House as a Tempe Historic Property and it was listed on the Tempe Historic Property Register. Also in 2005, the City of Tempe, on behalf of the Church of the Epiphany-Tempe, applied for a Heritage Fund Grant (funded through state lottery money) from the Arizona State Parks Department. The grant was to repair and restore the roof and upgrade the HVAC system. Heritage Fund Grant awards are given only to government agencies and not directly to a private owner. The grant was awarded with a total budget of $66,000. The state provided $44,000 and the church was responsible to raise the remaining $22,000.

One of the requirements of receiving the Heritage Fund Grant includes the property must be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. Part of the grant was slated for that purpose. Historian Mark Pry was hired to put together the National Register nomination. In 2008, the nomination was approved and the D. J. Frankenberg House was placed on the National Register of Historic places by the Department of the Interior.

As part of the roof work, a structural engineer was hired to assess the house’s structural integrity and identify any other problems that would need correcting. The inspection uncovered that one of the main roof beams was cracked and needed to be repaired.

Due to other campus renovation projects at the time, work on the Farmhouse was delayed. When the church was ready to move forward, the state legislature swept all of the existing Heritage Fund grants to offset the budget deficit. As a result, the remaining $28,200 of the state grant monies were lost. The Church of the Epiphany-Tempe was left in the position of having to raise the money through other means for what were then, badly needed roof repairs.

Following a series of thunder storms with heavy rain, both outside and within the Farmhouse, the congregation and community pulled together to save the historic building. “Save the Farmhouse” fund drives, included concerts, bake sales, and donations. When done, enough money was raised to install a historically accurate tile roof on our farmhouse. Where possible, the existing tiles were reused and replacement tiles, matching the originals, were place on the back side and other, less visible portions of the building. The work was performed by a company specializing in historic restorations.

With our new roof, we were able to move on to other restoration work on our beloved Farmhouse.