The Warehouse District’s Rise from the Ashes

Although it’s a relatively young city, Phoenix’s downtown is home to a number of historic districts filled with iconic buildings representative of this great city’s past. However, throughout the years, many of these neighborhoods have become susceptible to deterioration and neglect. Through the goodwill and dedication of the city’s residents and business owners, many of these areas are on the fast track to a comeback.

A prime example of this is the historic Warehouse District. Once the commercial heart of Phoenix, the area became a bit of a ghost town towards the mid- to late-1900s and many of the buildings degraded, no longer meeting the needs of modern businesses. However, its resurgence in the past decade is evidence of design’s influence on a community’s social and economic vitality. The area is now considered a hub for creative and innovative companies.

While many of us may not fully realize the impact design has on our everyday life, there is one organization that has long believed in the power of design. That organization is AIGA Arizona—and since 1989, they’ve been working to bring design communities together throughout Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Tucson. Its overarching mission remains the same since its creation—to amplify the voice of design and create a vision for a collective future.

Design is a robust, all-encompassing concept—much more than merely the act of combining complementary colors, selecting the perfect throw pillows, or knowing the difference between serif and sans-serif fonts. It has the capacity to drive innovative change, fuel community collaboration, and integrate the past and the future in ways that pay homage to bygone decades—as evident in the Warehouse District’s uplifting transformation.

Enhancing the Warehouse District’s industrial roots through design.

If you think about it, design is everywhere—from city planning, graphics, web development, interior decorating, architecture, and so on. And in many instances, design perpetuates evolution. In this case, design has played an integral role in helping restore the iconic Warehouse District to its former glory, revitalizing the area in such a way so that it provides value to Phoenix’s current residents and workforce.

With the goal of preserving the historical integrity of these enduring structures, community members and business leaders set out to renovate them while maintaining as much of their original characteristics as possible. To deliver on this mission to both uphold the buildings’ past charm while also servicing the needs of its occupants today, many of their restorations align with the tenants of industrial design—a professional and creative practice that focuses on converting old factories and industrial spaces into modern, functioning buildings. Oftentimes, industrial design incorporates original materials in unexpected and trendy ways.

Because of designers and idea makers, the Warehouse District is once again a bustling economic hub. Below are a few examples of its renovated buildings, which stand today as great works of industrial design and proud testaments of design’s ability to merge the old with the new to create something impactful and of service to a community.

The buildings — then and now.

Sun Mercantile Building

Constructed: 1929
Purpose: Largest wholesale grocery house in Phoenix
Historical significance: Last remaining building from Phoenix’s Second Chinatown
Today: The building is now home to the state-of-the-art IASIS Healthcare Multi Specialty Clinic.


Arizona Hardware Supply Co.

Constructed: 1930
Purpose: Designed to store hardware goods and allow customers to pick up orders
Today: The building was restored and redeveloped by Dudley Ventures and remains a wholesale hardware supply store.


Graham Paper Company Warehouse

Constructed: 1949
Purpose: Paper company
Today: The building is home to the architectural company, Gould Evans + Canary, who has worked hard to preserve its historically significant exterior and interior in addition to restoring the building’s original bow trusses and loading dock.


The Ong Yut Geong Wholesale Market Building

Constructed: 1930
Purpose: Wholesale market
Historical significance: Part of Phoenix’s Second Chinatown
Today: The building has been restored and occupied by its new owners, R&R Partners.


Bell Laundry Building

Constructed: 1918
Purpose: Served as a commercial laundry business for local companies
Today: The building was renovated in 1999 and is now a historical event venue owned by Bentley Projects.


General Sales Co. Wholesale Grocery Warehouse

Constructed: 1941
Purpose: Wholesale grocery warehouse
Today: The building is home to Galvanize, Inc. The building’s renovation preserved much of the building’s original exterior and interior.


Anchor Manufacturing

Constructed: 1925
Purpose: Manufactured automobile and bus bodies
Today: The building has undergone renovations and is now home to The Duce, a retro-chic, art deco bar, gym area and retail store.

To learn more about how design can jump-start an evolution and effect real change within a community, be sure to check out AIGA Arizona’s premier event, Phoenix Design Week (PHXDW), as well as the Evolve Design Conference, where you can snag your tickets here.


Story by: Breanne Krager
Images courtesy of