As Tempe is finishing a partial restoration of the historic Hayden Flour Mill, an architect is urging the city not to paint the iconic building despite prominent rust stains and peeling paint.
The city is sprucing up the abandoned mill with a plaza and historical markers — and perhaps a fresh coat of white paint as well — after years of complaints the site is an eyesore.
But two months before Tempe will complete work at the city-owned mill, architect Robert Graham told the city in a letter that plans for a fresh coat of paint would cover “ghost signs” that have been revealed as paint flakes off the concrete structure.
His advice? Leave it alone.
“To paint over these features would be like refinishing a treasured piece of antique furniture — it may make it look ‘like new,’ but is that really the highest value?” he wrote. “Or do we value the patina of age, which cannot be recreated once lost?”
The faint ghost letters and advertising images document how the business changed over time and evoke the industrial age, he said. Other historic sites have successfully dealt with similar issues, Graham told Tempe.
Graham works for the Phoenix-based Motley Design Group and has 24 years of experience with historic projects. That includes the current restoration of the Tempe-owned Eisendrath House, an adobe structure built in 1930. Graham cited a previous report from an archaeological consultant who also advised against painting the mill.
The City Council will discuss the issue Thursday. The city has received painting bids ranging from $15,000 to $34,000. The city did not ask for bids to paint the silos behind the mill.
The fenced mill site is expected to open in May. A grassy plaza will host events, and visitors will be able to peer into first-floor windows to see milling equipment on display.
The mill opened in 1874, built by Tempe founder Charles Trumbull Hayden. Fire destroyed the first two wood mill buildings, and the existing reinforced concrete structure opened in 1918. The mill closed in 1998.
Tempe bought the site for $11.8 million in 2003, when a developer failed to meet a timeline for a project there. A $500 million redevelopment plan later emerged, only to go nowhere in the wake of the 2007-2009 recession. Both projects would have restored the mill and reuse it for offices and shops, with new buildings surrounding it.
Tempe wants to eventually sell the property to a developer that will fully restore the mill. The city estimates it will take several years before the real estate market improves enough for a developer to be interested in the site. In the interim, Tempe decided to launch a more modest project so the high-profile site is more than an abandoned landmark.