Former justice O'Connor's P.V. home rebuilt in Tempe - East Valley Tribune: News

Former justice O'Connor's P.V. home rebuilt in Tempe

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Posted: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 8:23 pm | Updated: 10:51 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

In the roll call of places where fighting factions made peace, perhaps Ghent, Camp David and Dayton one day will be joined by Tempe.

The Sandra Day O'Connor Center for Civic Discourse is, at the moment, just stacks of adobe bricks and a roof on jacks, bereft of supporting walls. This is the former home of Arizona's most famous jurist, midway through its move from Paradise Valley and reconstruction near the Arizona Historical Society Museum.

O'Connor was known as a skilled mediator during her service as state Senate majority leader through her 25 years on the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court. To best honor her legacy, civic leaders say, her home will be where common ground is found and disputes are settled.

"We want O'Connor House to be known as a place where discussion leads to action," said Elva Coor, chairwoman of the committee raising money to move the home and establish the center.

Coor was among about 60 people gathered Wednesday morning on a hilltop to watch the construction company raise the wooden roof by about a foot.

It was a small step in a painstakingly slow process. Deconstruction of the home at its former location, northwest of 40th Street and Camelback Road, began in September 2007. The center's grand opening is scheduled for October 2009.

"The Historical Society is at the intersection of the past and future," central division director Peter Welsh said. "We bring the story of Arizona to the public, and so we are proud to be the public gateway to the O'Connor House, which is aimed at solving problems for the future."

Not in attendance was O'Connor, now 78 and retired for nearly three years. Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman said her absence was due to a mission of mediation in the Middle Eastern nation of Jordan.

"And that's part of why we're here - because Justice O'Connor developed a reputation as somebody who could bring difficult circumstances to calm and bring warring parties, sometimes literally, together," Hallman said.

More than once was mentioned how O'Connor, in her legislative career of 1969-75, would invite party leaders to her home for dinner and problem solving.

The 1,700-square-foot house was constructed in 1957, with the adobe bricks constructed out of mud from the bed of the Salt River. It was here where O'Connor and husband John raised three sons.

It was neither by accident nor whim the O'Connors chose adobe during an era when concrete block was the building material of choice. Young Sandra Day grew up in an adobe ranch home 35 miles outside the southeastern Arizona town of Duncan, and she has told biographers these were among the happiest days of her life.

The family left the Paradise Valley home in 1981, when she was confirmed as the first woman on the nation's highest court.

A developer had planned to simply demolish the house until philanthropists and activists stepped in to save it.

Moving the home is a matter of disassembling it, hauling the pieces 10 miles away and putting them back together. The roof is in 11 pieces and the blocks, each labeled with their location within the home, are stacked on pallets in the museum's parking lot.

Project manager Janie Ellis said 600 new bricks will be made, as bringing the building up to modern-day code will require steel reinforcement inserted in existing bricks. Other changes will include tempered glass, plus improvements to the electrical, structural and mechanical systems.

Ellis said Arizona's baking sun was accounted for during the home's construction, with a long wall on the west side taking the brunt of the exposure. With that passive solar design in mind, Ellis was proud to say the reconstruction is off the original north-south alignment by only 18 degrees.

"It's a beautiful piece of architecture," Ellis said.

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