The Warehouse District covers two-fifths of a square mile just south of downtown Phoenix. The area deviates from the downtown street grid to accommodate the Union Pacific rail yard around which it was built in the early 1900s. The district continued to grow after that point to accommodate the shipping and commercial needs of the city. Agricultural shipping historically operated out of the warehouse district as well, as produce was brought into the city and distributed via refrigerated boxcars. Until the mid-1950s, ice was also manufactured here to preserve the produce in transit to destinations in the East. Dozens of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century warehouses and commercial buildings remain today, between which are vacant lots and surface parking lots that occupy the space of eighteen city blocks—evidence of the widespread demolition of underused or abandoned buildings that began in the mid-twentieth century.
Phoenix’s Chinatown, established by Chinese immigrants working on the railroad in the 1870s and 1880s, was located within the Warehouse District. Its residents, in addition to providing railroad labor, also offered laundry services, sold vegetables and fruits, and worked as domestic servants. The neighborhood was originally located between Adams and First streets, but due to local opposition and discrimination, Chinese occupants were pushed further south between First and Third and Madison and Jackson streets. This second Chinatown flourished until the 1940s, when larger corporations began buying out the Chinese businesses, and Chinese residents scattered throughout the city following World War II.
The Phoenix Cotton Oil Company Building (1895) is one of the more iconic structures in the district. Located at 605 E. Grant Street, the brick masonry building was home to Paul Litchfield’s Southwest Cotton Company, which added two additional buildings (a processing plant and a headquarters) next door in 1917. In 2004, developer Michael Levine bought the property and refurbished it to houses galleries, classrooms, and performance spaces for the Arizona State University School of Art. Levine won the Grand Prize for Arizona Governor’s Awards for Historic Preservation in 2007 for this project.
Other late-nineteenth-century buildings in the Phoenix Warehouse District have a similar histories of transition from commercial or manufacturing use to rehabilitated structures offering a wider variety of uses. These include the Ong Yut Geong Wholesale Market Building (1930), now occupied by R&R Partners, who refurbished the structure, and the Anchor Manufacturing Company (1925), an auto parts manufacturing facility recently restored and transformed into The Duce, an Art Deco–inspired facility that includes a restaurant, bar, gym, and retail space. The Sun Mercantile Building (1929), designed by E.W. Bacon and constructed by Wells and Son, was built for the Chinese-born businessman Tang Shing. It ultimately became one of the largest wholesale groceries in Phoenix, and later served as an athletic facility for the Phoenix Suns; in recent years, it has housed a health clinic.
Community groups and entrepreneurs are currently lobbying for the further remodeling of historic buildings and infill construction in the Warehouse District. Goals of these groups include increasing connectivity between the Warehouse District and downtown proper, creating mixed-income residential areas, and supporting the development of a tech-hub in the district. In recent years, the district has attracted new businesses, primarily in the design, technology, and service sectors, and many of its buildings have been remodeled as offices, educational facilities, restaurants, entertainment venues, and small-scale commercial operations. In 2021, the Phoenix City Council approved construction of a 26-story mixed-use tower built inside three of the walls of the historic Arizona Hardware Supply Company at the southwest corner of First and Jackson streets. In addition to a hotel, condominiums, and retail space, the structure will serve as the headquarters of the Arizona Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC), a nonprofit organization that provides employment training. The controversial approval for one of the tallest new buildings in downtown Phoenix required several zoning changes and the removal of the building’s historic designation.
"History" and “Tour.” Phoenix Warehouse District. Accessed May 17, 2021. http://www.phxwd.com/.
Pancrazio, Angela Cara. “Row over Chinatown Landmark Stirs Memories.” Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ), January 21, 2006.
Schmus, Brittany, and Cameron Neely. "Business Booms in Downtown Phoenix's Reborn Warehouse District." Azcentral, January 9, 2016.
Weight, Kevin. “Brief History of Phoenix’s Sun Mercantile Building.” Downtown Voices Coalition. December 31, 2005. https://downtownvoices.org/.