Venue Projects, one of our favorite developers, has modernized this once sprawling and inward looking building better known for being a funky community gathering space rather than for its architecture, into a bright, airy and inviting third place in Central Phoenix. Key to this redevelopment is The Changing Hands Bookstore, a welcome addition to a part of town that lacks independent bookstores.
The adaptive reuse project was headed by architect John Douglas Architects who redesigned the building and reconfigured the site. The Changing Hands interior was designed by Christoph Kaiser and The Southern Rail Restaurant, another anchor tenant at the Newton, was designed by Kim Harris of Studio K. The construction was carried out by Venue Projects.
The design team had its work cut out. The building, which lacked much architectural interest in the first place, was added onto haphazardly many times over the years. At the end of its 45-year run, the giant one-story building featured two connected dining rooms, a cocktail-dining lounge, four private party and banquet rooms serving from ten to three hundred, plus a wine cellar table for ten. It had two bars, four fireplaces, three shaded patios, and a large porte-cochère drive entrance. The major design strategy for The Beef Eaters was to take away and simplify rather than to embellish and add to.
Today, the complex makes much more architectural, experiential and way finding sense. Parking surrounds the building and the porte-cochère marks the entrance into Changing Hands Bookstore and Southern Rail Restaurant.
Southwest Gardener, a third tenant with a spot in the back of the building, is scheduled to open in the fall of this year.
Whereas the original building had a dark, brooding and somewhat mysterious atmosphere, the redesign made some surgical moves to open the building up, let daylight in, and create bright and sunny spaces.
Venue Projects and the design team were able to retain aspects of the original building and its story while recreating it into a place that makes much more sense today. They exposed the existing heavy wood beams and made them an integral part of the more modern design of the spaces.
Also, small touches like integrating the original fireplaces, the ornate chandeliers and even some of the wingbacked chairs of the original Beef Eaters reminds Phoenicians of the city’s colorful past.
The Newton is a huge triumph for Phoenix. It’s important not only because it has brought a popular independent bookstore to the city center, but because it proves that evolution and progress can happen without tearing down historic buildings.
It is a successful case study of embracing and retaining the things that make Phoenix unique and also revitalizing them so they are relevant and well used today. Sensitive adaptive reuse like The Newton is the best way to preserve the historic buildings, because it ensures a building’s future by making good use of it.
Becoming home to The Changing Hands Bookstore, which has been a huge community asset in Tempe for years, has been a game changer for Central Phoenix. Whereas there is an abundance of cool and hip restaurants and coffee shops in Midtown, there aren’t many other cool, community-oriented local businesses in the area besides the Stinkweeds complex. Independent bookstores dot the streets of vibrant cities like San Francisco, New York, Paris and London. They are magical places where people of all walks of life gather, imagine, gain knowledge, and revel the literary arts. And each usually has its own personality, which contributes to the rich cultural fabric of a city. Changing Hands at The Newton has brought this magic and personality to central Phoenix and is a major step forward in making the city into an attractive place for creatives and intellectuals.
Bravo to Venue Projects for revitalizing a difficult building into an inviting and bustling community gathering spot. And a special nod to the team for the following special efforts to create community…
- Thanks for integrating the First Draft Bar into The Changing Hands Bookstore. This mixed-use strategy turns up the volume in the way people are welcomed to the space. You could combine buying a book with grabbing a drink, or you could just go there to hang out at the bar and enjoy the energy of the surrounding bookstore, or you could just go browse books while being energized by the lively discussions at the bar. The bar changes and adds to the character of the bookstore and makes it more appealing to a wider audience.
- Thanks for keeping the community multi-purpose room. This room is adjacent to the First Draft Bar and is used for readings and book signings and can be rented out for events, meetings and any other community gathering. When not in use for events, the space remains open and becomes a spill-over space for people wanting to read a book in a quiet spot or for people to catch up with a friend in a quieter setting.
Lorenzo Perez, founding partner at Venue Projects, is rightfully proud of this project and says, “I really love that we were able to preserve the scale, look and feel of the former Beefeater building, and how we were able to integrate a unique, community based, architectural program into it. The bookstore gives me chills when I walk in and see how well it inserts itself into the former bar, dining room and kitchen of the old Beefeater. I absolutely love how Southern Rail engages with Camelback and the Light Rail line. We are thrilled with the character of the entire space.”
Photo Credit: All photos by the author.