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Kerr Cultural Center now officially a 'historic place'

July 19, 2010

In most parts of Europe, a historic building means one that is a mere 1,300 years old or so.

In Scottsdale, however, a 62-year-old structure is old enough to make the cut for the National Register of Historical Places.

ASU’s Kerr Cultural Center, Scottsdale, is one of the newest listees on the NRHP, culminating a two-year process of local, state and national approval.

Kerr Cultural Center, which includes an adobe house built in 1948 and adobe studio added in 1959 by musician Louise Lincoln Kerr, is the 12th ASU property to be included in the National Register of Historic Places.

Eight listed properties are on the Tempe campus and three are on the Polytechnic campus.

In Tempe are Old Main (1894); Harrington Birchett House (1895); Virginia G. Piper Writers House (1907); University Club (1909); School of Human Evolution and Social Change (1914); Matthews Hall (1918); Moeur Building (1939); and Gammage Auditorium (1964).

(The Harrington Birchett House sits on land purchased by ASU in 1989. No plans have been made as yet for the land or the house.)

Polytechnic properties are Facilities Management 03 (1941); Ammo Bunkers (1941); and the Flagpole (1941).

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation's historic places deemed worthy of preservation. The register, which now contains 85,822 properties, was created through the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and is part of the National Park Service.

The register is not limited to buildings. Sites, districts, structures – such as the Ammo Bunkers at the Polytechnic campus – and objects – such as the Polytechnic flagpole – are eligible for inclusion.

According to Patricia Olson, an architect who works in the University Architect’s Office and is in charge of ASU’s NRHP process, a place qualifies for listing based on its age, significance and integrity.

“Properties must be 50 years old or older,” she said, while properties less than 50 years old must demonstrate “exceptional importance” (as was the case with Gammage Auditorium when it was listed at less than 50 years.)

“Properties also must be associated with historic events or activities, or with an important person in history, have a distinctive design or physical character, or the potential to provide important information about prehistory or history,” she explained.

The third category, integrity, is a little harder to define. “To be eligible for listing, a property must retain as many as possible of the characteristics that made it significant, such as location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association,” Olson said.

If the property meets the eligibility requirements, a nomination to the state and national registers can be pursued.

What are the benefits of having a property listed on the NRHP?

According to the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), the listing can raise community awareness and pride, increase property value, and qualify the property for tax incentives and grants. The goal is to protect historic properties and keep them in use.

Kerr Cultural Center, which presents concerts under the auspices of ASU Gammage (formerly ASU Public Events), is an intimate performing-arts venue (and popular site for weddings) tucked behind a hotel in Scottsdale.

Kerr (pronounced Care) is listed in the National Register as the Louise Lincoln Kerr House and Studio, in recognition of the original owner, Louise Lincoln Kerr (1892-1977), an accomplished musician, composer and local patroness of the arts. The buildings are also significant as a rare example of Spanish Colonial style adobe architecture in Scottsdale.

When Mrs. Kerr built her home and studio, which seats approximately 300, the area north of downtown Scottsdale was desert. The property also had several “shacks,” where visiting artists stayed. Among the noted performers who came to the studio to give recitals or perform with Mrs. Kerr were Isaac Stern, Pablo Casals, and the Budapest and Juilliard string quartets.

Mrs. Kerr donated her home and studio to ASU just before her death with the request that it remain in use as a performance venue.

The property is protected under a 50-year Conservation Easement agreement established between ASU and the City of Scottsdale in 2008. In addition to the National Register listing, it is also listed in the State Register of Historic Places and the City of Scottsdale Register of Historic Places.