April 7, 2015

Meet the Owners of Rancho Joaquina, A Spanish Colonial Revival in Phoenix

  • By: Saving Places
By Boyce Thompson

Rancho Joaquina was designed by renowned Phoenix architects Lee Fitzhugh and Lester Byron in the Spanish Colonial Revival style.

Marc and Karen Goldblatt were ready to unwind after a hectic week hosting events at Rancho Joaquina, the ninety-year-old historic home they own in Phoenix.

First, the Goldblatts hosted a dinner lecture about the national political scene. Later in the week, they opened their landmark Spanish Colonial Revival home to the Arizona Historical League, which put on a catered event with food, presentations, and an informal house tour for more than 150 guests.

Now, relaxing over Saturday morning coffee, the couple was happy to relate details of their 26-year restoration odyssey, much of it guided by framed reproductions of the home’s original blueprints hanging in the pantry.

Built in 1924-5 by J.E. Thompson (my great-grandfather), Rancho Joaquina currently rests on nearly two acres surrounded by neighborhoods of nondescript tract housing. The 6,709-square-foot home, which used to anchor an 80-acre estate with a horticultural preserve and commercial nurseries, sat empty for many years during the 1950s and 1970s, leading to unsurprising claims that it might be haunted.

Designed by renowned Phoenix architects Lee Fitzhugh and Lester Byron, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. That was two years before the Goldblatts bought it in for $320,000 from a nonprofit.

“It was in horrible condition,” recalls Karen, pulling out the evidence -- old snapshots of open walls, dingy spaces, and paint-encrusted radiators.

Thankfully, previous owners had replaced some vandalized doors, glass, and lighting fixtures. And most of the home’s signature elements -- including its six fireplaces, stucco walls, and unusual elevator -- remained in place.

The first order of business for the Goldblatts, who both work full time and raised two daughters in the house, was to make the home livable. They updated and expanded a dilapidated kitchen barely big enough to hold a card table. They replaced hardwood floors on the second floor that had been consumed by termites and in the process enlarged some secondary bedrooms.

The Goldblatts hosted the Arizona Historical League, which put on a catered event that included an informal house tour for more than 150 guests.

Then they worked to return the home to its original glory, a lofty goal that involved stripping a lot of paint.

“When we bought the house, everything was painted white,” says Karen. “The Philippine Mahogany had been painted over. The beautiful stone fireplace had been painted over. We had workers heat-gunning and stripping paint literally for years.”

The home has revealed more than a few secrets during restoration. Contractors found electrical wires for lanterns buried in walls throughout the house.

“All the wires were live,” notes Marc, who had wall sconces installed throughout the first floor.

In 2013, the Goldblatts did a major remodel of the kitchen and butler’s pantry on the east wing of the house. As they brought the kitchen up to date , they kept many original elements in the two rooms, including wood cabinet drawers with felt dividers, a cast-stone drainboard, a dumb-waiter, and a ceramic drinking fountain set into the kitchen wall.

The next big project is to preserve the home’s wood doors and windows, most of them two-leaf wood casements with three lights. The couple recently received a $10,000 matching grant to restore the fenestration. It probably won’t cover the expense.

“I’m going to tell the contractors that they don’t need make everything perfect -- just do a good enough job to protect everything,” says Marc.

The home’s adobe walls, which range in thickness from two to three feet, occasionally need repair. Marc faithfully replaces damaged sections with color-through stucco. He doesn’t paint it.

“Once you do that, you create a different color,” he says. “There’s no going back.”

The hallmark of the home is a rear arcade graced with adobe arches. The Goldblatts returned the arches to their original open state, removing screens and windows. Then they reinforced the arches with custom-made cantera stone.

The living room of Rancho Joaquina.

Rancho Joaquina is one of the few Spanish Colonial Revival homes in Phoenix, or anywhere for that matter, with real adobe arches, says Jim Garrison, chief architect for Arizona State Parks who did the research to get the home registered in 1984, and spoke at the historical society event.

Even the arches used to construct California missions were typically made with fired brick. “These adobe arches are extremely rare,” he says.

The Goldblatts made another major change to return the home to the way it looked when J.E. Thompson lived there. They removed an outdoor studio building that had been placed on a second-floor terrace off the master bedroom.

They also tore down a potting shed in the backyard that had been added by a previous owner and replaced it with a three-car carport. “When we got here, there was no place to park a car,” says Karen.

Done in the same pinkish adobe as the rest of the home, the carport, unlike the former potting shed, blends beautifully with the rest of the structure.

Garrison, who hadn’t visited the house since he surveyed it for the historic register nomination, was impressed with what he saw at the event. Thanks to the Goldblatts’ work, he says, the home has real historic integrity: “We can see that with our own eyes.”

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