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  • Writer's pictureBob Graham

Phoenix: The Welnick Market and Liefgreen Seed Company

Updated: Apr 4, 2022

The story of a downtown Phoenix commercial center

The property at the southeast corner of Van Buren Street and 4th Avenue in downtown Phoenix has a long history of development that starts with the founding the city in 1872. The townsite plat map designates the block bounded by 3rd and 4th Avenues south of Van Buren Street as Lot 95, and the northwest quarter of that block is made up of lots 7, 9, and 11.

In the early years following the founding, outside of the central business district at Washington & Central Avenue most of the area was agricultural fields. The Salt River Valley Canal, or “Town Ditch,” which provided irrigation water to the farms of Phoenix, ran east to west just north of the townsite edge at Van Buren Street until it reached 3rd Avenue. There, it veered south into the townsite, cutting through the parcels facing Van Buren Street at a slight angle. Through lots 7, 9, and 11, Block 95, the ditch ran within roughly the front 35 feet of the property.

Fire insurance maps of Phoenix imply that a house was constructed on the site in the 1890s on a single property that included the three lots together. This home remained on the site at least through 1915, and probably remained until the property was redeveloped in 1925. According to the maps, the house was actually built over the canal, near the street intersection. Other structures on the site included an elongated storage shed along the south property line and an outhouse in the southeast corner of the property.

1915 and 1946 Fire Insurance Maps

In April, 1925, three individuals, Leo J. Welnick, John. G. O’Malley, and J. T. Whitney partnered to purchase the property from owners George E. and Carrie W. Woodson. In January, 1927, the property was broken back up into its separate parcels. Lot 7, on the east end of the row, was sold to Whitney and his wife Janet. Lot 9, in the center, was sold to O’Malley and his wife Mary C., and was soon thereafter transferred to the ownership of the O’Malley Investment Company. Lot 11 was sold to Leo J. Welnick, his wife Edna Mae, his brother Edward T. Welnick and his wife Bertha.

The Welnicks and O’Malleys lost no time in developing their parcels with new commercial buildings. In February, 1927, they recorded a party wall agreement giving each side shared use of the 12” thick brick wall that would be centered on the property line.

The Welnick brothers were in the grocery business and the new Welnick Arcade Market was to be an open air market featuring separate vendors selling groceries, baked goods, fruits and vegetables, and meats. The front of the building, facing Van Buren Street, was enclosed with glass storefronts for additional leased retail space. The Welnick Arcade Market officially opened on May 14, 1927, following a grand opening gala and street fair the previous night.

The grand opening was prominently featured in the Arizona Republican newspaper, receiving play in several articles. What follows are some major excerpts.

Dancing To Be On Program Of Welnick Party

One of the prettiest, most elaborately equipped and modern markets in the entire West will be officially opened in Phoenix tonight when Welnick's Arcade Market is thrown open for inspection with a public reception and dance at Fourth Avenue and Van Buren street.

Although no merchandise will be sold until tomorrow morning, all departments of the big market will be open to visitors tonight. The reception starts at seven o'clock and will continue until 11 PM.

Orchestras will be present to furnish music and a section of Fourth avenue will be roped off and cleared for dancing. Advance interest manifested by friends of the establishment indicates that thousands of persons will visit the place tonight, according to the management.

Welnick's Arcade Market is the realization of a dream on the part of two business men in this city who already are widely known in the market business. They are the owners, Ed. F. and L. J. Welnick, brothers. For months they had planned a market of large size and somewhat different from the usual type, and they have spent many thousands of dollars carrying out their plan. The result is the addition to Phoenix business life of a market and grocery supply depot that would be a credit to any city.

With the Welnick brothers as hosts at the reception tonight will be their Associates in the market. They are Thomas S Hubble, owner of the grocery department; Gus Strotjost, in charge of the meat market; Henry Stieg, manager of the fruit and vegetable department; Frank Valenzuela and Arthur Lowry, managers of the bakery.

The program tonight will be opened with a short talk, "The Occasion" by Col. J.C. Eager who will act as master of ceremonies and an address by Judge Samuel White.

Souvenirs will be given to the children and flowers to the ladies. Dancing and fireworks will be included.

The complete program for the evening is:

  • Music by Pixley's Orchestra

  • Introduction of Master of Ceremonies, Col. John G. Eager by Edward F. Welnick.

  • "The Occasion," by Col. J.G.Eager

  • Music by Pixley's Orchestra.

  • Serving of punch by "Sudden Service" Nelson.

  • Address. Judge Samuel White.

  • Music by the orchestra. …

New Arcade Building One Of the Most Attractive Business Houses

The building which houses the new Welnick Arcade Market, to be formally opened for business today at Fourth Avenue and Van Buren street, is one of the prettiest business houses in Phoenix, and embraces some original ideas in market building architecture. The owners and builders have worked on the theory that a store essentially for women shoppers will be more pleasing and consequently more profitable if is appealing to the feminine eye. They have constructed the market accordingly.

The building is one story in height and is of reinforced concrete construction. The exterior front is veneered in Italian art stone of travertine finish. The color is a pretty buff. Posts are decorated with scrolls and carvings, and the sky rise facings and cornices are highly decorated. The ornamentation of the exterior suggests a theater rather than a market.

Wide steel awnings Shade the sidewalk on both sides. Rose of high powered frosted lights make the sidewalks brilliant at night.

Plate glass windows, set in brass, extend along both sides of the building frontage. The glass extends nearly to the floor and affords [good] light during the day. An exceptionally good feature is that these glass windows can be raised to disappear into the walls, making the entire market virtually and open air place in summer. And they can be lowered at night or in cold weather merely by turning a crank. The windows are swung on pulleys, counterbalanced with weights.

Ceilings of the building are 16 feet high, affording maximum ventilation and "breathing space." This big space and the Windows are essential in a grocery and market, or 1000 different odors from the meat market, vegetable tables, bakery and other departments tend to fill the atmosphere. Complete ventilation is further assured by 12 large ceiling fans.

Walls and ceilings are of plaster, in Tiffany finish. The color is a light gray, with a something radiant tint of blues and reds.

The Mediterranean atmosphere in the architecture is further carried out in the interiors with a beautiful Spanish balcony in the rear. Three ornamental and grilled windows reveal a balcony upstairs, and on this balcony are the offices of the market proprietors and managers.

Six yellow cages holding 12 canary birds add a touch of [unreadable] and color to the walls of the market. The big room is lighted by 12 ceiling arc lights.

In the rear of the market an ice plant with a 1,000 pound daily capacity is in operation. It not only manufactures 100 pound ice cubes but it cools those refrigeration rooms to freezing temperature and below and cools refrigerated cases for the meat market.

Pipes from this plant also cool a ladies restroom…

Asbestos Roofing Used In Covering Arcade Market

Asbestos roofing used on the new Welnick Arcade Market building, located at Fourth avenue and Van Buren street, was furnished by the Johns-Manville Company, through its local representatives, the Phoenix or roofing and supply company, in arrangement with the contractors the A. E. Wasielewski Company.

Asbestos roofing was decided upon because it was declared to be highly satisfactory in a climate such as Phoenix has. It has the further advantages of being fireproof.

The building is of fireproof construction, made of reinforced concrete. Floors are concrete and tile, and the interior is of Tiffany Gray plaster. The structure is one story high, but the detailed construction work is said to be of exceptional quality. Cost of the building was in the neighborhood of $100,000.

The structure will house a modern grocery, a bakery, fruit and vegetable market and meat department. An informal reception and opening of the market was held last night, and the program included speeches, music, dancing and tours of inspection through the building. The market will be open for business this morning.

Hubbell Grocery To Carry Complete Line Of Staples In Welnick Arcade Market

A feature of Hubbell’s Peerless Grocery, which is to open today in the new Welnick arcade market at Fourth avenue and Van Buren street, will be a delicatessen department in which not only the standard lines of merchandise will be sold but in which an exceptionally large array of imported extra fancy stuff will be offered the local grocery trade.

The delicatessen department will be in charge of Frank Daubert. His shelves are full of fancy caviars, dressings oils and other things that tempt the appetite and enhance the taste of everyday foods.

The Peerless Grocery also is the authorized agency in Phoenix for Battle Creek Health Foods, according to Thomas S. Hubble, owner of the grocery. This line of foodstuffs is nationally known and is favored by persons who do not eat meat. It is especially popular in cities with (unreadable] like that of Phoenix, it was stated.

The Del Monte brand of canned fruits and other garden produce will be featured by the grocery.

The shelves of the grocery were all full last night and hundreds of persons filed through to inspect the stock. Particular attention has been paid to making the displays attractive and Mr. Hubbell was highly complemented last night at the opening reception of the market and the appearance his store made.

Mr. Hubble has been in the grocery business since he was a boy, he said, and has been in Phoenix for several months. He was formerly in business at Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Faith in the present and enthusiasm for the future of Phoenix is the main reason he decided to move here after passing through…

The Market building was designed by local architects Fitzhugh & Byron, who are noted for many other high profile commissions in Phoenix of the time, including the Grunow Clinic, the Walker Building/Central Arizona Light and Power (now in the forecourt of the Phoenix Municipal Court building), and the First Baptist Church, the building on the diagonally opposite corner of the same block and completed in 1929.

Welnick’s Grocery was the major user of the Arcade market building for over twenty years. The Welnicks took out a mortgage on the property in 1929. The Great Depression must have been difficult for the market, because in 1939 they defaulted on the mortgage and sold the building back to the bank in satisfaction of the debt. While the property continued in use under separate ownership, Welnick’s remained in business at that location through 1951.

John Gerald O’Malley was the owner of prominent local lumber retailer the O’Malley Lumber Company, and several related subsidiaries, one of which was the O’Malley Investment Company. O’Malley seems to have developed Lot 9 purely as an investment property. In the years following the construction of their building in 1927, a succession of tenants occupied the building, the first and longest of which was the Liefgreen Seed Company. They occupied at least the western half of the building (if not the whole thing) from 1927 through the mid-1940s, a span of about twenty years. Later tenants included Germain’s, Inc and Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Plant Technician Training Center.

J.T. Whitney was the proprietor of the nearby J.T. Whitney Funeral Chapel, constructed in 1926 at 330 N. 2nd Ave. It appears that Whitney never built anything on the Lot 7. Early aerial photography from 1930 shows some kind of gated entryway, and perhaps the property was used for outdoor services for some time. In any event, by 1945 the O’Malley building had been enlarged onto this site as an office and warehouse for the Liefgreen Seed feed store. Also by that time, the O’Malley building, which had originally stopped about 20 feet short of the south property line, was extended (in two separate episodes) to fill out Lot 9.

At some time in the 1930s, the City of Phoenix condemned about the front 9 ½ feet of all of the lots along Van Buren Street. This condemnation was for road widening. This condemnation would place the fronts of the buildings on both lots 9 and 11 far within the street right of way. While still reflected on property deeds, the effectiveness of this condemnation is not established. (Per deeds, “Interlocutory decree, Case 29331 COP v. E.E. Jack et. al.”)

Building as it appeared c. 1969

Later Years

After Welnick’s went out of business, the Arcade market building continued in use as leased retail space for almost 20 years more. The former open arcade in the back appears to have been converted to covered parking after the market closed, probably in support of the lease space along Van Buren. Prominent tenants during this period include the Hut Sut Café (Chinese food) and the Van Buren Cleaners. Starting in the 1960s, the building was an auto repair shop.

In 1969 the Arcade market building was sold to David Reiff and his wife Joyce. The Reiffs renovated the building for their printing business. At that time all exterior doors and glazing were removed and the openings were infilled with frame and stucco panels. The awnings that had spanned the north and west sides of the building were removed. The interior was partitioned and a second floor/ceiling structure added within the space for offices and work rooms.

Lots 7 and 9, the old O’Malley property was sold to the Reiffs by Irene Luke in 1988, completing the reassemblage of lots 7, 9, and 11. The Reiffs expanded the printing business into the new acquisition, renovating the exterior and infilling the Van Buren street storefronts.

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