The little house on the edge of Papago Park has caused a big stir. Preserving the past, planning for the future and making its mark on Tempe, the nonprofit Rio Salado Foundation, which spearheads historically significant restoration and economic development programs in the area, has taken on the Eisendrath House, a community landmark that’s best known as the “Pink House on the Hill.” Named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, the two-story 1930 adobe mansion is one of the finest remaining examples of Pueblo-revival architecture and the masterwork of architect Robert T. Evans.
The Pink House on the Hill
Like many wealthy Chicagoans, socialite Rose Eisendrath, widow of successful glove manufacturer Joseph N. Eisendrath, discovered Arizona in the Roaring Twenties. Pioneers of sorts, these early snowbirds paved the way for flocks of winter visitors to the Valley of the Sun. When Eisendrath was refused at a Valley resort because of her Jewish heritage, she commissioned Robert T. Evans—a new-to-the-scene architect—to build her adobe villa.
“Rose built herself a resort-like house with multiple reception areas for entertaining,” explains Josh Roffler, senior curator of the Tempe History Museum. “The house was designed for laughing, relaxing and wintering.”
Originally situated on 40 acres of pristine Sonoran Desert, the 5,500-square-foot winter residence was designed to take full advantage of Arizona’s sunshine and surrounded a central courtyard and fountain. It boasted four master bedrooms, three baths, a double maids’ quarters with a separate entrance, a dumbwaiter for entertaining on the upstairs terrace overlooking the desert, as well as a cactus garden, citrus grove and swimming pool. It was the first of many adobe homes that Evans would design for affluent Valley residents and winter visitors during his 20-year career in Arizona, leaving behind a legacy that would make him one of the state’s top 100 early architects.
The house was completed in December, just in time for Eisendrath to arrive around the time of her 61st birthday in January 1931. She named the house Lomaki, Hopi for “pretty home.” Everyone was welcome at her table, including the cooks, servants and, ironically, even the manager of the hotel who had turned her away.
In her absence she made her house available to guests, and it was occupied for all but the warmest months of the year. Eisendrath entertained and wintered in the house for five years before she passed away at Lomaki on Christmas Eve in 1936.
A Shared Vision and Labor of Love
The house saw its share of owners after Eisendrath’s death, but it most notably served as an artists’ colony during the ’70s and ’80s, housing Arizona State University art students and longtime renter and esteemed artist Jeff Zischke. Zischke opened a gallery on the property, and for a time it was the place to be.
“I exhibited there in 1986,” recalls Rio Salado Foundation executive director Kim Knotter. “It was where all the young, starving artists hung out—and I was one of them.”
Unfortunately, time took its toll on the Eisendrath House and when the North Tempe Neighborhood Association encouraged the city to purchase the remaining nine acres in 2002, it was in no state to hold a cocktail party.
Through community effort and public-private partnerships in association with the Rio Salado Foundation, the historic and architectural treasure underwent a decade-long restoration. After $4.3 million in repairs and modernizations to bring the home into the 21st century, the Eisendrath House has largely returned to its original floorplan and is once again being used as a resort-like entertainment venue for weddings and private parties—but with a twist.
Eisendrath Center for Water Conservation
The Eisendrath House is an adaptive reuse project. More than an intimate special events venue and visitor’s center, the house has a new lease on life. It has been reimagined as a first-of-its-kind water conservation interpretive center as part of the Carl Hayden Campus for Sustainability, a unique public resource that combines recreational and learning opportunities concerning water, history and environmental awareness within Papago Park. Immediately adjacent to the Eisendrath House is the freestanding SRP Water Education Facility, a state-of-the-art classroom and meeting space for water conservation classes.
“The City of Tempe Water Treatment Plant is located directly above the Eisendrath House; we wanted to make the house relevant above and beyond its history,” explains Knotter.
In keeping with the water conservation theme, a number of innovative water-saving features have been added to the property. The most avant-garde water conservation idea, however, involves the swimming pool.
“The swimming pool has been converted to a cistern, storing rainwater that will be used to irrigate the property’s natural landscaping. The pool is conserving water instead of using water,” explains Roffler.
The Eisendrath Center for Water Conservation serves as a symbolic pillar for sustainability, and city offices housed on the property are available to the public.
“Water conservation classes are provided to citizens at no cost, and residents and visitors alike are encouraged to visit the facility,” says Knotter.
A dedicated water education room in the original house reminds visitors of Lomaki’s new purpose. With so many different players and uses, it’s only fitting that everyone is once again welcome at Rose’s home. As Roffler gazes upon a portrait of Eisendrath hanging in the parlor, he says, “I like to imagine that Rose is watching over the cocktail parties happening today.”