Earlier this year real estate investor and devoted preservationist Ben Funke, 31, purchased a 1946 property in a severe state of disrepair located in the greater Maple-Ash area.
Had it fallen into the wrong hands, the property could have easily been torn down, perhaps replaced with a condo.
Thankfully for the neighborhood, Funke promptly stepped in and restored it instead. It took him four months of full-time work to get the house fixed and in a position to be rented out.
As a response to the post-World War II housing shortage, several home builders started manufacturing prefabricated houses, an innovative concept at the time. Home-Ola, based in Chicago, was one of such companies.
Their homes aimed at the $3,000 market and were available in a handful of different floorplans. They were ordered through the mail and arrived in the form of a kit, which was supposed to take around 300 hours of labor to assemble.
The Midwest barn-style house stands out from neighboring properties. It features a sloped roof, probably designed for snow. It was one of five identical homes that were imported into this area in the mid-1940’s to accommodate railroad engineers working on the railway, now directly across the street from them.
Over the years, two out of the five original prefabricated homes were burnt down by accidental fires.
“The house was in shambles,” Funke says. “It needed everything.”
The plywood walls provided only a very thin layer of insulation, certainly not enough for Arizona standards. Funke also upgraded the electrical system, rebuilt the bathroom and kitchen, and replaced all of the windows.
There wasn’t any ductwork for air conditioning, only a defunct swamp cooler. Mini-split units now cool the home.
A big part of the renovation project was to remove several layers of flooring — including linoleum, tile and carpeting — that had been applied over the years, in order to expose the original plywood floors.
“There was a lot of adhesive removal involved,” Funke said.
Just shy of 900 square feet, the home has a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom on the ground floor, with a steel staircase in the middle that leads to two bedrooms on the upper level. Perfect for a hip couple like Stephen Rosa and Jennafer Morris.
Rosa, 28, and Morris, 21, are part of a growing movement of Phoenix youth who believe in preserving Arizona history and supporting local businesses.
Rosa works in his family’s Mexican restaurant Julio’s Too on Camelback, a family business that’s been around for 31 years, and Morris is an exotic dancer studying to become a nurse.
Prior to renting the Farmer Avenue house, Rosa and Morris were miserable in their fancy modern apartment complex. They asked their good friend Funke if he knew of any properties for rent, and it just so happened Funke was about to close in on the house.
“I like a home with character,” Rosa says. “Like this… [Funke] could have knocked it down and built something crazy, but he didn’t. That’s what I love about it. I didn’t really like living in those new apartments because I remember when I was a kid we lived on 44th (Street) and Camelback, and I remember what was there before, and it was these cool old houses that they could have turned into this, but instead they wiped it and built a prison apartment complex.
“You go to other states, like, we were just in New Orleans, and their buildings outdate the United States’ and they preserve them and keep them looking cool. I mean they had a hurricane and they still keep the buildings original! Everyone in Arizona is just so about trashing it and building something else new, when we should probably preserve our history so we can have history.”
Rosa and Morris have an eclectic decorating style. They like to display local art, antiques and collectibles.
One piece in the couple’s home stands out, local artist Josh “Bask” Brizuela’s, colorful and intricate painting made for childhood friend Rosa.
“A portion of our style is restaurant supply store chic,” jokes Rosa, pointing at beer posters and other prints adorning the walls. “When I was a kid I hated it. My dad would always get stuff that doesn’t normally go in a house. Then I got older and I started doing the same thing.”