Fight to save skylight in Scottsdale building

Scottsdale business owner Bob Breen wants to rescue a piece of glass art influenced by renowned glass artist Glidden Parker, whose work adorns several city buildings.

Al Theisen, a Scottsdale glass worker, seeks to rescue the colored-glass skylight, too, while reviving the artist from obscurity.

Both men have been making a push to save the Parker-inspired glass skylight installed in a city building constructed nearly 40 years ago before the building is demolished to make way for Scottsdale Healthcare expansion.

The building that houses the skylights is now owned by Scottsdale Healthcare, which bought the property at Drinkwater Boulevard and Second Street from the city for $1.5 million in 2011.

The glasswork will be saved, but its condition almost 40 years after it was installed is unclear, said Keith Jones, a Scottsdale Healthcare spokesman. Sometime before Scottsdale Healthcare purchased the building, the city performed roofing work. In the process, the skylight was covered from above, making it difficult to see from below, Jones said.

“We need to evaluate going forward the best way to preserve it and what to do with it next,” Jones said.

The Foundation for Senior Living occupies the building through June, Jones said. There are no immediate plans to start construction on the building, which ultimately will accommodate the future needs of the nearby Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center.

Breen and Theisen’s cause is 36 by 36 feet of geometric swirls of a colored-glass skylight with an 8- by 8-foot-square opening in the center that allows sunlight to filter through. It is similar to those illuminating Scottsdale City Hall and the Scottsdale Civic Center Library since 1968..

The sister skylight is in the lobby of the Scottsdale Healthcare-owned building, a former Scottsdale Senior Center location.

The skylights in City Hall and the library were designed by Parker, known less for his stained-glass works and more for his ceramics, which were among the first merchandise offered by Pottery Barn. Born in Maine, Parker studied ceramics in New York and opened a factory there producing award-winning Gliddenware that was featured on television’s “I Love Lucy” and “Perry Mason.” He lived in Scottsdaleduring the mid-1960s to ’70s, working as chief designer in the Glassart Studio in downtown Scottsdale. He died in 1980 in Santa Fe.

The skylights in the former senior center, built in 1976, were installed by an apprentice of Parker, said Theisen, a Scottsdale glassworker and admirer of Parker.

“You can certainly say it was influenced by Glidden Parker,” said Theisen, 82. “You can tell that by the style. It absolutely needs to be preserved.”

“The stained glass is worth a lot,” said Breen, 76, owner of Scottsdale-based Rcb Architectural Products. The actual worth of the glass is unknown, “but it’s more important than that because its creation involves pioneers in Scottsdale’s history.”

The primary pioneer is Benny Gonzales, according to Breen. Gonzales was a renowned Phoenix architect who designed City Hall, the downtown library and the former senior center during the ’60s and ’70s — a construction-boom period in Scottsdale. Gonzales, who died in 2008, also designed the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, the Heard Museum in Phoenix and hundreds of private homes.

Parker designed the skylights at City Hall and the library at Gonzales’ invitation. The skylights at City Hall underwent a $193,572 restoration by Utopian Studios from 2010 to 2012. The City Hall seating area was experiencing leaks when it rained.

Glass artist Maureen McGuire, who once worked for Parker, said the work he and his apprentice produced is actually “faceted glass,” often mistaken for stained glass. Faceted glass slabs are about an eighth- to a quarter-inch thick, cut into pieces to match an artist’s design, and flakes are chipped from its edges to produce facets. The glass is then joined with concrete or chemical resins.

“It became all the rage for about 40 to 50 years and now it’s falling out of favor because the materials used were observed to not be very permanent,” McGuire said.

Theisen said the value in faceted glass lies in its beauty and the possibilities for a glass artist. “And I’ve done both faceted and stained glass, so I know the difference” he said.

He cited Phoenix’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral as showcasing the best example of Parker’s work and influence on the faceted-glass movement.

Breen has sent e-mails and made phone calls to Scottsdale Healthcare officials for the past six months urging them to preserve the skylight because it reflects Scottsdale’s history, not just plentiful sunshine.

Glidden Parker’s Valley glasswork

• Scottsdale City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd., Scottsdale.

• Scottsdale Civic Center Library, Children’s Room, 3939 Civic Center Blvd., Scottsdale.

• Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 100 W. Roosevelt St., Phoenix.

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