The ever-changing face of McDowell Road in southern Scottsdale lost an iconic storefront last week when workers began disassembling the Polynesian Dairy Queen building that sat near 68th Street for decades.
The A-frame structure is not gone for good, though – thanks to the efforts of local residents, the property owner and a Scottsdale developer who will relocate parts of the building to a new redevelopment by Clayton Companies at Hayden Road and Earll Drive.
Still, the fate of a building that holds a special place in the hearts of many Scottsdale residents and people throughout the Valley has raised questions about what communities can do to protect historically-significant structures.
After hearing last year that the structure faced the wrecking ball, sisters Jennifer Hibbard and Christie Lee Kinchen made it their mission to save the Dairy Queen structure. They own Twins & Co. Realty and Kinchen sits on Scottsdale’s Historic Preservation Commission.
Hibbard credited the owners of Western Honda Powersports, who own the Polynesian Dairy Queen property adjacent to their business, for taking an interest in saving the building and delaying demolition so it could be saved.
Western Motor Powersports General Manager Jason Dearchs noted that the family has owned the business and properties for 55 years and that the building held sentimental value to them, and they were willing to work with Hibbard and Kinchen to find a solution.
“I just think it was important and obviously we had a lot of supporters that showed up to ask us questions about it and show it support,” Dearchs said. “So that’s important to us. We’re a 55-year-old family-owned business, so that does make a difference to us.”
After learning the storefront would be demolished, Hibbard and her sister pushed the message out on social media and met with the property owner.
Hibbard said the property owner was receptive to saving the building but “he said ‘I don’t know that we can keep and also add the facilities that I need here.'”
The business plans to use the land to build parking and gated storage for their units, Dearchs said.
The owners had tried to incorporate the existing Polynesian Dairy Queen building into the new project, but city requirements made that too expensive, Dearchs said.
“It was really just the requirements from Scottsdale to make it look good was running up the costs,” Dearchs said.
Then the sisters called for anyone willing to relocate the building to another property. “We ended up getting picked up online by a few different big accounts on Instagram,” Hibbard said.
The message: The building is free if you can move it.
Hibbard said at least 20 people reached out but they did not know how to move it.
“There were a bunch of local people who had interest and a bunch of people out of state who had interest; just nobody could make it come together,” Hibbard said.
After about a month, Hibbard said Tom Frenkel of Scottsdale-based developer Clayton Companies reached out about moving the building to be a part of Trail West, a commercial center project a few miles away currently working its way through the city approval process.
That project will rehab an existing '60s-era shopping center. According to documents submitted to the city, the project will “be focused on maintaining and highlighting the mid-century character of the low single-story shopping center, while adding new shade canopies and roof-top mechanical screening.”
Pieces of the wood frame and lava rock from the Polynesian Dairy Queen building will be used to create a standalone restaurant space that evokes the image of the original building, said architect Brian Krob of Scottsdale-based Aline Architecture Concepts.
Krob said the team also plans to recreate the building’s original shade canopy.
“We want to return it to its original glory from 1964,” Krob said.
Krob said the restaurant will include a new 3,000-square-foot single story section in addition to the 1,000-square-foot space recreated from the repurposed materials. The additional space will accommodate back of house operations and additional dining space.
Another restaurant could occupy the end cap space on the existing commercial building on the property following the renovation and the rest of the plaza would also house commercial uses, Krob said, noting that existing tenants like Local Donut will remain.
Though it was recently unoccupied and previously housed a rental car agency and RV dealer, the building was a local haunt for decades when it housed the Polynesian Dairy Queen dating back to the 1960s.
King said the building was likely designed by Jim Salter, who worked for famed Phoenix mid-century modern architect Ralph Haver’s firm.
Though Salter dropped out of ASU, he caught on with Haver due to his talent and was involved in many award-winning projects.
“Jim’s responsible for a lot of the more exuberant and exotic style that came out of the '60s from Haver’s firm,” King said.
King said Salter also designed the Cine Capri, Phoenix College, the Arizona Bank building that now houses The Vig Uptown restaurant.
According to King, the Polynesian Dairy Queen was likely the only Dairy Queen in the country that featured that specific tiki-style architecture. It was part of the larger pattern of development in the area that included the Polynesian Paradise Apartment complex to the south and the Polynesian Plaza shopping center.
It was also one of the last remaining vestiges of that once-popular style in the Phoenix area and the first major loss since the Kon Tiki in Phoenix was demolished.
“Regrettably, Phoenix has done a pretty good job of eliminating a lot of its Tiki-style architecture, and so that’s part of why people felt so passionate about this project is that it was a kind of the last remaining icon that had high visibility there…” said Allison King, founder of the Modern Phoenix mid-century network.
King said there are not many mid-century modern commercial buildings on national or local historic registries.
“You might’ve noticed that there are not a ton of the century commercial buildings or churches or banks for that matter that are on a national register of historic places or a city register,” King said. “If any of those buildings are in the registers, they are certainly in the vast minority among their peers.”
The Scottsdale Historic Register includes the Hotel Valley Ho but is otherwise short on commercial mid-century modern structures.
In many cases, King said, property owners are reluctant to officially acknowledge the historical value of their properties because of the additional regulations that come with placing a building on a historic register.
“Often with the idea of future real estate value and the development of that property in mind, they’re often reluctant to do anything that might put any restrictions on that development,” King said.
King said that typically those restrictions are not all that stringent.
In Scottsdale, for instance, the Historic Property Ordinance requires the Historic Preservation Commission to review and approve exterior alterations and demolition requests for buildings on the Scottsdale Historic Register.
“There needs to be better incentives for historic preservation, especially for commercial properties,” Hibbard said.
Buildings like the Polynesian Dairy Queen are not just important for their architectural significance, though.
They are also a point of nostalgia for the thousands of residents who remember visiting the spot with friends and family.
“And I think the part of the reason…why so many people have such an emotional connection to that building is so many people had a touch point with that building by going and getting an ice cream cone,” said King, who used to visit the Dairy Queen with her own family.