Paul W. Litchfield estate poised for transformation into heritage center

Historical society has raised 60% of $3.5 million needed to begin construction

By Kelly O'Sullivan, Independent Newsmedia
Posted 3/13/20

When they walk the grounds of Paul W. and Florence Brinton Litchfield’s historic Rancho La Loma estate at the northwest corner of Litchfield and Camelback roads in Litchfield Park, Nancy …

To Our Valued Readers –

Visitors to our website will be limited to five stories per month unless they opt to subscribe.

For $5.99, less than 20 cents a day, subscribers will receive unlimited access to the website, including access to our Daily Independent e-edition, which features Arizona-specific journalism and items you can’t find in our community print products, such as weather reports, comics, crossword puzzles, advice columns and so much more six days a week.

Our commitment to balanced, fair reporting and local coverage provides insight and perspective not found anywhere else.

Your financial commitment will help to preserve the kind of honest journalism produced by our reporters and editors. We trust you agree that independent journalism is an essential component of our democracy. Please click here to subscribe.

Sincerely,
Charlene Bisson, Publisher, Independent Newsmedia

Please log in to continue

Log in
I am anchor

Paul W. Litchfield estate poised for transformation into heritage center

Historical society has raised 60% of $3.5 million needed to begin construction

Posted

When they walk the grounds of Paul W. and Florence Brinton Litchfield’s historic Rancho La Loma estate at the northwest corner of Litchfield and Camelback roads in Litchfield Park, Nancy Schafer and Judy Cook revel in the quiet, and the possibilities.

The 5,400-square-foot Spanish-style house owned by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. president, CEO and board chairman is at the center of 21 hilltop acres that buffer the sounds of traffic and provide spectacular views of the Estrella and White Tank Mountains. The sound of songbirds, and the wind in the trees and tall palms dotting the property are interrupted only by the sound of jets periodically taking off from nearby Luke Air Force Base.

“It’s gorgeous up here,” said Ms. Schafer, Litchfield Park Historical Society and Museum president, as she conducted a walk-through of the property with Ms. Cook, historical society board member, archivist and historian.

Ms. Schafer chairs the Building Committee preparing to transform the site into the P.W. Litchfield Heritage Center. When complete, the $3.5 million facility will feature a museum showcasing the history of Litchfield Park, Avondale, Goodyear and Tolleson, as well an archive, research library, gift shop and gathering spots for community events.

Both women said the facility will be significant to the entire West Valley.

“Goodyear Farms went all the way to the Sun City area,” Ms. Cook said.

Ms. Cook, who chairs the Capital Campaign Committee raising funds for the project, said the organization has raised $1.1 million since June 2019 to match a $1 million challenge grant from John and Pamela Denny Blackford. The couple also donated $50,000 for the planning process.

“Paul’s granddaughter and her husband wanted to get the project started,” Ms Cook said of the Blackfords. “They said, ‘we’ll give you a million dollars if you can raise a million.’”

The committee hopes to raise the remaining $1.4 million by the end of the year, then construction to renovate and expand the two-story structure to three levels and 11,000 square feet will begin. The third level will be underground and will house the climate-controlled archive for the organization’s historical collections.

“We are going to fund it 100 percent before we start construction,” Ms. Schafer said.

Project plans created by Phoenix architectural firm Orcutt | Winslow and a construction budget developed by Tempe-based Waltz Construction were approved by the city before fundraising started. Litchfield Park has owned the 20-acre La Loma Homestead site since 2009. The family donated it to the city after the passing of Mrs. Blackford’s parents, Wallace and Edith Litchfield Denny, who lived in and expanded the house in the 1970s after Mr. Denny retired from Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Mrs. Denny died in 2001; Mr. Denny in 2008.

Sun Health Corp. owns the property surrounding the heritage center site, including “Aunt Mary’s house,” a cottage at 13912 W. Camelback Road that is home to the current Litchfield Park Historical Society Museum.

The Litchfields in Litchfield Park

Boston native Paul W. Litchfield, for whom Litchfield Park is named, was a young Goodyear Tire & Rubber executive in 1916 when the company sent him to Arizona to Akron, Ohio, to buy land the company needed to grow cotton for the automobile and truck tires it manufactured for use in World War I. He ultimately bought 16,000 acres for the company’s Litchfield Ranch, which served as the headquarters for its Southwest Cotton Co. farming operation, later called Goodyear Farms.

In 1919, Mr. Litchfield bought 365 acres north of Litchfield Ranch, including the hill that inspired the estate’s name, Rancho La Loma. That Christmas, he brought his wife and daughters, Katherine and Edith, from Akron to what would become the family’s winter residence.

The main house was completed in 1925, and the estate boasted an office next to the main house that still bears Goodyear Tire & Rubber’s iconic wingfoot logo, as well as several cottages where visiting family and friends stayed.

“When the family wasn’t in residence, they would rent out cottages to people who came to the Wigwam,” Ms. Cook said. The Wigwam Resort, originally named “Organizational House,” was built as guest quarters for visiting Goodyear Tire executives. In 1929, it was expanded and opened to the public.

The estate also had cactus and flower gardens, a 325,000-gallon water tank, an outdoor pool and a bandstand where the Litchfields hosted as many as 3,800 people for political events, Easter sunrise services and interdenominational Desert Devotionals gatherings held in conjunction with the Church at Litchfield Park and the Phoenix and Arizona Councils of Churches.

In the evenings, the family would gather at Sunset Terrace, a ramada northwest of the house, where they would close out their day by watching the setting sun.

Mr. Litchfield retired from Goodyear Tire & Rubber in 1956. In 1958, the couple moved from the sprawling estate to a smaller, golf course home. After Mr. Litchfield’s death in 1959, Mrs. Litchfield continued to winter in Litchfield Park until her death in 1972.

The Dennys added an indoor pool as part of their expansion of the home in the 1970s.

From home to heritage center

Once construction is complete, heritage center visitors will enter the facility through a foyer on the facility’s groundfloor level, where the indoor pool was located. They will find a gift shop, exhibit gallery, and an assembly room that can accommodate more than 100 people.

The kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms on what was the second floor of the family home will be converted into eight exhibit galleries covering different decades of Southwest Valley history. That floor also features a balcony where visitors can enjoy a drink and a snack, and access to a large terrace for outdoor events as well as other outdoor seating areas.

The family’s den, dominated by a colorful 1935 wall mural depicting an American Indian scout on horseback watching a wagon train in a valley below, will be restored to give visitors a glimplse of how the family lived. The room also will feature original light fixtures, original furniture and a bas relief over the fireplace.

“This room is really special,” Ms. Schafer said.

Original metalwork, tilework and fireplaces throughout the house will preserved where possible, Ms. Schafer and Ms. Cook said.

“There’s lots of work to do here. Someday, this whole thing will be absolutely beautiful,” Ms. Cook said.

Ms. Schafer agreed.

“It’s going to be wonderful,” she said.

Kelly O’Sullivan can be reached at kosullivan@newszap.com or 760-963-1697.

Comments