Dorothy Ruoff’s house in Chandler’s Silk Stocking neighborhood has been occupied by a member of her family for the last eight decades.

•Sitting in her living room, she can call upon memories of when Silk Stocking was like Mayberry from the “Andy Griffith Show”—idyllic and quaint. Ruoff has been on a mission for the last several years to protect her neighborhood from redevelopment, and now, with a new city ordinance, she finally can.

Chandler property owners can now establish historic preservation districts on their properties and in their neighborhoods to protect historically significant parts of the city from redevelopment.

Chandler City Council approved a new ordinance Nov. 2 that amends the city code for historic preservation efforts. The historic preservation code was born out of conversations that had occurred years prior with residents of the Silk Stocking neighborhood who wanted tools to preserve the historic character of their neighborhood. The city recognized that certain architectural and cultural resources need to be preserved from destruction or development—especially as the city reaches build out, according to officials.

wanted tools to preserve the historic character of their neighborhood. The city recognized that certain architectural and cultural resources need to be preserved from destruction or development—especially as the city reaches build out, according to officials. Across Chandler, about 12% of city land is vacant for development, according to city officials.

“The city of Chandler is committed to the preservation and enhancement of our neighborhoods,” Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke said. “The historic preservation ordinance will allow generations to come to celebrate the rich history that has shaped the growth of our community. I thank the many residents that provided feedback to staff to ensure our neighborhoods can maintain their distinct character while also continuing to be safe, diverse and vibrant.”

Chandler’s history

Chandler was founded by Dr. A.J. Chandler in May 1912 with much of the development at that time in what is now the downtown area. The San Marcos Hotel, Chandler High School, several downtown buildings and more all stem from the earliest days of Chandler, according to documents from the Chandler Museum.

Ruoff remembers when train passengers would disembark in downtown Chandler and walk straight to the San Marcos Hotel. Ruoff, 84, now lives in the same house she grew up in along Washington and Colorado streets north and east of the intersection of Chandler Boulevard and Arizona Avenue—and has watched the city change over the years.

“When [World War II] broke out in the ‘40s, the governments decided that Hwy. 87 [Arizona Avenue] that goes to Tucson had to cut through Chandler park; there was material that had to be moved and all that kind of thing,” Ruoff said. “Prior to that the park was a circle the way Dr. Chandler had designed it. It was heavily wooded; I mean it was like a forest down there when I was a kid.”

City officials said Ruoff and some of her neighbors in Silk Stocking were instrumental in getting the historic preservation ordinance through council. Ruoff said it was her goal to not only preserve her home and those of her neighbors, but also to keep the character of one of the oldest neighborhoods in Chandler intact. The neighborhood, with its proximity to downtown, was once home to some of the most prominent families in Chandler and was considered affluent. Business owners, the school district superintendent and others called the neighborhood home, Ruoff said.

“There’s a lot of interest in the city’s history, but there are so many people moving into town that don’t have any history or knowledge of what was here before,” Ruoff said. “This was a sleepy agricultural city when I was small. Up until the time I got married in 1959, Chandler didn’t have more than 5,000 people as residents. There are still a lot of us on boards and commissions in the city who were born and raised here who have that knowledge. Some of us were farm kids that rode the bus to school, and other kids were the city kids who walked. We are still active, and we still know what’s going on.”

Creating the ordinance

Development Services Director Derek Horn said conversations within the city about the idea of historic preservation got more serious in spring 2019 when the city acquired the right of way over the northern segment of the historic Goodyear Canal on Basha Road with the objective of preserving the open canal.

The canal, Horn said, once served the Goodyear farming community during World War I. The land was full of Egyptian cotton that was used to make Goodyear tires, Horn said.

“There was a feature you can see when you drive by it of a double row of palm trees lining the canal and that was in danger of being destroyed by development,” Horn said. “Some of us thought it was tragic that this canal, as cool as it is, would disappear.”

The historic preservation ordinance creates four designations: heritage sites, historic conservation districts, historic preservation districts and landmarks. The ordinance incorporates processes to discourage demolition of eligible and designated historic properties and encourages their preservation through consultation with city staff and by exploring alternatives, Horn said. The historic preservation districts for neighborhoods—such as Silk Stocking—are applicable only to structures that are more than 50 years old. All places that have a historic recognition now will have to go through an application process with the city to get designation under the new ordinance.

The ordinance also establishes a historic preservation commission, a historic preservation officer and a historic property register for the city.

A property owner would need to get a majority of the residents in the neighborhood to agree to the preservation district and the parameters of the ordinance and then take it to the city’s historic preservation officer. From there the application would move to the planning and zoning commission for approval and then ultimately to City Council.

"The ordinance would help preserve Chandler’s historic resources from development and celebrate Chandler’s history by preserving historic neighborhoods,” Horn said. “It really could promote neighborhood preservation.”

With the city so close to build-out, and with an emphasis from the mayor and City Council on infill and redevelopment, Horn said the city must strike a balance between new development, redevelopment and preservation.

“We have to find that balance with new development and redevelopment with residents’ ability to exercise property rights,” Horn said. “We want to preserve what we can. Of course, not every old building is historic, but it provides some criteria for designation. We also need to raise awareness of Chandler’s history. It’s about balancing everything.”

Rick Heumann, chair of the city’s planning and zoning commission, said he believes the new ordinance is an important piece in maintaining the city of Chandler’s history.

“The ordinance is trying to protect small pieces of older Chandler,” Heumann said. “Arizona doesn’t have a lot of that. For certain places, the ordinance is designed to help protect some of these older areas. There are not a lot of them, but they exist and they should be preserved and maintained.”

Heumann said he is not worried about any implications to development or redevelopment in the city due to the ordinance.

“The thing about it is when you don’t protect your past, that’s a challenge,” Heumann said. “If something is dilapidated and falling down, there’s a difference. But there are well-maintained buildings that need to be protected so you don’t lose that history. There are plenty of infill parcels around the city that aren’t historic but need some help. We are not at a point where this would be hurting redevelopment at all.”

Preserving Chandler’s history

Ruoff began pushing historic preservation to the city years ago when she first heard that a developer wanted to acquire a Silk Stocking home, tear it down and turn it into multifamily housing.

“We see lots of new young people wanting to buy houses and restore them and live here with the close proximity to downtown,” Ruoff said. “There’s a longevity thing about people wanting to be in the neighborhood with a lot of history.”

The earliest houses were built in 1919 in Silk Stocking. The neighborhood got its name, Ruoff said, because “if you could afford to buy your wife silk stockings, you could afford to buy a house in the neighborhood.” Ruoff’s family moved into the house in March 1937, a year after Ruoff was born.

The impetus of Ruoff and her neighbors getting involved in the push for historic preservation was they were unaware the zoning in the area is not just for single-family homes, but for multifamily homes as well. A developer was buying a house on Colorado with the intent of demolishing it and putting up a triplex.

“It triggered everyone here into wanting to do something,” Ruoff said. “We can’t change the zoning, but we can maybe protect the demolition of the homes and see if we can’t come up with a design for multifamily that will fit within the neighborhood.”

Martin Sepulveda, president of the Chandler Historical Society and a former Chandler City Council member, said the conversation around historical preservation has been going on for decades. He said he was glad the ordinance was finally passed.

“Chandler is one of the original charter cities in the state of Arizona,” Sepulveda said. “We have been around a long time. We were one of the first cities that had a master plan. The Silk Stocking neighborhood wasn’t the first neighborhood, but it was the first upscale custom subdivision. It’s a point of pride. We should seek to maintain that part of the city’s culture and heritage as something positive.”

Sepulveda said that neighborhoods like Silk Stocking are what create the character of a city and need to be maintained to preserve that character.

“The oldest parts of the city have been more run down, and people are bringing it back,” Sepulveda said. “Silk Stocking isn’t in a new part of town, and consequently people have come and purchased property with no intention of maintaining the historical character of the neighborhood. I’m a property rights guy, but I would say that Dorothy and her neighbors purchased their homes in that area for a reason and have a right to protect what matters to them.”