The Restoration of the Allen Block Building
In the course of the restoration we learned several things about the building and the Allen Family who built it. In order to complete their construction project, the Allen’s needed appropriate materials. They founded a factory to produce concrete blocks which became known as Allen Blocks. If you travel in surrounding communities in the Southwest, you will see these blocks were used in the construction of many of the historic structures. The building was built in 1904, and was originally purposed as a furniture factory, the manufacturing operation occupied the basement. As far as we know, the upper levels had various commercial tenants, was home to a boarding house for a while and had numerous uses over the years.
In the process of the renovation we met several old-timers who have since passed on. They had stories to share about the Allen family and the building. My favorite is about the space the hotel now occupies. They say that after Mr. Allen died, his wife, who was very community minded, turned the upstairs into housing for indigent, elderly community members.
The building offers many interesting features that reflect the era it was built. It has a subterranean level that extends under the sidewalk. As you stroll around the building you will notice Depression glass prisms embedded in the concrete. They are original. These prisms provided natural light into the basement areas. The basement area of the retail unit 6, on the North end of the street level, has what appears to be a dungeon. It is complete with a heavy iron door, and thick concrete walls. It is actually a safe room. When Bisbee was thriving and still the Wild West, wealthy families would sometimes have a place in their homes or businesses where they could lock themselves in safely to wait out the sometimes violent labor disputes, and miners’ strikes.
Over the years we have had numerous guests and tenants share observations about a playful presence. Alarm clocks unplugged, toothbrushes hidden, slippers misplaced…. We fondly refer to this presence as Suerte, (luck in Spanish). A couple of people have described seeing a fleeting glimpse of a small boy, but most mention a woman. I have not had the pleasure myself. I would offer that these sightings have been random and rare, although consistent in nature. We did lose a tenant years back who claimed her séances were continually interrupted by this mischievous spirit, thus interfering with her business and requiring her to break her lease. Suerte has always been a happy and welcome member of the Allen Block family.
Bisbee is home to many talented artisans. In the course of the remodel we commissioned Ben Dale to make the lovely organic feeling metal railing for the loft in Suite #8. You can see Ben’s work all over old Bisbee. He does metal arts from small to public in scale. Dugo Nore is an artist who does multimedia sculpture. He created the colorful windows you see as you come in the lobby, going up the stairs. Dugo shaped dyes and shredded rag paper to create the effect, ultimately compressing it in two sheets of glass. The panes were designed to complement Ben Dale’s railing. The rose painting as you continue up the stairs is the work of Thomas Moxely, a local contemporary Southwest artist, who had a gallery in the building for many years. When you come in to the lobby you see roses woven in copper. This is the design work of Ann Moran and Bobby Brown. We are frequently asked about the origin of this piece, (www.moranbrown.com). Finally, the large panoramic photo of Bisbee you see as you come into the lobby on your left was done by local photographer, John Charlie.
Like many old structures, the Allen Block somehow stimulates the imagination and has a feeling of animation. You can hear the building sigh when the sun goes down. It was our home for ten years. A lot of love and hard work went into bringing the building back to life. We hope you enjoy your stay here. We welcome your suggestions and comments.
Brett & Alison Van Gorp
While traveling in Mexico in 1990, someone loaned us a Barbara Kingsolver novel with a Judy Perry postcard of Bisbee used as a page marker. Intrigued by the quaint scene Judy portrayed, we decided to visit Bisbee several months later. My partner Brett, who has a passion for restoring old things, was drawn to the Allen Block Building, and the vision of bringing it back to life. We purchased the building in 1991.
When we acquired the property it was mostly vacant, with several boarded up windows and years of neglect. It was also home to a healthy colony of Mexican free-tailed bats. The renovation of the building took a full six years and would never have been completed without the help of friends and family. In the process 22 tons of debris were removed from the third story alone. Every effort was made to restore the upper level, now Canyon Rose Suites, into the apartments they resembled in years past, with the exception of Suite 8, which was given a more modern feel. The lower two levels of the building were intended for retail use, and remain in the configuration we found them in when we started the project. Every effort was also made to reuse salvageable material found either in the building or in the surrounding communities. On January 1, 2000, Canyon Rose Suites welcomed her first guests to celebrate the new millennium.