Homes of Jerome
Ellen Jo Roberts
When we lived in Jerome, people always asked us how we did it. Tourists would stop their rental cars in front of our house, as we sat on the porch eating our breakfast. They’d bellow: “Where do you buy your groceries?!” and take photos of us like we were monkeys at the zoo. It always gave us a chuckle. People want to know how you Jerome folk do it. It’s a bit more magical and inconvenient than most other towns. Everything is vertical there. The outrageous views, picturesque buildings, vintage style, and overall dreaminess are tempered by the crooked, crowded parking, nosy neighbors, narrow side streets and crumbling infrastructure. Jerome is simultaneously everyone’s fantasy and nightmare. It takes a hardy breed to inhabit it, and keep it alive.
The first Jerome Home Tour took place in 1966, making this May’s tour the 45th annual, and longest running tour in Arizona. Jerome in 1966 was still a ghost town, just newly being discovered by hippies, artists, and counter culture types who brought it back from the dead. In the past 45 years, Jerome has become something quite different: a bustling economic success, a major tourist draw full of fabulous art galleries, boutiques, adorable accommodations, and an amazing collection of premium restaurants and cafes — far more than you’d expect in a town with a population hovering right around 350 residents. On the weekend of May 15-16, you can see for yourself how Jerome folk thrive and survive with their antiquated plumbing, steeply angled streets, and awesome 75-mile view.
This year’s home tour will feature a great selection of both vintage and modern homes on the seldom seen side streets of Jerome, as well as commercial structures, like the Connor Hotel, the United Verde Apartments, and the recently restored Audrey Head Frame. The Christ Church of Jerome, built in 1927 and now home to the Jerome Historical Society, is also part of the tour’s itinerary. Tours will take place from 9AM to 3PM each day. Transportation will be provided to each location, but the tour, with many steps, and steep paths is not wheelchair accessible.
Steve and Karen Cheifetz are Phoenicians who purchased their historic Jerome cottage 8 years ago. The simple structure was home to Jerome miner, Damian Gutierrez and his family. Señor Gutierrez corralled burros near the house, as a tourist lure for photo ops.
His talented son, Alfredo, was born in 1929. Legend has it, when Alfredo was a child, his incredible singing voice and dancing style earned him tips from miners each pay day when he performed on top of the bar at the Spirit Room. Young Alfredo would often return home with more money than his father's weekly salary. A Hollywood talent scout wanted to sign him up to become the next Mickey Rooney, but his strict parents forbade it. Alfredo's boisterous personality did not let up in later years.
As an adult he continued to perform music, and opened a restaurant where he would entertain guests in between cooking meals. His restaurant was in the location currently home to Cottonwood’s “Georgie’s.” Alfredo later shared the Gutierrez family home with his fashion designer wife, Ava Dering. Known popularly in the jet set as “Alfredo’s Wife,” she achieved some nationwide notoriety in the 1970s and ‘80s for her wild and colorful fashions.
How did the Cheifwetz family become part of the home’s history?
“It's a long story,” says Ms. Cheifetz, a native Ohioan who arrived in Phoenix in 1983. ”Steve introduced me to many different towns in Arizona years ago. When he decided to share Jerome with me, he said I would fall in love with it instantly. We had hopes of getting a place there someday. While sharing Jerome with our kids years later, we spotted a for sale sign. We called to check out houses and bought our home the next day!”
Attracted by “the beauty, the lifestyle and people, the music, the historical preservation and of course, the natural surroundings,” the Cheifetz family is now part of Jerome’s story. With extensive garden and stonework, the cottage boasts one of Jerome’s loveliest yards.
“Some would see the town’s commitment to preserving Jerome’s history and character as a challenge, but that is one of the things that drew us to town. The fact that new and long time residents feel a sense of honor and duty to keep out commercialism and contribute to the community is heartwarming,” says Ms. Cheifetz.
Ron Chilston photo
The Mills House
Perched high above town on “the Boardwalk” of Company Hill is a renovated Victorian, named for past mine supervisor, Carl Mills, who lived there with his family. Their son, Mark Mills, a Frank Lloyd Wright disciple and one of the foremost architects of his time, was born in the house. Originally built in 1898 for use by mine managers, this beautiful Victorian home was occupied by the Mills from approximately 1921 to 1950. They were likely its longest-term residents.
During the last half of the 20th century, the home suffered much neglect. By 2003, the roof was partially collapsed, and much of the house was filled with earth from the hillside above. The beautiful redwood facade was held in place only by vines of ivy. Many of the beautiful Victorian accents had vanished due to weather or vandals. Local resident and realtor, John Scarcella, renovated the home, utilizing the original interior floor plan, raising the roofline and adding dormers to create a full-size second story.
Tucson residents Deneill and Bill Phinney purchased the home in 2006. At the time, Mr. Phinney was preparing to retire from his career as a railroad engineer for the Union Pacific, and the couple began entertaining options for the next stage in their lives.
During the summer of ‘06, the couple headed off on an unstructured vacation, wandering north towards Utah. “At a stop in Phoenix, we picked up a brochure for the Verde Canyon Railroad and saw Jerome marked on the location map. My husband had never been to Jerome and the last time I had been was when I was in my early teens. I had fallen in love with the place then, so we decided to see what it was like now … We fell in love with the area, the town and the people … and then we fell in love with our house. We were walking around one day and saw the ‘for sale’ sign.” Fate struck.
Ms. Phinney continues, “One of my dreams has long been to live in a Victorian. I used to live in San Francisco and would walk around looking at the houses with all of their bright colors and charming gingerbread. While we were in the process of buying the house, we would periodically sneak up to sit on the front porch and look at the view. The front porch is probably our favorite part of the house, even now. Well, with the exception of in front of the fireplace, when it is snowing. And the garden when the lilacs and roses are in bloom. Oh, and the quiet corner of the bedroom upstairs which is set up for meditation and reading … I guess we just love everything about it! "
Ron Chilston photo
The Sullivan House is the oldest home on this year’s tour, dating from 1886.
It was also one of the earliest historic preservations, as part of the 1970s Restoration Commission’s project to conserve and restore the Victorian homes of Company Hill. The Restoration Commission was formed by a group of Jerome hippies who had a notion to save the old architectural gems of Jerome. Saved by the counterculture, just like much of this eccentric little city!
At the time, the structures were all owned by Phelps Dodge, and the mining company agreed to the hippies’ plan, charging each commission member $50 a month rent to caretake each home. Sherry MacMahon purchased the home in 1987, as part of “Society Hill Preservation, Inc.” and has lived there with her husband Curtis Linder ever since.
The home acquired its name from Con and Mary Sullivan, who inhabited it with their eight children. Con arrived from Ireland and served for a time as a head honcho of the mine. The large Sullivan clan spent many years in the Victorian gem and even today, later generations still return to visit the old homestead.
The one thousand-square foot house, in its current incarnation, boasts a new foundation, a new wood burning stove, roof, paint, wood flooring, cabinetry, bathrooms, railings, and plumbing. Ms. MacMahon, owner of Papillion Antiques, has filled the home with vintage treasures, and details that make it one of Jerome’s loveliest homes.
The Kinsella House.
Built in 2007, this 3000-square foot, three-story home features 675 square feet of deck space, and according to the owner, “One hell of a view!”
“This property had no building on it throughout Jerome’s history, which was good, since this whole area was demolished due to the slides of the 1930s,” wrote Jay Kinsella, a longtime Jerome local, all around “go to” guy, and perhaps the town’s next mayor, “During the 1930s subsidence (slide), every building was lost from the east side of Main Street to Juarez Street. All the buildings were pushed down the hillside between the Sliding Jail and what is now the end of Rich Street.”
In the late 1940s, a two-story foundation was built, but construction did not go any further. “Just a two story shell sat ‘til the late 70s,” Mr. Kinsella continues.
In the early 1980s, the second story was removed and pieces were used as retaining walls on the street side of the property. Jane Moore owned the property during the 80s, and used the foundation shell as a corral to keep her horses. Jay’s brother, Jim, owner of the house across the street, was next to purchase the land. In the late 80s, the concrete foundation remnants were used as a burn area by the Jerome Fire Department. Jim Kinsella passed away in 1999, and his family inherited the property. In 2007, Jay and his wife Pam began construction of the single-family home.
“It took 5 months 27 days to complete the house,” Mr. Kinsella says, “This was from the removal of the old foundation to the first meal in the kitchen.”
The Audrey Head Frame is the largest and oldest mining structure in Arizona. Tour takers may peer down the 1900-foot shaft. The bottom 200 feet is full of water!
The United Verde Apartments, an art deco set of three buildings overlooking the upper park and the road to Prescott, once housed offices and clinics, and now is home to a variety of hip and clever shops (including Puscifer and Jerome Tattoo) as well as restored apartments. The ceilings in each apartment are remarkably tall in a way modern apartments would never be.
The Connor Hotel.
A Jerome icon, a handsome building on a picturesque corner, the Connor is home to the popular Spirit Room, and an adorable collection of twelve well-kept historic rooms. The hotel was built in 1898 by an Irish American named David Connor, so it seems only fitting that a fiercely proud Irish American named David Conlin purchased the hotel with his business partner brother, Robert, in 1980. The hotel was in continuous operation from 1898 until 1988.
“In that year, the town closed it due to numerous code violations,” said general manager, Anne Conlin, “It had become sort of a flophouse. You know, get a room from the bartender for five dollars, or sometimes nothing at all!,” Ms. Conlin laughs, though acknowledges that even during those bleak days, the hotel still wore a proud mystique, with countless fond memories for many generations of locals and visitors. She exhibits the same fresh faced charm and twinkling grin as David Conlin, her father.
In 1999, the Conlins began renovations, and the hotel was reopened in 2000, complete with fire sprinklers, new fixtures, wiring and everything up to code. The hotel will have four rooms open on the north wing of the building for the Home Tour, “They’re really nice rooms. All fully renovated, yet they all retain their historic character,” states Ms. Conlin. The renovation contractor kept as much of the original wood work, doors, and other vintage fixtures as possible through the renovation.
This year’s Jerome Home Tour will also include a “living history” time line, events of the years ranging from 1860-1898 re-enacted in the streets throughout the day by actors in period costumes. Highlights include Civil War mock battles, complete with camps, uniforms and vintage weapons.
If you ever were curious about how Jerome people live, now is your chance to get up close and personal. It’s an interesting dichotomy. The folks on Cleopatra Hill are a hardy breed, determined, resolute, and tough as nails, but not lacking one bit of charm, beauty or magic. It’s no easy feat to live life perched on the side of this mountain, but it is worth all the extra effort for those who call Jerome home.
All proceeds from the Jerome Home Tour will benefit future projects of the Jerome Chamber of Commerce. Tickets are $12 for adults, and $6 for children 3-12. Kids 2 and under are free. For more information, contact Colleen at (928) 649-3837. Special thanks to Gallery 527’s Donna Chesler for sharing great information and details on this year’s tour. jeromechamber.com
Ellen Jo Roberts may let you tour her historic home some day, except she is afraid her attack Chihuahua will rip your face off. She lives in Clarkdale with Bike Daddy Chad, some pets, and Volkswagens. Read more about it at ellenjo.com