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Ralph Haver: Modern visions for the Valley of the Sun

A multifaceted career, and Haver Hoods, brought midcentury modern to Phoenix

Evertson House
Jacob Lichner

Through his incredibly prolific practice, Ralph Haver may have been responsible for introducing everyday Phoenix to the bold profiles and optimistic look of modernist design. Though many architects get the opportunity to put their mark on their hometown, Haver is a legend in Arizona architectural circles for his residential work alone, which covered entire swaths of the city and suburbia with midcentury modern verve.

His firm designed more than 20,000 dwellings, including entire neighborhoods of low-sloping tract homes that are still known as Haver Hoods. But he also put his touch on schools, churches, inns, and civic buildings. His work wasn’t necessarily grandiose or headline-grabbing, but it was impactful, shaping a particularly modern Arizona aesthetic.

Haver’s desire to create bold, modern, and, above all, attainable and affordable homes for Phoenix families may have stemmed from his own family-oriented outlook on life. Inspired by his father, a mason, to pursue architecture, he later worked with his brother, a building contractor, as he built out his vision of contemporary design in the Valley of the Sun.

Kon Tiki Motor Hotel
HKR via the Modern Phoenix Archive

Biography

Born in Pasadena, California, and educated at the nearby University of Southern California, Ralph Haver arrived in Arizona in 1946, after serving in the Army Corp of Engineers during World War II. Haver quickly got to work, interning with established area architect Ed Varney before starting his own practice with his brother Robert and father Harry.

As noted by Modern Phoenix, Haver quickly established a name for himself with a string of early projects in the late ’40s, including two, the Country Club apartments and Peggy Reed Home, that caught the eye of famed photographer Julius Shulman and made the rounds in glossy architecture magazines.

In 1952, Haver met Jimmie Nunn, another local architect, and established Haver & Nunn, a firm they would build into one of the region’s largest, completing scores of homes as well as churches, stores, civic projects, and even factories. The firm’s name changed as additional partners and architects cycled through the offices on Architect’s Row on Camelback Street in Phoenix, but Haver and Nunn always remained.

By the mid-’50s, as the Phoenix population swelled, Haver began perfecting his “Haver Home” model, partnering with numerous developers to create neighborhoods filled affordable modern dwellings, including Grande Vista, Wilmot Vista, and, most famously, Town and Country Scottsdale.

Also referred to as the “Perfect Arizona Type Home,” or PAT, these 1,400- to 1600-square-foot dwellings came in a range of customizable models and shared a few common traits (Haver even designed one for his family). Most featured low-sloping roofs with an exterior brick facade and tall windows. Beams crossed underneath the roof, eliminating the need for load-bearing walls and opening up the interior.

At the same time, his firm was designing the stores, churches, and schools the middle-class residents of Haver Homes drove by every day. In addition to striking civic structures, including the angled concrete St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church and School in Phoenix, Haver’s office also created plenty of playful roadside attractions, most notably the Kon Tiki Motor Hotel, a now-demolished blend of exotica and kitsch that looked like a Googie take on the tiki trend. The firm continued to expand to new offices across the U.S., with Haver retiring in 1980.

1960 Civic Center by Haver and Ed Varney
Modern Phoenix LLC

Buildings to know

With literally thousands of examples, it’s hard to zero in on a single Haver home. One of the more striking examples was the Evertson Residence in the Marion Estates neighborhood, a custom wood-clad three-story home with a lazy, sloping roof. Designed for contractor Sven Evertson, it’s considered a great example of the Haver “patio-port” concept, where the parking space was made to be transformed into an outdoor entertainment space.

Haver’s most high-profile Phoenix building may have been the 1960 Civic Center design downtown, which he collaborated on with Ed Varney. Split between two structures—an 11-story office building lined in “precast concrete bathtubs” and a separate, tent-like circular space for city council meetings—the structure earned a regional AIA Award.

Legacy and reputation today

Ralph Haver’s work left an extensive footprint across the Phoenix area. In addition to mentoring and working with scores of architects during his decades on the job, such as Bennie Gonzales, his numerous homes, still wildly popular with midcentury modern fans, offer a template for DIY designers and new homeowners. Arizona has had no shortage of talented modern architects. But few have touched as many facets of everyday existence as this prolific designer.

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