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The Renaissance on Devereaux Street

If you’ve lived in Globe a long time, you might remember when Joe Gundry owned the Texaco Service Station at the corner of Hill and Maple streets – in the 1950s and early 60s, it was a place where many of Globe’s high school boys got their first job and learned about responsibility and customer service.

The building on the corner of Maple and Devereaux, now known as the Tiger’s Den, used to be Wyant’s One Stop Food Market.

And the big white house at 369 Sutherland was the home of Helen Lawrence, who owned five rental houses on Devereaux. Rumor has it that she once rented a house to Pancho Villa.

Joe Gundry, Chet Wyant, and Helen Lawrence are gone now, but they are far from forgotten. Still, in recent years, the buildings they owned had been at risk of falling into neglect and disrepair. The grounds were becoming overgrown, paint was peeling, and the beautiful, historic buildings that reflected so much potential were standing empty.011-gundrys

Enter Diane Lesser, Justine Cornelius, and Mike Dickinson. This trio from the Valley has over 50 years of combined experience in the building industry – along with seemingly endless energy and vision – and they’ve taken it upon themselves to renew and revitalize ten buildings on Devereaux, Maple, and Sutherland. These include Helen Lawrence’s home and rental properties, the Tiger’s Den, the old gas station, and two more homes.

The gas station was built in 1920 and has housed a variety of tenants in recent decades. Lesser anticipates that it will have a bright future. “We’re going to make it into something special,” she promises.

Specifically, she envisions a coffee and dessert place, open only on Friday and Saturday nights.

“Tables outside,” Lesser says, gesturing around the now-empty parking lot. “Lights, a little music, local musicians … just a place to chill. You have to see beyond what it looks like [now],” she adds. There will be cannolis filled with chocolate instead of cream (she calls them “cannolis with a kick”) and other exotic treats. The building will also house a jewelry shop, space for jewelry-making classes, and art. Lesser hopes to open in 2017.

It was only at the end of May that Lesser, Cornelius, and Dickinson purchased the ten properties. By the end of June, they had already completed work on 388 Devereaux, and a tenant had moved in. By the middle of September, they had painted all five rental houses in bright colors. They also cleared brush and vines from the yards – Lesser estimated 20 to 30 truckloads.

Justine tackles the high trim work on one of the homes.

Justine tackles the high trim work on one of the homes.

“This is the start of it,” Lesser said, standing on the sidewalk on Devereaux in front of the newly painted rental houses. Referring to the project of renovating 10 hundred-year-old buildings, she said, “It’s doable. It’s big, but we’ve got the energy, the skills, the experience, to just go for it.”

It all started when, two and a half years ago, the trio happened to drive by a house in Miami on Calle de Loma. “It had bones,” Lesser says. They decided to renovate it as a hobby. They refinished the floors and ceilings, filled in a cesspool under the house with truckloads of dirt, and jacked the house up two and a half inches.

In the process, the three fell in love with Globe-Miami. While still working on the Calle de Loma house, the trio purchased a duplex on Mesquite Street in Globe and began renovations on that house, which are now complete. They originally intended to keep the Calle de Loma house for themselves as a hideaway, but once they purchased the ten Globe properties, they moved into the Helen Lawrence home and rented out the Miami house. They now plan to retire to Globe. Until then, they are spending four days a week working on the houses, while still holding down jobs in the Valley.

Walking through the Lawrence house, Lesser points out that the interior is pristine. The house was built in 1900 by James F. Gerald. The floors, doors, and windows are all original; even the gas furnace is original. It has been inspected and will be used to heat the house.

The group finds most of their supplies and appliances at recycled building materials stores in the valley. “We’re really good negotiators and shoppers,” Cornelius says. The kitchen in the Calle de Loma house has a Dacor wall oven, a Sub-Zero refrigerator, and granite countertops. The entire kitchen was purchased for $1,500. “You gotta know how to shop,” Lesser says.

Mary Yazzie has lived in this house for 14 years. She was allowed to pick the new paint color

Mary Yazzie has lived in this house for 14 years. She was allowed to pick the new paint color

But they also attribute their successes to something higher. “We came up here and everything we’ve touched has been a godwink,” Lesser says. She explains that a godwink is “what you call it when you get what you need.”

Some higher power or fate does seem to be involved, especially when you hear how the group found the Helen Lawrence properties. They had just picked up the last piece of wood to finish the renovation on Mesquite, and Lesser had sent up a prayer to know what they would do next, when they drove up Devereaux and saw the for-sale signs. The signs had just been put up, less than an hour earlier. They called the agent on the spot.

Three days after they first drove by, the group closed on the properties. On the day of the closing, they cleaned up the front yard of the Helen Lawrence home, and the following weekend they began painting the rental houses.

“We’ve done phenomenally well to be provided with opportunities to get nice things at [good] prices,” Cornelius says. “To come across this [Helen Lawrence] trust and to fall upon it the way we did and to get it as quickly as we did in itself is a godwink.”

“We are having a lot of fun and we are putting our talent and knowledge and passion into it,” Lesser adds. When they need to do something, and they don’t know how, they turn to YouTube. That’s how they learned to cut granite. “It’s very easy,” Lesser says. “A $27 diamond blade, and a hose. … You cut it backwards. It cuts like butter.”

One of the homes on the property is adobe, dating back to the late 1800's. The Lesser Group plans on keeping one wall exposed behind a sheet of plexiglass to showcase the original construction.

One of the homes on the property is adobe, dating back to the late 1800’s. The Lesser Group plans on keeping one wall exposed behind a sheet of plexiglass to showcase the original construction.

Diane Lesser is originally from Queens, New York, and comes from a family of builders. She moved to Arizona in 2005, worked in national purchasing for a major house builder, and now is parish administrator for All Saints of the Desert Episcopal Church in Sun City.

As Building Safety Manager for the City of Glendale, Justine Cornelius helped establish the new downtown arts district in historic Glendale, and in 2007 she was the city’s liaison for Super Bowl XLII.   Cornelius and Lesser together curated the art in the ASU West library for six years. They also share an interest in jewelry making.

Mark Dickinson owns a painting company in Glendale. He also sings with the Phoenix Men’s Choir, plays keyboards, guitar, and drums, and was a chef for nearly three decades.

Lesser, Dickinson, and Cornelius say anyone can do what they are doing, even without their years of experience. That’s part of why they’re doing it, they say – to show that it is possible.

“I would love to teach people,” Lesser says. “You can do this. This is possible. Change your world.”

About Patricia Sanders

Patricia Sanders first moved to Globe in 2004 and joined the Globe-Miami Times in 2015. She is currently traveling in Asia while continuing to write for GMT. She’s on Instagram at @patriciaasanders. http://patriciasanders.online

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