The Enduring Legacy of Victorian Life Captured by the Fully Restored Rosson House
The restoration of this 1895 Eastlake, Queen-Victorian style residential house went through three important stages of transformation, led by its owners, that eventually led to its full restoration to its nineteenth century beginnings.
Dr. Roland Rosson who initially owned Block 14 and commissioned the construction of the Queen Victorian, and moved his family from an adobe dwelling to the single-family residence in 1895. William Gammel, a saloon owner and the fourth owner of the Rosson House, converted the single-family home into a rooming house. Mayor Driggs, who had the foresight to protect Block 14 including the Rosson House from sprawling urban development in the 1970s, set aside Dr. Rosson's original property and dwelling for historical preservation.
Once just one of many Victorian-style buildings along "Millionaires Row," the Rosson House now dominates Heritage Square as one of the only two Victorian style buildings left in Phoenix (the only one open to the public). Dr. Rosson purchased the materials for the Victorian house through the Sears catalog, and this particular home cost six times more than the average single family dwelling in 1895. Architect A.P. Petit oversaw the planning, and this house, according to newspaper articles, was the last building Mr. Petit assisted with constructing prior to his death. Among the many distinct features resembling the Victorian Era meant to impress guests including gold infused, ruby glass transom windows, the house also boasted new technologies such as indoor plumbing, electricity, a door bell, and telephone service. The advent of the railroad in Phoenix proved consequential, as the Rosson House is one of the first to use non-native materials in the territorial town.
Saloon owner, William Gemmell, due to the financial uncertainty brought on by Prohibition and the Great Depression, transformed the grand, single residence home into a rooming house. A rooming house is functions similarly to a boarding house, with the exception of meals are not included in the rent. Initially converting the second level and the main floor into single rooms, future owners of the Rosson House expanded upon Gemmell's shift in use. They enclosed the patios on the first and second floors and reconfigured the third floor attic into a total of 19 rooms. The redbrick exterior was painted white, as the Victorian era style faded ten years after the initial construction. While the house inside and out was transformed throughout the decades, the construction crews who shifted the Victorian into the modern era made decisions to preserve the original wood floors, transom windows, sliding doors, and the tin ceilings. Restorations are never simple, but often, if done correctly, keeping a historic house in use, as Gemmell did, can preserve the historical elements of the building while in current, modern use. The Rosson house remained in this state until the City of Phoenix acquired Mr. Rosson's initial land, Block 14, and his Victorian house as part of a historical park, now known as Heritage Square.
In 1974, the City of Phoenix purchased the property for $75,000, but left the restoration of the Rosson house in the hands of a nonprofit, the Heritage Square Foundation. Working with a number of foundations, most notably the Junior League, and individuals like the Goldstein sisters who lived in the house as children, the painstaking restoration was carried out. Many hours were spent fundraising and scraping and stripping layers of paint and wallpaper to restore the interior of the house to its original, Victorian heritage.
Details of the restoration, living conditions in the territorial town of Phoenix, and the house's previous inhabitants can be explained further by taking a tour of the Rosson House and engaging docents in the surrounding buildings in the historic square. For information on tours, click here.