DBG's Webster Auditorium

The Sustainability of Adobe

The Great Depression saw an adobe boom in the Phoenix area, thanks to its affordability and sustainability.

Adobe has served as an inexpensive and reliable building material for cultures across the globe for several millennia. Although ancient in origin, the use of adobe boasts thoroughly modern advantages such as renewability and energy efficiency, making brown adobe walls very green indeed.

The 1939 Webster Auditorium, a National Register-listed building on the grounds of the Desert Botanical Garden, is an example of a Phoenix-area adobe structure erected during the last great adobe boom. The period stretching across the Great Depression saw many such projects constructed. The rationale for the construction of many notable adobe buildings, including Tempe's Eisendrath House, ASU's Moeur Building, and Phoenix's Jokake Inn, was not sustainability but rather affordability or a desire to replicate widely-held perceptions of how the state once looked.

Curiously, just decades prior, Phoenicians worked tirelessly to replace the unpopular adobe structures found throughout the town with what they regarded as more respectable brick buildings. However, the ancient tradition of combining clay, straw, and sand with water to form a natural and durable construction material refused to be consigned to the ages, instead resurfacing periodically as succeeding generations recognized its many benefits. Today's environmentally-minded adobe adapters are the most recent, although likely not the last, group of desert dwellers to see the value in adobe - an ancient, albeit adaptable, architectural material once again en vogue.

edited 12/23/2019:wt


DBG's Webster Auditorium Arizona State Historic Preservation Officer Jim Garrison discusses the Desert Botanical Garden's Webster Auditorium, a National Register-listed 1939 adobe building named for early DBG benefactor Gertrude Webster. Written by Jim Garrison and John Larsen Southard; narrated by Jim Garrison. Recorded at Scottsdale Channel 11; courtesy of the Papago Salado Association.


Webster Auditorium
Webster Auditorium Publicly raising funds was an essential step in erecting the large, adobe Webster Auditorium. This step generated the public interest that would be vital to the Desert Botanical Garden's future success and resulted in a turnout of nearly 2,000 people at the auditorium's dedication on January 21, 1940. Source: Schilling Library Archives, Desert Botanical Garden Date: 1941
Adobe Buildings in Ehrenberg, Arizona
Adobe Buildings in Ehrenberg, Arizona The late-nineteenth century adobe buildings shown in this stereocard view of Ehrenberg, Arizona were not built of fortified mud due to aesthetic preference, but rather, out of necessity. Prior to the introduction of railways and roads constructed in such a manner as to be passable year-round, Arizonans were forced to build with locally available materials. As a result, towns throughout Arizona Territory often consisted of adobe or wood structures instead of stately brick buildings. Source: "Looking up the Colorado River from Ehrenburg." Library of Congress. Creator: Enoch Conklin Date: 1877
San Jose de Tumacacori Mission
San Jose de Tumacacori Mission Though seemingly fragile, adobe is in fact a strong and durable building material; its integrity and reliability increase greatly with proper maintenance. As this photo shows, despite being captured on film more than 130 years after its circa-1800 construction, the unprotected adobe walls of the Tumacacori mission near Tubac, Arizona, appear to be remarkably intact. Source: Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress Date: 1937



John Larsen Southard, “DBG's Webster Auditorium,” Salt River Stories, accessed June 24, 2024, https://saltriverstories.org/items/show/36.