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  • Julia Park Tracey

Derailed Success: The Hidden Legacy of Western Architect Luther R. Bailey

Teen flapper Doris Bailey, 17, had a burst appendix. She nearly died in 1927, in those dangerous days before antibiotics, and stayed in the hospital with terrible infections for months. So as 1928 began, her father, Portland architect Luther R. Bailey, sold his business and packed up the family for warmer climes. The desert was the place to heal his beloved only daughter, so they headed south to Los Angeles, playground of the stars, and ripe for new development. Doris was the apple of Luther’s eye, and anything she wanted, she tended to get.

At least, that’s how the family story goes.

But real estate fortunes ebbed and flowed in Portland during the 1920s, and one of those ebbs took Luther’s capital with it. In a coincidence of timing and urgent family needs, the Baileys—Luther, his wife Willie, and their children—headed to the Southwest.

Born in Alabama in 1872, Bailey attended Southern University, then took Willie to Boston and graduated from Boston College with an advanced degree in engineering. They had the first of their five children there. Bailey arrived in Portland in 1908; by 1910, he was president of the Portland Realty and Construction Company. In 1911 he established a building contractor business under the name of L.R. Bailey & Company, serving as president and manager.

Bailey’s World War I draft registration lists his occupation as “architect” and his employer as “self.” Although listed as an architect in city directories for decades, there is no evidence that he was actually registered or licensed as an architect in Oregon or anywhere. But his beautiful house plans and engineering expertise are not in dispute.

Bailey’s designs and buildings quickly earned him an excellent reputation and included examples of Colonial Revival, Prairie School, and Craftsman-style homes. In addition to building his own houses on speculation, Bailey contracted with other real estate speculators and constructed some 100 homes in Portland in those 20 years from 1908-1928.

One of Willie’s brothers, Ernest Upshaw, sold real estate in Los Angeles in the late 1920s. Luther’s family moved to Hollywood and Doris and the other kids started school. But Los Angeles was a non-starter. Bailey tried to get traction in Southern California real estate, but a quick business trip to Tucson to see his wife's other brother, Woodson Upshaw, motivated the Baileys to pack up and move again, to Phoenix.

In the late 1920s, Phoenix real estate was a buzzing hive of activity, with orange and grapefruit acreage for sale out in the desert, as well as city lots and neighborhood subdivisions in town. Medlock Place, located north of Camelback Road and Central Avenue, was platted in 1926; Orangewood Estates, located near Seventh and Missouri avenues, was platted out in 1928 and Coronado Park at about the same time. The timing seemed ripe for Bailey’s beautiful home designs.

By April 1928, Bailey had set up shop with Woodson Upshaw, opened an office downtown at 134 West Adams, and the Bailey & Upshaw firm was born. With several Phoenix housing developments going in, Bailey and Upshaw were mostly in the business of selling already existing houses and properties. There was a lot of trading citrus land for Phoenix homes, as in their 1930 classified ad in the Arizona Republic, offering to swap “Arcadia citrus 5, 10, 15, 20 acres, for city home…also 3 brand new suburban homes [in exchange] for a clear lot, good land."

Bailey was the designer and builder; Upshaw, a newspaper editor who also sold advertising for Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star, had a knack for marketing. “One of the rapidly growing subdivisions in this district is Coronado Park, located between the 16th and 15th streets and extending from McDowell Road to Palm Lane,” a 1929 article in the Republic proclaimed. “This tract was subdivided into 100 residence and business tracts and was placed on the market by Bailey and Upshaw, North Adams St. realtors, on October 1, 1928.”

To read the rest of this article, you are invited to purchase the digital issue here.

This article originally appeared in the Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, July/Aug 2019 issue, Vol. 8, No.4. The Arizona Contractor & Community magazine is a bi-monthly publication.

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