Coloring Downtown: Albers brightens 6th Ave., Fox, new Centro Garage

September 14, 2011

By Teya Vitu


The second you emerge from the Broadway underpass you come upon the first sample of how Michael Albers has gone about coloring Downtown.

Albers colored the Imago Dei school building (left) and the green Pennington Street Garage (rear).

What you are seeing is the brand new Plaza Centro Garage, a grey hulk for several months that just now took on the “dark purply brown” that paint colorists are calling Raisin in the Sun.

Keep going to Sixth Avenue and you’ll see the bright kaleidoscope of color across from the Ronstadt Transit Center. The colors of the vast green surface area of the Pennington Street Garage and the cream-blue-red combo next door at Imago Dei Middle School are both from Albers’ palette.

Go next door again and you get to the Arizona Hotel building, home to Monkey Burger, and its 1910s facade. Albers has not worked that building.

“I’d love to get my hands on (Arizona Hotel),” Albers said.

It wouldn’t be Albers’ first time with a historic Downtown façade. Albers matched existing tiles to restore original color to the façade for the Fox Theatre, but much more notably, Albers applied his primary specialty at the Fox, interior design.

What you see today in the Fox auditorium, from walls to ceilings to seat patterns and textures, is what 1930s audiences at the Fox experienced.

“The auditorium is exactly, as far as we know, what it looked like,” Albers said.

Restoring the original colors was an intriguing cross-country detective caper.

“That was an incredible job,” Albers recalled. “What was really difficult about that place was the only real evidence we had of what it looked like was black & white photos. We got the carpet pattern from the carpet in the photo.”

The Fox was shuttered for 30 years, a roosting ground for pigeons, not exactly leaving any vibrant colors once restoration work got under way in the early 2000s.

“We scraped paint off the walls and had it analyzed by a historic paint company in New York. There were 13 colors for the auditorium,” Albers said.

All the seats were rebuilt with new woven chenille upholstery, a bold texture you don’t find today even in the most renowned theaters, where some sort of vinyl or polyester velvet are commonplace.

“We know what the seat pattern looked like,” Albers said. “Herb Stratford had a little scrap that came off one of the seat backs. I sent that to a fabric company and they wove us a sample of fabric.”

The Pennington Street Garage is the dominating beacon for Albers’ Downtown colorings.

Michael Albers is the main behind the color scheme for the Pennington Street Garage.

How did Albers come up with the three shades of green known as Hearts of Palm, Ruskin Room Green and Rock Wood Jade?

“What I did is drive into Downtown from all different directions and look at the background of the city,” he said. “It just seemed to me the building needed to be green. Since then, a lot more buildings use green. It’s not the typical building you would paint green. It’s not in your face.”

Earlier this year, Imago Dei Middle School received a façade improvement grant from the Downtown Tucson Partnership for the Sears Executive Center building next door to the Pennington Street Garage.

“Michael Keith (the Partnership’s chief executive) called me: ‘These ladies need some help,’” Albers said.

That building has a completely different color scheme than the garage: primarily Regency Cream with Arabian Red and Needlepoint Navy accents. The colors of the two buildings work well for Sixth Avenue. Did Albers give any thought to have the colors work together?

“They are two different buildings. There’s no reason to do that,” he said.

The Imago Dei paint job, however, does define how the artist-client relationship works.

“That building at one point in time was more refined than the other Art Deco buildings  Downtown,” Albers said. “There are parts that are missing. Parts of the building were demolished.”

Before meeting with his client, Albers initially envisioned a sophisticated color scheme, perhaps a combination of taupes (brownish gray) and black.

“I went in and met with Anne Sawyer (head of the school) and she said ‘I want the outside to be happy and inviting.’ What we ended up with are those colors match their logo. This is what makes the client happy. It’s not what I would have chosen. It looks great.”

Imago Dei and Pennington are both brightly colored, where the colors showcase the buildings. Albers took the opposite approach with the dark purply brown he chose for the Plaza Centro Garage at Congress and the Fourth Avenue Underpass.

“That building blocks the Catalinas and that’s pretty much the color of the Catalinas,” Albers said.

Albers wanted the colors of the new Centro Garage to mute the structure.

The paint color is not the star here. The spectacular art of Daniel Martin Diaz is.

“It’s a back drop for the art,” Albers said. “The color needs to be dark enough to set the art off. The darker color weights the building. It will make the building seem smaller. I want to make sure the art stands out.”

These monumental color feasts contrast entirely with his primary occupation as owner of Michael Albers Interiors. He has predominantly helped Foothills owners with their interior designs in his 13 years in Tucson. You will find no Albers style in his interiors.

“You can go to 20 homes and not find one that looks the same,” he said. “There is a misconception about interior design. It is strictly about the client. It’s my ability to interview clients to found out exactly what the client wants and meet their need. One of the things I like to do is meet them in their home. I get an idea of how they live, which you can see. We discuss what their goals are for what they want to do. What you have to zero in on is the client’s lifestyle and how they want to live. It’s a matter of sitting down and talking to them very frankly.”