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A neighbor's question uncovers history of Second Avenue luxury apartments

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 11/26/2020 Donna Reiner, Special for The Republic
a bench in front of a building: Knickerbocker Apartments © Donna Reiner/Special for The Republic Knickerbocker Apartments

A few weeks ago a neighbor asked if I knew anything about a cute old apartment building, on Second Avenue in the Roosevelt Historic District, that she often passed while out walking.

I quickly Googled the site and realized that, no, I didn’t know anything about the building. I told her to give me a week and I would see what I could find. And herein lies the story of the Knickerbocker Apartments and its two neighbors: the Westminster and the Buntman/Cathedral.

Surely the inventory report found in the Roosevelt Historic District's National Register of Historic Places nomination would offer some clues. Initially it did not; but later as the pieces of the puzzle began to materialize, they were there, staring me in the face.

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I went off to search newspapers online, first using the address and then using the name of the building. What seemed like hours later and hundreds and hundreds of articles containing the word “Knickerbocker,” the key piece to the puzzle surfaced. 

An obituary for Philip Buntman in 1943 credited him as the person responsible for the building of not only the Knickerbocker, but also the Westminster and the Cathedral (formerly the Buntman). Apparently he had also built another complex, the Maryland Terrace Apartments just west of the Capitol on 18th Avenue and Washington. You would correctly assume that that one is no longer there. Today, sadly, it’s a surface parking lot.

a person standing in front of a building: Buntman/Cathedral Apartments © Donna Reiner/Special for The Republic Buntman/Cathedral Apartments

In order to adequately answer my neighbor’s question though, I continued to pore through more newspaper articles and ancestry.com, which gave me access to city directories.

Buntman was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1875, and came to the U.S. before 1900. He resided for a time in Chicago, where he met and married his wife, Ida. They came to Phoenix shortly after 1910 with daughter Gertrude, who married Chester Goldberg in 1923.

Buntman quickly became involved in real estate development and sales, plus mining. He also saw the opportunity to offer a commodity, luxury apartments, to Phoenix residents and visitors.

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First, in 1913, he built the two-story Buntman, where he and his family resided. Advertised as the "finest and most complete" in Phoenix, the apartments had sleeping porches, built-ins, a gas log fireplace and many other accoutrements. A later remodel of the exterior, and the filling in of the porches around 1924, changed the look of the building.

The next, and largest of the three apartment complexes was the two-story Westminster on the corner of Second Avenue and Roosevelt, built in 1914. Furnished and complete with telephone, maid, and janitor service, the Buntmans moved in. It too had sleeping porches that were later enclosed. The Maryland Terrace Apartments was also completed in 1914, but was only a one-story complex with six apartments.

a bench in front of a house: Westminster Apartments © Donna Reiner/Special for The Republic Westminster Apartments

Philip Buntman was in the mood to build his last set of apartments in 1919, and that was the Knickerbocker. Another two-story luxury apartment complex, it boasted of being "strictly modern in every respect." Furnished and providing maid service, the Knickerbocker was a testament to Buntman’s success.

All three of these apartment buildings on Second Avenue were home to many of Phoenix’s successful businessmen.

I contacted my neighbor, thanked her for the "hunt" and noted that I found enough to write an article.

Donna Reiner is the co-author of three books on Phoenix history.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: A neighbor's question uncovers history of Second Avenue luxury apartments

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