The Shemer Art Center was originally part of 640 acres owned by a group of investors who had visions of selling home sites. They named the area “Arcadia,” founded the Arcadia Water Company and began drilling wells. In 1919 a small home was built for the workman in charge of the project. It was the first home built in Arcadia. A small portion at the far east end of the present home is presumed to have been a part of that original structure. In the 1920s the investors went broke from such factors as the expense of drilling the wells, the depression, and most importantly, the fact that people were not interested in buying home sites so far from town.
In 1925 a banker from Kansas City acquired the acreage, part of which contained the small home. He added a kitchen, living room, and two of the bedrooms. He named this show place “Casa de Wanda.” Two of the original pillars marking the property can still be seen on Exeter Drive. Citrus was also planted in 1926 and 1927. The property was divided into 40-acre home sites.
In 1927 the 40 acres containing the recently remodeled home were sold to the Suhr family from Oil City, Pennsylvania, who were purchasing it for a winter home. Another remodeling project was then begun to enlarge the garage (now the studio), add two more bedrooms and a bathroom, enclose the porch, enlarge the kitchen and then stucco the outside to hide the many additions. This resulted in the home as you see it today. The Suhr family spent many wonderful winters in the house and were joined by other family members from California. Several have supplied the Shemer Art Center with historic photographs and many great memories of their times in the Phoenix home.
Finally, in 1984, the home was placed on the market once again. Martha Shemer, a long-time Phoenix resident, toured it in July and was so struck by the nostalgia of the home and the picturesque view of Camelback Mountain, that she contacted Mayor Terry Goddard’s office. She asked the mayor’s office if she purchased the property, would the City operate and maintain the facility. After due deliberations the City Council accepted the generous offer and at great expense to herself, with no tax advantages, Martha Shemer made the property available – at no cost – through its donation to the City of Phoenix.
In October 1984 the Shemer Art Center was born. Mrs. Shemer had two dreams: one to preserve a bit of Phoenix history and another to give back; she wanted to provide to the citizens of Phoenix a community center. The Shemer Art Center immediately became an art education facility for the city.
In 1985 the Shemer Art Center and Museum Association (SACAMA) was formed to provide support and input into the operation of the art center. But, in 2010, the Shemer Art Center faced the threat of closing when the City of Phoenix announced it could no longer manage the day-to-day operations. That is when the non-profit 501C-3 organization took on the challenge of not only maintaining the art center, but growing it into a viable art center that provides the community with a unique and inviting atmosphere to enjoy and learn about visual art through classes, workshops, lectures, exhibitions and events.
Today the Shemer Art Center provides a true “home for the arts.”
The Shemer Art Center is also one of the Points of Pride for the City of Phoenix. In 1992, the Phoenix Pride Commission asked Phoenix residents to name places that make Phoenix unique. Over 10,000 postcards, listing approximately 150 locations, were received during the initial campaign. From the 40 sites receiving the most votes, the first 25 Points of Pride, including the Shemer Art Center, were selected. The Cricket Wireless Pavilion and the Deer Valley Rock Art Center were added in 1996 and 2000 respectively. The Japanese Friendship Garden, Ben Avery Shooting Facility, and the Thomas J. Pappas School were selected in 2004. ASU West Campus, Burton Barr Central Library, and Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center are the most recent Points of Pride, selected in 2008.