Sep 21, 2023 - News

Once a community gathering place, RONS Club remains as a family home

The pool at the former RONS Club. The ship's mast in the background is lit up at night. Photo: Jeremy Duda/Axios

An Uber driver asked me a couple weeks ago if I knew anything about some colored lights atop a tall pole along Osborn Road, down the street from my house. Since he was wondering, I figured he's probably not the only one.

Details: The pole is actually a replica of a ship's mast, and the large property is known as RONS Club.

  • RONS is an acronym — Reserve Officers of the Naval Services.

Flashback: RONS Club was founded in what is now Phoenix's North Encanto Historic District by Guy Stillman, a former Navy engineer who'd served three years in New Guinea and the Philippines during World War II.

  • Stillman had trouble readjusting to civilian life after the war, so he and a group of other Navy veterans began meeting, and in 1947 they raised the money to build the club at 17th Avenue and Osborn, according to a 2002 article in The Arizona Republic.
  • The nautically themed club featured a large swimming pool, wood-paneled bar and a dining area.

Zoom in: The club was originally open only to people who'd served in the Navy and were sponsored by other members.

  • Eventually it opened to people without military backgrounds.
  • RONS Club and the neighboring Terrace Club to the east were "centers of neighborhood life in the formative years of the district," according to an entry in the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places, with a fierce, long-running rivalry between the clubs' youth swim teams.
  • RONS closed and the property was sold in 2002; it was converted into a single-family home.

State of play: Since then, the property has changed hands numerous times, mostly recently in 2019, when it was purchased by Andrew Burnham and Ritu Shah-Burnham.

  • "Do you know how many people we've met that learned how to swim here?" Andrew told Axios Phoenix.

What's next: Andrew and Ritu, who say the lights on the pole my Uber driver asked about come on automatically every night, want their home to once again play a unique role in the community.

  • They've considered putting affordable housing for students and others on the eastern portion of the lot, a former parking lot for the club that's separated from the main house by a wall.
  • Ritu would like something "swanky" that fits the neighborhood's vibe, and Andrew envisions '50s-style neon and possibly some Airstream trailers or a bar-and-grill.
  • "There's potential, but we don't know what we can do with it yet," said Ritu, who added that they're unsure what kinds of restrictions they may face because it's a historic property.

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