In the late 1950s, Sandra Day O'Connor and her husband, John O'Connor, built an adobe home on Denton Lane in Paradise Valley, Arizona. In the 1970s, the O'Connors’ hospitality became legendary. Sandra was, at the time, serving as the first woman majority leader for the Arizona State Senate, and the first woman in the country to hold this leadership position for any state legislature.
The O'Connor's family life was centered around the home. Additionally, they entertained quite often with a purpose: that of inviting Arizona's state and community leaders to their home to build friendships and working partnerships, even when the leaders held fiercely differing points of view. Over supper, deep, direct, and respectful conversation would combine with friendship and wit to reach consensus.
It is that spirit of civil civic engagement that inspires the mission of the O'Connor Institute.
Moving O'Connor House
In 2006, Justice O’Connor learned that her family home, which the O’Connors no longer owned, was scheduled to be demolished. Friends, including Ambassador Barbara Barrett and Gay Firestone Wray, decided to find a way to save this historic home by locating a new setting for the O'Connor House.
The owners, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Robson, donated the house to the Rio Salado Foundation, but it needed to be moved to a new location. Even though the experts said it was impossible to move an old adobe structure, Elva Coor, founding chair of the Friends of O'Connor House committee, working with Michele Robson, Jim Kitchell and Janie Ellis, whose father, George Ellis, made the original adobe bricks for the home from the mud of the Salt River in the 1950s, persevered. Through their combined efforts, the founding committee began raising the money for the move and establishing a vision for use of the home.
Janie Ellis phoned her good friend, Mayor Hugh Hallman, about the project and he suggested a site for the home in Tempe's Papago Park on the Arizona Heritage Center campus. Under Janie's direction, the home was disassembled, brick by adobe brick, and with the help of John McCullough and Sundt Construction, and painstakingly moved to its new home in 2009. Today, the historic O'Connor House is situated close to the Salt River, the source of the original mud from which the adobe bricks and the home was constructed.
The Sandra Day O’Connor Institute conserves the O’Connor House as an icon for civil discourse and civic engagement, and is available to the public for special events.