Between 1949 and 1973, the Staggs-Bilt Corporation constructed over 14,000 homes in 63 subdivisions around greater Phoenix. That’s a remarkable feat for any builder.
In terms of volume, it puts CEO Ralph E. Staggs in a league with mid-century Phoenix homebuilder giants John F. Long, Del E. Webb and John Hall. By my calculations, Staggs alone is responsible for creating approximately 1.3% of the Valley’s present-day single-family housing stock.
Staggs’ fingerprint on the mid-century Valley homes was consistent over the four decades that he built. His product was an affordable, low-cost, primarily one-level, masonry ranch home. The floor plans offered 2-to-4 bedrooms and typically ranged from 1,150 to 1,800 square feet. He raised homes across the Phoenix metro from Glendale to Mesa on lots less than one-sixth acre in size.
Residences like the ones Staggs built were the staple of the postwar residential construction boom in Arizona. Low-pitched roofs, slump block walls, integral carports and wide, horizontal windows to maximize daylight.
Through the neighborhoods, curved roads mimicked country lanes. Cul-de-sacs were incorporated into the suburban street design at the behest of the FHA to slow traffic, increase safety and decrease noise.
In the 1950s, a Staggs-Bilt home could be purchased for $11,000 to $15,000. By the early 1970s, with rising inflation filling the sails of homeowners, Staggs-Bilt homes were priced higher from $14,950 to $19,500.
Picking Up the Trade
Although he would never graduate from high school, Staggs entered his trade early at age 14. The junior craftsman went to work for his father, Clyde, who was also a Phoenix homebuilder. The senior Staggs built eight homes in the Valley between 1924 and 1930 but fell out of the business when credit dried up during the Great Depression.
Prior to the war, Ralph Staggs worked on a crew building Thunderbird Field I in Glendale for the U.S. Army Air Corps. Staggs also would take a job as a construction foreman in the E.W. Duhame Construction Company and later in the Del E. Webb Corporation as an assistant job superintendent.
After serving in the Navy Seabees construction battalion (CBs) during WWII in the South Pacific, Staggs began building homes for himself and others in Prescott in 1946. Encouraged by quick success and profit, he soon realized that favorable weather in the Valley would allow him to build homes here year round. He opened up shop as a home builder in Phoenix in 1949.
Staggs’ first Phoenix home was completed in December 1949 at 2222 N. 29th Street, Phoenix, in the Sandige Square development. The Staggs-Bilt homes on this block sold for around $6,250.
Shifting Into High Gear
Builders of the era, like Staggs, entered the market amid a confluence of favorable events: returning GIs, easy business credit, growing Valley population, and postwar optimism. During this period, the Valley’s economy was shifting from agriculture to industry. Major employers like Motorola, Kaiser Aluminum, General Electric and Sperry-Rand each had thousands of employees in Phoenix by the 1960s. Those employees were ready to buy middle-class homes. High wages at Motorola drew home builders to Scottsdale.
In 1958, Staggs’ corporation purchased 320 acres of land directly east of Papago Park which, Staggs claimed, was the largest parcel purchased by an Arizona developer to date. It would be developed into the Papago Parkway and New Papago Parkway subdivisions.
By 1960, Staggs-Bilt had 8,000 homes completed or under construction in Phoenix and Prescott. The firm was erecting houses at a rate of 1,000 homes annually. The now-veteran builder had amassed a construction workforce of 1,100 subcontractors and employees with expenditures over $16 million annually.
With the growth, Staggs diversified his construction business in the 1960s into a machining firm based at Falcon Field in Mesa. In 1967, a subsidiary, Staggs-Bilt Products Inc., had 116 employees. The manufacturer made aluminum casings for searchlights and early-generation night vision binoculars. Both products were supplied to military contractors during the Vietnam War. Staggs also created and marketed lever-action rifle prototypes through a branch called Staggs-Bilt Firearms.
Despite the achievements, legal troubles were just around the corner. In 1967, a Federal grand jury indicted Staggs on five counts of allowing false statements to be made by his company. The accusations stemmed from the fraudulent acquisition of FHA financing on four of his Scottsdale homes. Charges were filed after the homeowners defaulted on payments and the loans were reviewed.
It was alleged that straw borrowers, or buyers with good credit, were paid $100 each for use of their names and credit ratings. The homes were then assigned to individuals with unworthy credit who eventually defaulted on the FHA mortgage payments. The straw borrowers never occupied the homes.
Staggs asserted that he had no knowledge of the fraudulent activity. It was revealed in the course of the investigation that one of Staggs’ former salesmen involved in the concealment had prior a prior conviction for FHA fraud. Eleven months later, a U.S. district judge dismissed all charges against Staggs at a pretrial due to lack of evidence offered by the prosecution.
Civic and Political Endeavors
Ralph Staggs was actively involved with charitable organizations, politics, and the building industry. He directed the Phoenix Association of Homebuilders in 1955. The Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and the Valley of the Sun School for Handicapped Children received much of his time and charitable giving. Staggs was later appointed by Governor Paul Fannin to the Arizona Development Board and also chaired the Maricopa County Republican Party in the 1960s. He lost his bid in a run for an Arizona Senate seat in 1966.
He also worked on the Barry Goldwater for President campaign in 1964. He was an Arizona delegate to the Republican National Conventions in 1976 and 1980.
The Nixon administration considered Ralph Staggs for the role of assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in February 1973. It remains the #2 job in that department. After flying to Washington to interview and evaluate the offer, Staggs ultimately withdrew his name from consideration for the post. He felt the position lacked authority for the required duties.
Staggs appeared before Congress in 1986 to testify in support of the nomination of William Rehnquist as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This is a C-SPAN clip of his Congressional testimony.
Selling his firm
In late 1972, Staggs sold his home building business to the Singer Housing Company, a subsidiary of the sewing machine manufacturer of the same name. Staggs stayed on for 6-months during a transition period. The company built homes under the Singer Homes label into late 1976, until it was sold to the Estes Company homebuilder of Tucson.
Where are Staggs-Bilt Homes in Phoenix?
Take a look around Phoenix, Mesa and Scottsdale and you are sure to encounter a Ralph Staggs home. The largest clusters of Staggs-Bilt homes are in Westown, Northtown, Papago Parkway and New Papago Parkway neighborhoods. Here is a partial list of the communities where he built homes in the metro area:
- Ambassador Estates (7th Ave. and Bethany Home Rd.)
- Ambassador Manor (40th St. and Thomas Rd.)
- Cactus Gardens (NE corner of Cactus and Cave Creek Roads)
- Casa de Sol (SE corner of Main St. and S. Gilbert Rd. in Mesa)
- Casa Mesa (SE corner of Southern Ave. and Mesa Dr. in Mesa)
- Cholla Park (32nd St. and Emile Zola Ave.)
- Colony by the Greens (NE of N. Alma School Rd. and W. McLellan Rd. in Mesa)
- Country Estates (58th St. and E. Shea Blvd. )
- Freeway Park (23rd Ave. and W. Butler Dr.)
- Greenway Village (SE corner of 29th Ave. and Greenway Rd.)
- Jeffery Leigh (44th St. and Indian School Rd. )
- LeRoy Vista (NW corner of 44th St. and E. Earll Dr.)
- Listel Vista (35th Ave. and Montebello Ave.)
- Litchfield Park (Clyde Staggs Homes)
- McDowell Parkway (SW corner of McDowell and Hayden Roads)
- Mereway Manor (SE corner of E. Roosevelt St. and Hayden Rd.)
- New Northtown (12th St. and E. Butler Dr.)
- New Papago Parkway (Scottsdale Rd. and McKellips Rd. just east of Desert Botanical Garden)
- Northeast Village (one block south of Thomas Rd. between 36th and 40th Streets)
- North Town (7th St. and E. Butler Dr.)
- Northtown (55+ adult community built by Staggs, Singer Homes and Estes Homes)
- Oak Park Manor (NW corner of 32nd St. and Oak St.)
- Palms Parkway (34th St. and E. Indian School Rd.)
- Papago Parkway (SE and SW corners of 68th St. and McDowell Rd.)
- Paradise Valley West (30th St. and E. Sweetwater Ave.)
- Prescott Heights (on Willow Creek Rd. in Prescott)
- Sandige Square (SW corner of Oak St. and 30th St.)
- Skyline Vista (8th St. and Orchid Ln.)
- Surrey Heights (SE corner of 33rd Ave. and W. Thunderbird Rd.)
- Van Buren Vista (40th St. and Fillmore St.)
- Vista Del Camino (SW corner of McDowell and Hayden Roads)
- Vista Grande (south of 19th Ave. and Southern Ave. in SW Phoenix)
- West Camelback Village (69th Ave. and W. Colter St.)
- Westown (purchased 1,000 acres next to Black Canyon Highway near 35th Ave. and Cactus Rd.)
Tell Me About Your Staggs-Bilt Home
Do you live in a Staggs-Bilt home? Leave me a comment below describing your home and improvements. I am interested to know specifically about the floor plans the company offered.
Shown in the photo above is a 1961 Staggs-Bilt home in the Westown development near I-17. It is located at 11602 N. 32nd Ave. in Phoenix and is being marketed for $227,500.
We have cultural expectations that everyone needs a dining room, yet they’re only used three times a year. But if I put a bone handle on the door of an upper-end brick home, I’m making an outlandish statement. – Dan Phillips, American designer, builder, and owner of Phoenix Connection, a for-profit company based in Texas with a goal to reduce landfill burdens while building eco-friendly homes for low-income households