This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

How Phoenix, Arizona was destroyed by cars

To me, Phoenix has always been a city designed around cars. I live in the suburbs, and I remember that the most important thing to me when I bought my house was the garage. I love cars, and I've owned a lot of them. I've always had the "cowboy" mentality, of never walking when I could ride. So it wasn't until I started learning about old-time Phoenix that I realized that it had been destroyed by cars.

Like most people in Phoenix, I had no idea that Phoenix was an old as it is. I figured that it had pretty much started when the oldest malls were built, like back in the '50s. Or that maybe it was as old as the '20s, because of the old buildings that I used to see downtown. Actually, Phoenix goes back to 1870.

Time-travel with me to a Phoenix before automobiles. I'm making the distinction there, because there were cars, it's just that they were Street Cars. It's 1905, and we can go anywhere that we need to without the need for anything but our feet and the Street Cars.

The car lines (or trolley tracks if you prefer) were laid out beginning in the 1880s. Mostly they ran east and west along Washington, but you could also take the Indian School Car Line up 3rd Street, to the Indian School, on Indian School Road. You know, way out in the country. The cars also ran to East Lake Park, where there were things to do, which included a Natatorium (indoor swimming pool).

The cars (remember that I'm referring to Street Cars here) ran just about all of the time. There was no need to consult a schedule. But we really don't need the Street Cars, everything we need is right here within walking distance. And we have something that's almost unheard of in the 21st Century, free delivery. It worked like this: we walk into a store, choose what we want, and it's delivered to us. We don't carry stuff around, we just walk home, or take the Street Car back. The deliveries are done either with horses and wagons, or on bicycles, or on those newfangled things called "motorcycles".

The first car in Phoenix. You're looking east on Washington at 2nd Avenue.

Look! There's Dr. Swetman, with his horseless carriage! Let's go look at it, maybe he'll give us a ride. Can you image how wonderful it will be like when everyone has their own horseless carriage? No more walking, no more muddy streets, no more Street Cars.

Image at the top of this post: Looking west on Washington from just east of 1st Street in 1905, Phoenix, Arizona. The automobiles will change everything in just a few years. Super high-resolution image is here

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Exploring Block 77 in 1893 on a Sanborn map

Something that I recently discovered which helps me a lot of with my exploration of old-time Phoenix is Sanborn maps. They have wonderful detail, but they can be kind of confusing to figure out. Since I'm exploring Block 77, come along with me and let's see what we can see on this.

By the way, these maps were created as part of a way for insurance companies to pay for fire damage. The idea was to carefully diagram what was exactly where before a fire so that the damage payment could be paid out correctly. Of course, nowadays, they're just really cool detailed descriptions of the buildings, which is fun for time-travelers like me.

We're in 1893 Phoenix on Block 77, and to get yourself oriented, this block is where the western half of CityScape is now. At the top, where it says "Porter Building" is Washington, to the left is 1st Avenue, to the right is Central Avenue, and at the bottom, where it says "Undertaker" is Jefferson.

Back in 1893, the alley there where you see "77" was called Wall Street. It was never an official name, but that's what people called it because of the banks that lined it. Phoenix had a lot of "unofficial" streets like that, which eventually just became alleys, or are completely gone nowadays. As you can see, along Wall Street there were a lot of businesses. Other unofficial streets in Phoenix included Cactus Way, and Melinda's Alley.

The bank there on the corner of Washington and Wall was Valley Bank, the same bank that was around in Arizona until 1992, when it became Bank One, and is now Chase Bank. The Porter Building became the Hotel Denver, and was there until this whole block was demolished in 1974 and replaced with Patriot's Square Park in 1976. CityScape has been there since 2010.

OK, let's snoop around. The building that says "Undertaker" there on the southeast corner of Central and Jefferson became Roy's, which was a Hotel Supply Company starting in 1939. The dot-dot-dot with yellow on it, by the way, are overhangs over the sidewalk. I'm no expert of Sanborn maps, so if you are, please comment and explain some stuff that catches your eye!

The original Patton Opera House was there, just south of the Porter Building, and it looks like there was an east-west alley, and in 1893 there were businesses on the north side of it, but not much on the south.

Jumping to the 1st Avenue side, I see a Liquor Warehouse, but I'm not exactly sure what Corr Iron Sides means. There's a Blacksmith & Wagon Shop south of the Liquor Warehouse. Up on the the Washington and 1st Avenue corner, I see a tailor, and a meat shop. Not sure what Sal. means? Looks like a Jewelry Store, a Harness Shop, an Insurance Office, and another Warehouse for Liquors. Then we're back on Wall Street, where the banks are. Walking along Washington, I see a Grocery Store, and apparently the wall was Lath & Plastered. There's a Watch Maker, a Bakery, and a Meat Shop in the Porter Building. Walking south on Central, in the Opera House there's a Gally (not sure what that is?), a Drug Store, Stage and Scenery, and the Keely Institute (gotta find out more about that!). The walking along the alley (don't have a name for that alley) there's a Grocery Warehouse.

Walking south again on Central, I see a Dyeing and Cleaning place, a place to get Paints and Wall Paper, then in what I'm now calling the Roy's Building, the "Maricopa" Club Rooms, and the Undertaker. The southwest corner of Block 77 looks pretty empty, so I'll cut across over to the Liquor Warehouse, maybe they'll give me a free sample of some whiskey!

Thanks for walking around Block 77 in 1893 with me!

Thank you to my patrons on Patreon who help support History Adventuring! If you like these blog posts, and would like to make suggestions for future ones, please go to HistoryAdventuring where you can show your support for as little as $1 a month. Thank you!

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