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

The end of the Plaza in Phoenix, Arizona


If you're a serious fan of Phoenix history, you know about the Plaza. If you've never heard of it, you may wonder if it was a shopping center or something? And that's understandable. Phoenix has a lot of shopping centers, and movie theaters, and parking lots. The Plaza has been gone since the late 1920s, and that's too long ago for anyone alive today to remember it. It was simply a place set aside by the city of Phoenix for the people. It had trees, grass, and a bandstand. And like so many things in Phoenix, once it was erased, it was forgotten.



A square block was set aside when Phoenix was platted, in 1870, between Blocks 24 and 22, and simply labelled as Plaza. Nowadays it's called Block 23, as it's just another commercial block in Phoenix, and has now for over ninety years. But for the first sixty years of Phoenix, it was the Plaza, set aside to be used by the people, as a public space.

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The Plaza is where people gathered to watch parades, which went along Washington. The Plaza was a place to listen to band concerts, to have picnics, to just walk under the trees. In my imagination I like to walk in the Plaza.

Then one day it was gone. It must have been heart-breaking to see nothing but tree stumps. The city built a new City Hall a few blocks west (Historic City Hall, which is still there, at 1st Avenue) and got rid of everything trace of the Plaza. In 1931 a gigantic theater was built there. Not a tree was left, not a blade of grass. It was as if the Plaza had never existed.

It's all about progress, and Phoenix has always progressed. More buildings were built on Block 23, and as the years went by, even those buildings got old and got knocked down. As of this writing, Block 23 is still just a patch of asphalt, where cars park, and there are plans to build more buildings there. If you go there, take a moment to remember the Plaza.

The day they paved the roads in Phoenix for the first time, 1911


Since I collect old photos of Phoenix, and post them on the web, one of the most common complaints that I hear is that Phoenix has been all "covered with asphalt", over "paved over". And I know what that means, and I agree. As someone who enjoys walking, I know how terribly hot asphalt and concrete is. It's harsh and unforgiving on my weak ankles when I walk.  I've seen concrete poured all over places, like over by the I-17 freeway and Cactus Road, that looks really, really terrible. And when I walk across an asphalt parking lot in the summer I can actually feel the terrible heat burning up through my sneaks.

But I'm a time-traveler. And I also see a lot of old photos of Phoenix before the streets were paved. And it must have been terrible. In the summer, very dusty, and when it rained a mass of mud. So when I found the article at the top of this post, from 1911, I tried to imagine how people felt. They must have been thrilled. Of course, it was a very limited area, and many streets in Phoenix went unpaved for a very long time, but it must have been wonderful.

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Like most people I know, I've never lived anywhere without paved streets, and sidewalks. I take it for granted that whatever the weather is like, I won't have to walk in mud. And even when the wind blows, it doesn't stir up dust from asphalt, or concrete. I've never had to scrape mud off my shoes after walking in any city where I've lived. So it's hard for me to imagine how awful unpaved roads were, but now that I think about it, I'm sure they were. And the paving must have felt like a little bit of heaven once it was done. And I imagine that people were just hoping for more, and more.


Image at the top of this post: 1911 article about the paving of streets in Phoenix, Arizona.