Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Los Angeles as non-Angelinos see it


Every city is unique, and the only people who really know a particular city are the people who've lived there. And it's true that all cities have misconceptions that reveal the outsider, maybe the way something is pronounced, or which direction is uptown, or whatever. And I've found that most people are just wise enough to shrug their shoulders and say that "they never lived there, and they just don't know". But Los Angeles is different, there are a lot of people who've never lived there you think that they know it well.

And I can't blame people for thinking that they know Los Angeles, even if they've never lived there. Los Angeles is portrayed in movies, in TV shows, in books, and just about every way that you can imagine. So I won't roll my eyes and correct people who see Los Angeles that way, but it does give me a bit of a pain. If you've lived in a city that you know well, you know what I mean. And if you've lived in Los Angeles you know that:

• Hollywood isn't two steps from the ocean. In fact, it's miles away. Of course there are countless movies where the hero steps off the porch of his Hollywood bungalow, turns around, and is at the ocean. So if we're going to visit the Pantages, you really can't just turn around and see the Pacific Ocean from there. Sorry.

• Los Angeles doesn't include Disneyland. As big as Los Angeles County is, it isn't big enough to include Orange County, which is where Disneyland is. People who hear that I lived in Hollywood, in addition to imagining that the ocean was outside my door, think that Disneyland is just a couple of steps away. It's not, it's miles away. A lot of miles!

• Freeways didn't make Los Angeles crowded. Los Angeles was crowded long before the first freeways were built. Traffic jams, and gridlock, go back to the invention of cars. If you want to see what Los Angeles was before it got crowded, you have to not only go back before cars, you have to go back before trolleys. And even then there were a lot of horses, and people!

• There's no such city as Hollywood. Or Van Nuys, or hundreds of other areas that are actually just part of the city of Los Angeles. And I mean that legally. This is confusing even to people who live there, but it's easy to determine if you're in a different city - look for the police cars. Beverly Hills has its own police force, as does Burbank. Separate cities have their own mayors, but Hollywood has an "honorary mayor" during the Christmas parade.

OK, the list goes on and on, but you see what I mean. The city of Los Angeles has been blurred by the mythology, and it continues every time someone sees a movie or TV show set in LA. And by the way, no one in LA says that they live in LA, unless they live downtown. And even then they'd probably describe the neighborhood. I lived in Hollywood, and Canoga Park, and Winnetka. I worked with a woman who lived in downtown Los Angeles and called it "the City". I liked that. And if you've ever heard the radio describe the area as the "Southland", yeah, they do, but no one who lives there calls it that.

Image at the top of this post: The Greater Los Angeles area in 1910.

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Could people live in Phoenix, Arizona after technology collapses?


As someone who loves to use his imagination, I like to imagine what Phoenix would be like in some dystopian future, with the collapse of technology. Let's time-travel into a kind of scary future!

So the first question would be about water. Would water need to be brought in from hundreds of miles away? Of course not, water flows through Phoenix, and has for thousands of years.

Since most people have no idea how Phoenix works, it's considered a place where people could only live if water arrived from hundreds of miles away. But that's simply not true. People were living in the Phoenix valley long before any kind of "high tech" stuff was around. They were called the Hohokams, and they lived in a very primitive way. They didn't even have iron, they used stone tools.

The loss of electricity, and pumping stations, wouldn't dry up Phoenix. There would still be a lot of water right there. The water that Phoenix uses doesn't come from hundreds of miles away, it's right there. The water that flows down from northern Arizona goes right through the valley. It's a floodplain, and all you have to do is to stop the water, store it and channel it. The Hohokams did it.

So there would be plenty of water. But that's just part of the equation. The next thing is damming and channeling the water. The Hohokam people dug canals with stone tools. Speaking for myself, I doubt whether my weak lower back would allow me to be of much help there, but for people with muscle it's doable.

And then it starts to get really difficult. Because the people who lived there, like the Pima people today, would have most probably been genetically predisposed to survive in those type of harsh conditions. They had the "thrifty gene" (you can Google that if you want to) which meant that their bodies could survive on very few calories. My European body would definitely starve to death long before a Hohokam, or Pima, body. And my light colored skin and eyes would give me no protection from the sun.

So, the collapse of technology would be fatal to people like me, but certainly not to everyone. The people who survive would have to be as tough as nails, very strong, and with a strong community spirit. It's been done before.

Image at the top of this post: The Hohokam village of Pueblo Grande, part of which has been preserved, at 44th Street and Washington, Phoenix, Arizona. You're looking southeast towards where Tempe is now.

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Meeting Dave of Dave's Car Care, Glendale, Arizona


As someone who's interested in the history of Phoenix, I realize that it's a very fine line between talking about a businesses and promoting them. In fact, I'm more comfortable talking about a defunct company, like Valley Bank, than one that's still in business. And I think that it gives the illusion that most businesses don't last in Phoenix, and that's not true.

Yesterday I went with a friend to Dave's Car Care in Glendale. I just went along for the ride, and to give moral support, and while my friend was talking to the guy behind the counter, I was wondering, "I wonder if that's Dave?" It was.

I get a big kick out of meeting someone who's name is on the sign of a business. I guess I expect businesses either to have fictional names, or that someone sold it to someone who sold it to someone, etc. I think I became suspicious of asking if the person whose name is on the sign from watching "Happy Days" in the 1970s, after the episode where the owner explains that it would have been too expensive to replace the sign "Arnold's", and besides, it was a sign and name that people knew and recognized.

In the course of the conversation between my friend and the guy behind the counter at Dave's Car Care, he just said, "I'm Dave", and it made me smile. When their business was finished being conducted I made a point to go over and shake his hand, and I asked permission to take a photo of their business hours. No, I'm not going to show you a photo of Dave - that's kind of an invasion of privacy, you know. I gave him one of my history adventuring cards, with the assurance that I wasn't selling anything, and I got the usual look. He may want not to admit that 38 years in Glendale makes his business "historic", but I think that it does. It weaves into the day-to-day life of the city, and to me that's much more important than anything else.

I like my neighborhood, and I'm one of those people who never had to be told to "buy local". I don't own a car anymore, so Dave won't be getting my business, but whatever money I have I try to spend locally. I've always felt that way, even when I lived in Los Angeles, that these people are my neighbors. They live here, work here, are raising their families here, go to church here. Yes, of course there are bad guys everywhere, but they really are in the minority. Most of the people are good guys, even people who repair cars.

Exploring the history of Phoenix south of the railroad tracks


Like the vast majority of the people that I know, including many people who profess to be experts on the history of Phoenix, I know nothing of life south of the railroad tracks. It's strange, but just a few blocks away from an area that I know very well, downtown Phoenix, I can hardly tell you the names of the streets. And since it's a subject that most people don't want to talk about, it's history that gets forgotten, and ultimately is at the risk of being erased forever.

I understand. Some of it just isn't very pretty. And things like segregation are parts of the past that many people would like to forget. And since I'm not a "person of color" - I'm an "average white guy", there are many people who resent my even talking about it. But it's like every aspect of Phoenix history, it fascinates me, and recently I've gotten some help with it, so I'm hoping that soon I'll be able to share more.

I have a PhD (Phoenix History Detective) whose main interest is the history of south Phoenix. It's where he grew up, so he has a very personal connection, and he is also deeply interested in history, right now to the kind of details that I like. Even as we speak he's working on it, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he finds, and will share.

I realize that there is a very fine line between interest in the historical aspects of a city, and simply voyeurism. And south of the railroad tracks things could get very suspicious, no one is denying that. But this was a place where people lived, raised families, did the kind of livin' and dyin' that makes a city.

Going south of the tracks in Phoenix, even just to talk about it, seems taboo. Certainly it isn't something that I intend to treat lightly, nor do I plan on re-writing history to make it all squeaky-clean. Watered-down history is an insult to the people who created that history.

If you're interested in this journey, I suggest that you start at Carver High School, which is now a museum. It's so close to Chase Field that you could probably hit a baseball most of the way to it, but in the historical life of Phoenix it just seems so far away.

Image at the top of this post: George Washington Carver High School in 1942, 415 E. Grant, Phoenix, Arizona.

The George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center is a historical preservation site that is dedicated to the Collection, Documentation, Preservation, Study and Dissemination of the History and Culture of Africans and Americans of African Descent in Arizona. https://gwcmccaz.wordpress.com

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Why the neighborhood streets are so quiet in Phoenix, and in Los Angeles


As someone who is interested in the architecture of cities and how everything in them functions, right down to the streets, I'm fascinated by how successful cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles have been in protecting neighborhoods from traffic.

If you've never realized that, I owe you a thank you, and I feel kinda sad that you've always been on the other side of the equation. Please let me explain.

I was out walking this morning in Glendale (a suburb of Phoenix) since it was such a beautiful day. I took the photo at the top of this post as just a typical view. And it's what you're not seeing that I want to point out - traffic.

Now don't get me wrong, as I walked along the neighborhood streets there were a few cars this morning, but mostly they were doing the thing that cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles have been designed to do, they are getting out of the neighborhoods and onto main streets and freeways. If you could see way down there to the busy intersection, you'd see a LOT of cars. Yeah, it was rush hour when I was out walking this morning.

Now don't get me wrong, I would imagine that most modern cities have done this. I only know Phoenix, Los Angeles, and where I grew up, Minneapolis. Even Minneapolis has plenty of freeways, and some very wide streets to move traffic back and forth. And of course most people only remember the quiet little streets from their childhood because as soon as they get a driver's license, most people spend their time on the freeways, and major streets.

I've always avoided freeways and major streets. I've been lucky that I haven't needed to spend all that much time there. Yes, of course I've been there, and more than I ever wanted to. And yes, it makes sense to be there in a car, where you can get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. That's why all of this works. It's just human nature to want to get where you're going as quickly as possible. I've known people in LA who will drive several blocks in the wrong direction in order to pick up a freeway, and even in Phoenix I've known people who will drive several blocks north out of my quiet little neighborhood in order to be on a major street, even if their destination is south.

There are no signs that say "cars must get off of the neighborhood streets immediately", but it works out exactly that way. It's as if cars don't belong there, and they need to get out. In fact, it works so well that most of the people I know don't ever spend any time in their own neighborhoods. They get in their car and immediately go to a major street or a freeway. The effect is wonderfully quiet neighborhood streets.

Now that the weather is nice I may go walking again tomorrow, on the quiet streets.

Image at the top of this post: Looking south on 63rd Avenue at Desert Cove, Glendale Arizona, during rush hour.

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