This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

The "re-skinning" of the buildings of Phoenix

In addition to tearing down old buildings, Phoenix does something that I call "re-skinning" buildings. That is, it takes old buildings and covers them up with a modern exterior. There are a lot of old buildings like that around Phoenix, and the example that I often point to is on the northwest corner of Central Avenue and Adams, the Gooding Building. Take a look at it if you work or live downtown, or take a look at it on Google Street View, and you'll see what I mean. This building was built in territorial times, and was "re-skinned" in the 1950s. And now it's such a plan box with windows.

Now waitaminute here, this isn't a conspiracy, man. There aren't a bunch of evil people walking around Phoenix laughing maniacally. This was all done with the best of intentions. I'll see if I can explain.

As a designer myself, I cringe when someone makes a mess of something by "fixing it up". It could be a friend who just invested a lot of money to make a mess of the design of his car, it could be someone who re-designed the porch of their house to look like a horror. Invariably these people post photos on Facebook and proudly proclaim what they'd done, and their friends "like" it. I just turn away, sadly. Because they'll never know.

My parents, bless their hearts, were very good at making a mess of things. One of my prized possessions is a cedar oak chest that had once belonged to my great-great-grandmother. In the 1970s my parents covered it with paint, and in the '90s, when I got it, I took the paint off, revealing the beautiful oak underneath that had been "re-skinned" to make it look better (I guess).

Support Arizona history by becoming a patron on Patreon

Click here to become a Patron!
History Adventuring blog posts are shared there daily, also there's "then and now" photos, billboards, aerials, and super high-resolution photos of historic Phoenix, Arizona

The same thing happens to buildings. With the best intentions, people "fix them up", usually to fit in with the current design fad. Suddenly bricks are considered unsightly, and are covered with stucco. Or maybe stucco is considered unsightly, and is covered with bricks. Either way, the original design integrity is lost. And as a designer, I prefer to see how it was originally, what I call "off the drawing board". I look for this everywhere, even at car shows. I walk past all of the cars from the 1930s that have been chopped up and modified with fiberglass. No, I won't criticize (that's no way to make friends!), but I wish they wouldn't do that. I look for cars that have their design integrity intact, as if they rolled off the assembly lines yesterday - and yesterday was 1935.

So that's where I stand on re-skinning. I understand it, and I understand that most people like it, and that's it's done with best intentions. But I don't like it. And when someone is restored back to look the way it did when it was new, I love it. I time-travel.

Image at the top of this post: the Gooding Building in the 1920s, northwest corner of Central Avenue and Adams, Phoenix, Arizona. The tall building next to it, the Heard Building, is still there, but has been treated with more respect.

Why Phoenix relies on Los Angeles

I love Phoenix, but I often jokingly refer to it as a "suburb of Los Angeles", or as part of the greater Los Angeles metro area (with that small gap in the California desert!). And Phoenix does rely on Los Angeles, the way that it relied on San Francisco in the 1800s. So, at the risk of offending people who think that Phoenix could survive without Los Angeles, let's take a look.

Los Angeles connects Phoenix to the world mostly through the Port of San Pedro and Los Angeles International Airport. If you've seen these places, the gigantic scale is something that dwarfs most cities in the world, including Phoenix. Yes, there are other, busier places on an international scale, such as Tokyo, which makes Los Angeles seem small and "backwater" by comparison.

When Phoenix was first platted, in 1870, there were no railroads to it, and Los Angeles was still just a little town. Everything of major importance had to come from the port of San Francisco, via the Gulf of California, and then up along the Gila River. Take a look at a map, it's mind-boggling, but that's how it was done. After the railroads were built, and Los Angeles grew, it made more sense for goods to be shipped to Phoenix from there. So the lifeline changed from San Francisco to Los Angeles. And that connects Phoenix to the world, literally.

I lived in LA in the eighties, and have driven back and forth between there and Phoenix so many times I've lost count. And if you've never noticed, look more carefully the next time you drive there, you will see a LOT of trucks. Also trains, and airplanes overhead. That's the lifeline.

Today, the day after the Dodgers win to go the World Series, I was wearing my Dodgers hat in Phoenix, and even posted a selfie on my Facebook page. And I was surprised to see that many people in Phoenix see no connection to Los Angeles. And that makes me kinda sad, because Phoenix would never have existed without California, San Francisco at first and later Los Angeles. This more than just a historical connection, this is something that Phoenix relies on, and keeps it strong, to this day.

Thanks, Big Brother Los Angeles! Go Dodgers!

Image at the top of this post: Los Angeles to Phoenix in a Ford Roadster in 1912.