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

Why 7th Avenue curves at the Melrose Curve

The streets of Phoenix, Arizona are on a perfect north-south-east-west grid. Well, not so perfect it turns out. And that explains the Melrose Curve.

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If you've driven around Phoenix much you know that 7th Avenue begins to do a gentle curve a few blocks north of Indian School Road. And if you've ever wondered why, like I have, it has to do with two things: Grand Canal, and slightly-imperfect road building.

Take a look at this 1949 map (or even a modern one) and you can see that 7th Avenue begins to "lean west" just a bit as it travels up north from Thomas Road. But the bridge over Grand Canal (the squiggly line) pre-dates the building of 7th Avenue to that point. And since the canal was there long before anyone needed to cross it on 7th Avenue, it's in the right spot. The engineers who measured and built it got that part right.

But by the time 7th Avenue had grown all the way to make the crossing at Grand Canal, it was way out of line. And since bridges are expensive, and besides, the bridge had been in the right place all along, 7th Avenue was curved to meet it.

It must have been an embarrassment for city engineers at the time so see how badly they had aligned 7th Avenue. And it was way too late to fix it. The misalignment, by the way, actually starts, very slightly, at McDowell Road. And it's only off a little bit, but by the time you get to Indian School Road, that small amount really adds up.

As it turns out, nobody seems to mind that gentle curve in 7th Avenue. In fact, in a city with such harsh grid lines, it's kind of nice. The Melrose Curve.

Image at the top of this post: the Melrose Curve in the early 1970s. From the Duke University Library Digital Collections.

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