Why Phoenix tore down the houses in the downtown area
Although there has been a lot of new building lately in downtown Phoenix, the downtown Phoenix that I remember when I first saw it, as a teenager, was surrounded by empty lots. There are still a lot of them around, just sidewalks and driveways leading to nothing but dirt. I have often walked around these areas and wondered what used to be there, and why it disappeared the way it did. The answer is what downtown Phoenix had become by the 1970s.
As a kid from Minneapolis, I was shocked to see downtown Phoenix in 1978. The downtown that I grew up with was a place to go, with shopping, and people. If you've ever seen the old "Mary Tyler Moore" show, she is walking in downtown Minneapolis at the beginning of the show, and that was what I expected a downtown to look like.
But downtown Phoenix in the 1970s was a horror. And from what I'm learning, it looks like it started slipping, very badly, by the late 1960s. In spite of attempts, here and there, to "revitalize" downtown Phoenix in the 1970s, it was a nasty, dirty, falling-down-buildings kind of place. The old houses weren't fit for human beings to live in. So, Phoenix tore them down.
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If you look at old photos of Phoenix, and then look at the empty lots, it's easy to imagine some kind of "conspiracy" to destroy neighborhoods. It wasn't. It was a clean-up job.
So, it's nice to see downtown Phoenix keep trying. Phoenix has always had a progressive attitude. I remember when the Renaissance Building was built, and I thought it was a wonderful name, and the right attitude. Phoenix has been around since 1870, and it looks like it has a bright future.
By the way, some downtown houses did survive the tear-down of the 1960s and 1970s, and are still there, especially just west of Central. Many have been converted into businesses, and some are still lovingly cared for by their owners.
Photo: Fillmore and 3rd Avenue in the 1960s, downtown Phoenix. The apartment building there in the background is still there.
Posted by Brad Hall