If you're like me, and you like looking at old photos of Phoenix, Arizona, you may be puzzled as to why so many of the buildings, especially downtown, are gone. It seems like there was some kind of conspiracy that the city went on some great rampage and destroyed a vibrant downtown area. The truth, unfortunately, is much more grim, and much more complex.
I never saw a vibrant downtown Phoenix. The downtown Phoenix that I first saw looked kind'a like the photo above. And the city had already been working as fast as it could to clear out these areas, which had become some of the seediest, dirtiest, most crime-infested areas that you could imagine.
Whatever went wrong with downtown Phoenix began happening in the late 1960s. By the 1970s it was not only an embarrassment to the city, it was dangerous. Even up through the 1990s, when I worked downtown, there were still plenty of places where it was unwise to walk past. The flophouse across the street from where I worked (which is now Chase Tower) always had people sleeping on the sidewalks, and doing, uh, other things.
I can understand why nobody talks about this. It must have been heartbreaking for the people who remembered downtown Phoenix as a vibrant place to work, and live, to see it become filled with X-rated theaters, dive bars, and flop houses. And many of these old buildings weren't fit for animals to live in, let alone people.
|7th Street and Jefferson in the 1960s, Phoenix, Arizona. You're looking north.|
Nowadays when I visit downtown Phoenix I am absolutely amazed at how successful it has become. I didn't see the worst of it, but I know about it, and that makes what I see today all that more beautiful.
Image above: looking east on Washington at 3rd Street in 1977, Phoenix, Arizona.
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