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

Phoenix, city on the edge of a desert


If you live in the Phoenix area, like I do, and have ever wondered why a city was built "way out in the middle of the desert", you need to take a second look at the geography. Phoenix is on the edge of a desert.

The map above shows a satellite view of the Sonoran Desert. To the lower left is the Gulf of California, and at right are the uplifted areas of Arizona. The arrow shows the Salt River Valley, which is where Phoenix is.

So, from a geographical point of view, Phoenix is in a wonderful position to take advantage of the annual runoff from the uplifted areas. The water flows from northeast to southwest, and empties out into the ocean at the Gulf of California. It may not feel like it when you're driving around Phoenix, but Arizona tilts towards down (towards sea level) southwest.

The main advantage that the pioneers saw in the Salt River Valley was the fertility of the soil, watered annually by flooding. The trick was, and is, how to control that flooding, capture the water that goes by every year, and use it for agriculture. The Hohokams did it for hundreds of years, and the pioneers did it, with moderate success, until the Roosevelt Dam was built in 1911, which ended most of the catastrophic flooding in the Salt River Valley.

But agriculture hasn't been all that important in the Phoenix area for a long time. At the risk of sounding like the Chamber of Commerce, being on the edge of a desert means that you can play golf in the valley, and go skiing two hours later up in the mountains. If you get tired of the 100-degree heat in the summer in Phoenix, you can be enjoying cooler temperatures just by taking a short drive northeast.

If you fly over Phoenix, you see the immensity of the Sonoran Desert, and the mountains just on the edge of Phoenix. Out in the middle of the desert isn't a good place to be, but on the edge of the desert is a great place to be!


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How the United States government works


If you've learned about politics from comedy shows, memes, and posts on Facebook, I really can't blame you if you're confused, and possibly angry and frustrated, with the government. It just looks like random stuff happening. But if you're genuinely interested in learning about how the United States government works, here are some suggestions:

• Learn the difference between a Democracy and a Republic. The United States isn't, and never has been, and Democracy. It's a Republic. Start with understanding how representative government works and you're more than half-way there.

• Find out about how the United States was formed, and how other governments work. Take a look at Humanism, and the Enlightenment. The United States government was a revolutionary idea at the time, as it didn't rely on the authority of a King.

• Read up on what Presidents do. Just pick any president that comes to mind. I kind'a like Theodore Roosevelt. Or maybe you can read about Lincoln, or Washington. Heck, you can read about Millard Fillmore if you want to! And resist the temptation to read a fictionalized account, or to watch a movie. Fiction is how many people get confused. If you want the truth, it's best to avoid fiction. If you're not big on reading, you can watch some documentaries. I can highly recommend The American Experience on PBS. But you really are better off reading, as anything else tends to be a condensed version.

That's a good start. The fact that you're interested in learning more is great. Most people have no interest in this kind of stuff at all. And in a country that relies on an informed citizenship to choose its leaders, this is pretty darned important!

The changing attitude towards mountain views, and open spaces


OK, I'll admit it, I love mountain views and wide open spaces. That's part of why I live in Arizona, with its sweeping views and majestic vistas. And, at the risk of sounding like the Chamber of Commerce, there is still a lot of it, just minutes from Phoenix. You can get in your car, and in a few miles, you are seeing stuff that looks like a photo from Arizona Highways.

But attitudes about mountain views and open spaces have changed in the past few generations. If you drive around the Phoenix area, you see that mountains in the past were just convenient places for practical stuff, like radio towers, and water tanks. Open spaces were torn up by off-road vehicles, or digging for gold.

The photo above shows the owner of the Spur Cross Ranch, Francis Shaw, in 1905, and what the Spur Cross Conservation Area looks like nowadays. Back when Shaw owned the land, its value was for for the gold and silver that could be dug up. He would have laughed at the thought that the land and the mountains had any value beyond that. If you put on some hiking shoes and a backpack, he would have (after shooting at you to get off his land) thought you were crazy.

I collect old photos of Phoenix, and I often hear people comment on how wonderful it must have been in the good old days. But often what I see tells me that the good old days are now.

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Why there was no such thing as a National Bank in the United States before 1996


When I started working for Valley National Bank in 1990, I was already familiar with the term "National Bank". It seems like every other bank that I had ever heard of had the word "National" in it. But national banking, that is, banking across state lines, was illegal before 1996. And I got to watch a company gamble on the chance that the law would change. That company was Bank One.

The reason that banks couldn't be national had to do with their fragility after the Wall Street crash of 1929. By law, banks had to be contained in states. And that meant that if a bank failed, it would only affect that particular state, not the entire country.

But in 1996, true "national banking", what we take for granted today, became legal. And in preparation for that, Bank One had been buying up banks all over the country, including Valley National Bank of Arizona.



The four years that I watched Bank One make the transition from being some kind of distant "hands-off" benefactor to preparing to run its business as a true "national" bank was like watching someone at a casino throwing the dice. And in 1996, when national banking became legal, they won.

And since the term "national bank" had always been around, it was a change that no one outside of the banking industry even noticed. But it was a revolution.



JP Morgan Chase now controls what used to be Bank One, and Valley National Bank, from New York. It's a strong, national bank. A real national bank.

Image at the top of this post: The Valley National Bank sign on the Professional Building, southeast corner of Central and Monroe, Phoenix, Arizona. From the 1957 Annual Report.


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The earliest churches in Phoenix, Arizona


When you go looking for the earliest churches in the Phoenix, Arizona area, you just have to remember that a church is not a building, it's a congregation. Wherever two or more of you are gathered in His name. And among the many things that the Phoenix pioneers needed to survive in such a harsh place was faith. So, to find the earliest churches, you have to find the earliest settlers.

My personal favorite is the group that began with John P. Osborn (yes, the guy with the farm that they named the road after), his wife Pauline, the Reverend Lewis Hedgpeth, his wife Margaret, and their families.

To find this church, in addition to traveling back 130 years, you would have to go waaaay north of town to the Osborn farm, which was between Central and 7th Street, and, obviously, on Osborn Road. There you would find the tiny congregation meeting in the little schoolhouse. Then it moved to a building which was donated by Edna Smith, originally called Smith's Chapel, and then Bethel Methodist Church. As the congregation grew, a new building was built in 1893, and 1914, and when the congregation grew out of that, a newer building was built in 1948. That building still exists, and has been preserved as part of a retail center. Yes, it's just behind the Starbucks.

Register of Members of Bethel Methodist Church in 1885

From the Sunday School Record Book of Smith's Chapel in 1890

Smith's Chapel/Bethel Methodist Church chronology 1881-1954

1908 article about Bethel Methodist Church


Bethel Methodist Church in 1948, 7th Street and Osborn, Phoenix, Arizona.


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The history of the price of gasoline in Phoenix, Arizona


I'm interested in history, and collect old photos of Phoenix and post them on the web. And nothing gets more attention than photos that show the price of gasoline.

The price of gas in Phoenix in 1914, allowing for inflation, equivalent to about four dollars a gallon nowadays.

Of course, a common mistake that most people make is not taking inflation into account. That is, if you see the price something in, say, 1901, you have to consider how much money was worth back then. My favorite example is that you could have gotten a shave-and-a-haircut for "two bits" in 1901, which makes 25 cents  in 1901 worth about twenty bucks today.

But even taking all of that into account, the price of gasoline in Phoenix started out as being wildly expensive, and then it fell dramatically in the 1950s.

In 1915, when automobiles were still fairly rare in Phoenix, gasoline, like everything else in Phoenix, was very expensive. It had to be brought in on trains, and those were the days of monopoly-controlled rates for shipping, which wouldn't end until the 1930s.

Gasoline was rationed in Phoenix, as in the rest of the country, during the 1940s because of World War II. But after the end of the war, everything changed, and by the 1950s, America entered into its most prosperous economic time. And the price of gasoline dropped.

El Paso Gas Station in the 1960s, Phoenix, Arizona.

Gasoline prices stayed remarkably low until the oil embargo of 1973, when prices went up dramatically, almost doubling to nearly 50 cents a gallon. The price of gasoline has continued to rise, up to the present day. Note that on the image above, the sign for the price wasn't large enough for a third digit. Gasoline being over 99 cents a gallon wasn't even considered.

Image at the top of this post: Blakely Gas Station in the 1950s, Phoenix, Arizona.

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Paradise Valley, Arizona, when it was a terrible place to live


The 1920s are so long ago that no one I know of can think of Paradise Valley as ever being anything but an expensive, and exclusive, community. But before reliable water was brought in, it was just a place of random shacks in the desert. Just dust and Gila Monsters, not even reliable groundwater. The article above is from 1921. And yes, that was Paradise Valley.

By comparison, life was good to the south of Camelback Mountain, and the Phoenix Mountains, because there had been reliable water, through the Arizona Canal, since 1885. And since the valley slants southwest, and water doesn't run uphill, the area north of the canal had no water. Yes, you could have purchased all of the land that you wanted, for cheap, north of the canal, and people would have thought you were crazy.

But there have been a lot of "unreasonably optimistic" people in the Phoenix area. In the article there from 1921, people were hanging on, hoping for the best, waiting for the Paradise-Verde Dam. And then, of course, the Bartlett Dam was built, and the people who owned some of that "worthless desert land" became wealthy. And they went from being thought of as crazy to being visionaries. How about that?

Obviously, if you have the money, it would be wise to invest in Paradise Valley. If not, you may need to do what they did before the 1930s, invest in something that no one in their right mind would, hang on, and hope for the best. It's happened before.

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Phoenix history in the making - the Sun Valley


I have a fascination for the history of Phoenix, Arizona. It's been a hobby of mine for many years to collect old photos, maps, that sort of thing. I read old newspapers and do what I call “time traveling”. I like to imagine what Phoenix looked like in the past. And since I live in the 21st Century, I am often amused by people who wondered why something was built “way out there”, which we now think about as being fairly nearby. And then I look around and realize that it's happening all of the time, and people are still saying the same thing. I call this “history in the making”. I could call it “why are they building something out in the middle of nowhere?” I guess. And it makes sense.

One of the areas that I have been watching since the early 90s is the valley that is just west of the White Tank Mountains. If you live in the Phoenix area, you may be wondering who would be crazy enough to build something way out there. But it started in the 1980s when a 4-lane privately-funded road was built there, called the Sun Valley Parkway.

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When I tell most people about this, they insist that no such thing exists. If I mention the Hassayampa River, they can usually only imagine it up by Wickenburg. But it flows south, through an enormous empty valley just west of the Salt River Valley. The edges of this valley have seen some development, the northern edge has some retirement communities spilling over from the Sun City area, and to the south there are some developments near the I-10 freeway. But in-between, for miles and miles, it's empty. It's a popular place for motorcyclists, who just want to see the desert and feel the wind in their hair, but for most people it's just way out in the middle of nowhere. If you drive it, be prepared for a feeling of “wow, this is interesting” followed by a long feeling of “wow, this is boring”. The Sun Valley Parkway goes from I-10 north and loops around the northern edge of the White Tank Mountains, where it joins up with Bell Road. That's a considerable distance of emptiness.


Of course, when the Sun Valley is all built up, people in the future will wonder why the people back then ever thought that it was “way out in the middle of nowhere”. And if you're reading this before it was built, you will be able to say that you remember it, back when you were young, when it was nothing but miles and miles of open land, just like Phoenix used to be.

Image at the top of this post: plans for the Hassayampa Valley (Sun Valley) from 2007.

Understanding the alliance of the Pima, Maricopa, and Papago Indians with the Phoenix pioneers


If you're like me, and grew up learning about cowboys and Indians by watching movies on Sunday afternoons, I guess I can't blame you for seeing things from a racist point of view. That is, dividing groups of people based on physical characteristics, such as the color of their skin. But I'm a culturalist, not a racist, and if you take that point of view, many confusing things about the relationship of the Phoenix pioneers to the Indians come into focus.

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By the way, since I have to call them something, I am calling the people of what is usually called "white ancestry" pioneers. Actually, a lot of them weren't white, and since race is a nonsense concept anyway, I'll just call them pioneers. I have to call them something. This would be right after the Civil War, 1866 or so. And as for the names of the Indian Tribes, well, it's the same thing. The tribes called themselves the people. All tribes are the people. Only outsiders give them names. And if you're looking at skin color, or anything like that, you will completely miss the point of the alliance. It was an alliance of culture.

Now step waaaaayyyy back to what is the invention of civilization to humans. That's the establishment of farming, the settling of community. It has happened all over the world, at various times. For historical reference, think of ancient civilizations, and how they had to defend themselves. The Romans had Barbarians at the Gates, the Chinese had the Mongols. Now think of the Pima Indians.

The Pimas, the Maricopas, and the Papagos were civilized. That is, they farmed, they didn't hunt and gather, and they didn't raid. They defended. And if you know your Arizona history, you know that there were some pretty fierce Indian tribes that did raid!

Now, waitaminute here - I'm not saying that these people were tamed. They weren't animals, they were people. And they were farming in Arizona long before it was invaded by Spain, then Mexico, then the United States. So if your stereotypical view is of Indian people as wild until they were forced to be civilized, you do a great injustice to these people.

Set aside stereotypes, strip away skin color. Look at culture. The civilized tribes had no more interest in being raided than the pioneers of Phoenix. So theirs was an alliance. So much so that when the United States built its Indian School in 1891 it selected Phoenix, Arizona. Originally the school was exclusively for Pima people, and within a few years it expanded to include many tribes from Arizona and California, among other states. What was taught there was not the ways of the white man, what was taught was civilization, which the Pimas had known for hundreds of years.

Looking at construction of roads, bridges, and freeways in Phoenix, Arizona


Like all kids, I loved to watch construction. And like most people, I can't even began to understand the process. I still call the vehicles that I see on construction sites "Tonka Toys". I slow down for construction workers (and not just because fines double in construction zones, although that may be only in California, I don't remember?).

Luckily, I have spent most of my adult life in Phoenix, which has always had construction. I have a special interest in freeway construction, which, although it puzzles most people that I care about it, is some of the most amazing architecture and construction that I've ever seen. And I someones wonder if there are other people out there who feel the same way that I do?

I live in the west valley and nowadays the construction of the 303 freeway is at its most amazing. Yeah, in a few years people will just take it all for granted, or complain about it, because that's what we all do with roads and freeways. Somehow most of us just imagine that they just suddenly appear, like magic.

I'm interested in the history of Phoenix, and I collect old photos and post them on a Facebook page, and that makes looking at the roads, bridges, and freeways of the Phoenix area all that more amazing. Sometimes I'll just go take a look at a chunk of empty land and wonder how in the world they figured out where to build the road, how to build the bridge, and how something as gigantic as a stack on a freeway interchange could be designed. But there they are!

And it gets even better, and more complex. It's not enough nowadays to build freeways that work, they have to look great. There are graphics on them, and of course, landscaping around them. Sure, we take them for granted after they're built, that's what we're supposed to do. But the people who design them, and build them, deserve more respect than that. At the very least you could slow down. And may I recommend that you take a look at construction? You knew how to do when you were a kid!

Image above: construction the Black Canyon Freeway (I-17) in 1961.

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The death of actor Bob Crane in Scottsdale, Arizona, 1978


Maybe it's because so few people have actually met celebrities, or "stars", or even actors, in real life that makes people seem to feel comfortable poking fun at them, even in death. Actor Bob Crane, who was murdered in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1978, is a star who had fallen. And the joking began almost right away, and continues to this day.

This was before my time, but I remember the TV show "Hogan's Heroes" on re-runs. And I know that Bob Crane was quite a big star in the late 1960s, but after Hogan's Heroes ended, his career as a TV star ended, too. But he was still an actor, and one of the things he did was Dinner Theater. And going from a big TV star in Hollywood to playing a Dinner Theater in Scottsdale in 1972 was a big drop.

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But if you've known actors, you know that it's all the same to them, really. The actors I've known have all been pretty much the same, they liked to pretend, they enjoyed being on stage. And the most important thing to know about them is that they're actors, they're not the characters that they play in movies, or TV. They memorize lines, they understand stage directions. They act.

So, no I'm not going to talk about the murder of Bob Crane in this blog post. There is a lot of information out there, and you don't need me for that. But as someone who studies the history of Phoenix, I would like to mention his death. If you would like to make a joke, or a snarky comment about Bob, or the Scottsdale police, I'm just gonna wish you wouldn't. If you need to laugh, I would suggest that you go find an episode of Hogan's Heroes on YouTube, that's what I'm doing.

Robert Edward "Bob" Crane - July 13, 1928 – June 29, 1978

July 2, 1972 ad for the Windmill Dinner Theater, Scottsdale, Arizona.

Ted's Plaza, Glendale, Arizona


I've lived in Glendale, Arizona for over twenty years, and have driven back and forth on Olive Avenue more times than I can count. And if you're a neighbor of mine, not far from Glendale Community College, you have driven past Ted's Plaza, which is on 47th Avenue.

If you've never seen it, that's not surprising. It tends to be one of those "invisible" things that I see, and often joke about. Yes, something is definitely wrong with me, because I can see Ted's Plaza.

Whatever it is, being "right-brained" or being a Graphic Designer, or a frustrated architect, I see a lot of things that really aren't all that important, like the names of shopping centers. And no, I don't tell people to meet me at Ted's Plaza, unless I'm joking. It's the corner with the Circle K. Now that I'm looking more carefully at the sign, there's a Mexican Food place I've never gone to. Gotta try that!

I have no idea how old the sign is, but it's probably from the 1960s*. Ted's Plaza would have been the name of an empty shopping center before any of the tenants moved in. That's how it works - a shopping center is built, given a catchy name (like Ted's!) and then laundromats, barbers, and convenience stores move it. Sometimes the signs stay (like this one, which actually looks like it's been changed - did it used to be something other than Ted's?) and sometimes the signs go away. Presumably somewhere in the County Recorders office is a form with the name on it, just to make it all legal.

Yeah, I notice this kind of stuff. If you ask me if it makes it any easier for me to go shopping, and find stuff, I'd have to say no. But it makes it so much more interesting to me!

*Update: I took a look at Historic Aerials and it looks like it was built in the 1970s. Before 1970s, there was nothing there but farmland.

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Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State University, past, present, and future


Because I collect old photos of Phoenix, and watch the History Channel, most people assume that I am pining away for the "good old days". You know, when life was simple, and air conditioning hadn't been invented yet. But no, that's not me, I'm a time traveler. It just seems to be easier to go back in time than forward. But I often look at things and give it a try, anyway.

The image above is a plan for the new Sun Devil stadium in Tempe, although I’ve heard lately that it won’t have that cool-looking top. Well, maybe it will! It's only a model. The current one, built in 1958, has sentimental value, but really, isn't it time to update? And this is when the time-traveling really kicks in. To do this, you have to time-travel back to the 1950s and imagine that a new stadium would be built to replace the old one. And it was going to be build in the "saddle" next to A Mountain (Tempe Butte). It must have blown people's minds. I like to imagine the reaction of the old-timers, maybe putting together a petition to stop the new stadium. I like the spirit of the girls in the black and white photo there, who are ready to watch the big game at the new stadium!


Part of what makes living in the Phoenix area so fascinating is that it's continuously growing and changing. I can only imagine myself watching the Sun Devil stadium being built in the 1950s, but I'm sure I'll see the new one being built.

Go Devils!

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The history of Phoenix, Arizona, including everyone


As I learn more about my favorite city, Phoenix, Arizona, I am beginning to understand why so many histories written about it are so distorted. At some point, and for whatever reason, many histories are written as if a particular group of people didn't exist.

I guess people need to try to keep thing organized. Maybe it's so books can fit into particular classes being taught, segregated by race, or nationality. Maybe there are just so many shameful things that historians would just rather not dwell on them (and there are some terrible things!).

So, people wonder if I'm interested in Indians, or Chinese, or black people. And yes, I am. I am also interested in learning about the impact that women in Phoenix have had on its history. And no, I don't fit into any of the above categories, but I fit into the most important one: a person who has been part of Phoenix history. And that includes everyone, including you.

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The moment you stepped off of that plane, or hopped off of that freight train, you became part of Phoenix history. The vacation you took in Phoenix made you part of its history. Even if you've never been there, and have only seen photos from Arizona Highways, or something, you are part of it.

I collect old photos of Phoenix and post them on the web. It's a bit of a mess, because real history is that way. It's a story of a bunch of people who are living somewhere. I wish that I could explain it better than that, but really, I can't. And if you ask me to, I will fail. Like all of life, it's a tapestry, and the weaving never ends.

Above: A cartoon poster that I did for a Bank One in the 1994.

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The negative side of rising home values in Phoenix, and Los Angeles


Whenever I'm hanging around with people who talk about their houses, and money is mentioned, most people proudly tell me how much more their house is worth than when they bought it. I guess it's just human nature, like buying something at a garage sale and later finding out that's worth a lot on ebay. But if you're like me, you really don't want the value of your house to go way up. I saw the negative aspects of that when I lived in Los Angeles, and it's while it's good for Real Estate Agents, and investors, it's very bad for people like me who just want to live in a house. Please let me explain.

I bought the house that I'm in right now, here in Glendale, when I was in my mid-thirties. I just love it here. It's a great neighborhood, and besides, my dog likes it here. I never want to leave here. No, this house is not for sale. Not until I'm done with it, if you know what I mean. And I plan on living for a very long time!

So, let's do some math. I'm not very good at math, but I know that although my mortgage is fixed, other factors around owning a house aren't. Yes, I'm talking about taxes. The taxes that are paid on a house are based on its value. The higher the appraised value, the more taxes you have to pay on a property. And I guess that's fair. I know that taxes help support the infrastructure that help to make this a nice neighborhood, and I'm willing to pay my share, as most people are. But this is where it gets complicated, and it's a lesson I learned in Los Angeles in the 1980s - when the value of the houses goes way, way, up, like ridiculously way up, so do the property taxes, and it can have devastating effects on the people who live in them.

Time-travel with me to the 1960s, and 1970s, in Los Angeles, especially places like Woodland Hills, which is in the San Fernando Valley. At the time, you could have bought a nice new house there for as little as $50,000. And, if you're following me here, you paid property taxes based on $50,000. But by the 1980s, those houses were being appraised at a quarter of a million dollars, and are now closer to a million. That sounds great, if you're a Real Estate agent, or if you want to sell the house, but terrible for people who just want to stay, and live in those houses. It meant that their property taxes were spiraling out of control. People who were unable to pay their mortgage along with the higher property taxes were simply losing their houses.

A law was passed in California, called Proposition 13, which changed all of that for people who were at risk of losing their house because of the increase in appraised value and the subsequent rise in property taxes. That law is still in effect for many people in California who would be crushed by the payment of taxes based on current appraised value.

Of course, house values in Phoenix have never done that. The house that I'm in hit its highest appraised value just before the crash of 2008. And yes, my taxes did go up, and it did worry me. But the crash brought the value back down, and it's still fairly low, which is what I want. Like I say, I'm happy to pay my fair share of taxes, but not if this house were to be appraised so high that I couldn't afford to pay it, along with the mortgage.


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Seeing Phoenix through other people's eyes


I know Phoenix, Arizona. I've lived there for a long time. I've driven the freeways, I've spent a lot of time there. It's my town. I collect old photos of Phoenix, I read about the history of Phoenix. So you would think that I know everything. But I don't, far from it. And especially when I get a chance to see it through other people's eyes, it's brand-new to me again, and again. Please let me explain.

As a webby kind of guy, I started posting images of Phoenix way back when the internet was new. I had web pages that I had created just for fun, to learn more about HTML, and CSS, and to practice to teach web classes at GCC. But it wasn't until Google+ was invented, just a few years ago, that I really started getting a chance to see Phoenix through other people's eyes.

My experience on Google+ with my Phoenix page has been wonderful. I have to admit that I was kind'a leery about using a "social media" to post things, as I had seen the horrific comments that people like to post on Facebook, and YouTube. But, like I say, my experience with the Phoenix page has been good. Yeah, there have been a few stray idiot comments, and some spam, but not all that much. And I set up my gmail to monitor it, anyway.

The best thing about the Phoenix page is that it's a learning experience for me. Most of what I'm posting is stuff that I just found. I'm a "hey, look at this" kind of person, anyway. I'm not a teacher, I'm a sharer. And to my delight, there are a lot of other people who feel that way, too.

Of course, most of the people who follow the page live in Phoenix. I can recognize the kids who grew up there, who are always the first to comment if someone is wearing a jacket that it couldn't have been in the summer. The old-timers always remember a kinder, simpler, time. You know, back in the '90s, or '50s, when things were so much better than they are now! The newcomers are interested in finding their way around, and feeling like they belong. I remember that feeling. There are people who don't live in Phoenix, of course, and they sometimes write the most beautiful, longing, stuff. For them I make a point to watch the sunset, which is common for me, and extraordinary for them.

I like my Phoenix. And I like other people's Phoenix, too.

Image above: Looking north on Central Avenue at Monte Vista in 1970, Phoenix, Arizona.


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Wearing a shirt and tie in Phoenix


When I worked for Bank One in downtown Phoenix in the '90s, I wore a shirt and tie. I'm sure that the company had some kind of dress code, but I never knew about it. I just knew that if you dressed as if you were going to be playing tennis that day, you would feel very out of place in the marketing department. That's me up there, getting my picture taken for "the One Card".

Nowadays, of course, when I see someone wearing a shirt and tie in the Phoenix area, I have to wonder "what are they thinking?"

Let's face it, Phoenix is hot. Wearing a dress shirt, buttoned up to the top, with a tie around your neck, is no way to keep cool. And even the lightest suit (I always wore what was called a "tropical blend") is enough to make most guys start sweating just walking from their car to a building in Phoenix. So when I tell people that I went to work wearing a suit for years, I have to explain that I worked in a space ship.

I worked at what is now called Chase Tower, at Central and Monroe. I parked my air-conditioned car in the parking garage across the street and walked underground to the tower. Yes, there's an underground tunnel that goes under 1st Street. There was no reason to go outside. Once inside of the tower, I took the elevator to the 31st floor. The building was 75 degrees year-round. That's why I call it a space ship.

At the end of the day, I drove home to my air-conditioned house in suburbia. I rarely stopped anywhere, except when the weather was cool.

So yeah, it's a good idea to have a dress shirt and tie, maybe a suit, or at least a sports coat to wear on special ocassions. But don't expect to wear it much in Phoenix, nor do people expect you to.


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Phoenix history as seen through the eyes of people who lived it


I'm fascinated with Phoenix history. And not just memorizing names and dates, but living it, as if I were really there, in territorial times, or back when gas was 18 cents a gallon. I call it time-traveling, and it's a lot of fun. And sometimes I get a chance to see Phoenix history through the eyes of someone who has lived it.

I made a point of visiting Jimmy Desmuke in 1994. He had been one of the executives of Valley National Bank going back back to the time of Walter Bimson. Jimmy was in his nineties then, and he had asked for only one thing when he retired, in the mid-1960s, an office which he could keep going to. And he had a nice, big, private office in Valley Center (which was the Bank One Building then and is now Chase Tower), where I worked, on Central and Monroe.

So I visited Jimmy one day. I called and asked for an appointment (yes, he had his own secretary) and then got on the elevator to go see him. I didn't stay very long, and there really wasn't much to say. I already knew about him, and about the history of the bank that he had helped to become so successful. I just wanted to shake his hand, and I did. And for a brief moment, I could see it all through his eyes.

Image above: Valley Center under construction in 1972, across from the original headquarters for Valley Bank, the Professional Building, Central and Monroe.


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Understanding the Phoenix Indian School


If you're like most people, and have never studied the Indian Wars in Arizona, well, I can't blame you. I got a copy of the 1915 Arizona the Youngest State by James McClintock recently, and it goes into some very grisly details. It will be a while before I will be able to look at that book again. If you've read it, you know what I mean.

Unfortunately, if you don't know about what happened, it's easy to fall into the common mistake of stereotyping the Indian people. And as I began my journey to understand the Phoenix Indian School, I started finding out things that surprised me, and go against the simplistic and racist stereotypes that many people cling to. Let's begin with something that I hear all of the time - Indians being forced to learn English.

Step back in time. The Pima people knew a lot of languages, in addition to their own. For hundreds of years they also spoke Spanish, and then they learned English. Their land, which extended from where modern Mexico is today up to the Gila River, had been invaded by a lot of people. Some of them even spoke French. I'm sure the Pima people heard a bit of Latin, and German. All I can think of is that it must have been frustrating to the Pima people that so few people bothered to learn the Pima language. But the Pimas traded with them, and needed to communicate.

So, the stereotype of the Indian living in isolation just doesn't apply to the Pimas. They have been putting up with newcomers who spoke different languages, for centuries. The Indian School, which began in 1891 strictly for the Pimas, wasn't forcing a new language on them. They had been living peacefully alongside of a lot of people who had spoken foreign languages, and it was to their benefit, and the benefit of their children.

Thank you for walking with me on this journey.

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What a Thunderbird is


When I hear the word "Thunderbird", I usually think of the car. Or, since I live in the Phoenix area, I may think of Thunderbird Road. And I really didn't give much thought to the ancient Indian symbol of a Thunderbird until I started collecting old photos of Phoenix.

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A Thunderbird is traditionally drawn with very squared-off wings, in a geometric shape. If you want to see the shape of a Thunderbird, just fly over 59th Avenue and Greenway, and look down at the Thunderbird School of International Management, in Glendale. Actually, if you could arrange to see it right after it was built, as Thunderbird Field, just before World War II, it shows much clearer. They've added a lot of new buildings nowadays, but you can still kinda see it. That's it at the top of this post in the 1940s. You are flying over it, looking northwest.


By the way, don't confuse a Thunderbird with a Phoenix Bird. A Phoenix Bird is an ancient Greek symbol, a Thunderbird is Indian. I like them both, and I'm always on the lookout for more!

Looking at backgrounds


One of the things that I do, and have done all of my life, is look at backgrounds. That is, everything in view except what you're really supposed to be looking at. I look at mountains, clouds, buildings, that sort of thing. And I can really appreciate this strange behavior of mine when people wonder what I'm looking at?

Take the image above, for example. What do you see? If you're like most normal people, you will see a billboard. It's actually a billboard from the 1960s in Phoenix, Arizona, that I found on a website that posts a lot of images of advertising. And sure, I'm interested in advertising (I'm an old Marketing guy), but mostly I'm interested in the background.

For someone like me, there's so much to see in an image like this it's overwhelming. I see the cars, the buildings, the signs. I see the fonts, the colors, the textures. And this doesn't just happen to me when I'm looking at old images. I see it all of the time, wherever I go, even in real life. I look at backgrounds of movies. Many times when a movie ends, I have no idea what happened. This is especially true when I'm watching an animated movie.

When I first started teaching Graphic Design, back in the '90s, I realized how unusual this type of behavior is with people. Most people look at whatever is directly in focus. Only the weird people look at what is called "negative space". And that just means whatever is in the composition that isn't the focus, like the characters, or in the case of the image above, the billboard. And once you start seeing backgrounds, it's amazing. But don't expect most people to understand.

Image above: Looking east on Indian School School towards 19th Avenue in the 1960s, Phoenix, Arizona. And a billboard.



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Going to Los Angeles in a self-driving car


Time-travel to the future with me, and ride along in my self-driving car. You can sit up front near the steering-wheel, I'll be relaxing in the back, maybe watching a movie, or YouTube.

Self-driving cars will be something that people will have to get used to, like when cars were first invented. They will have to share the road with the older technology for a while, and that will make things more complex. When cars were invented, there were still a lot of horses on the road. So, when I get my self-driving car, I know that there will be a lot of clumsy and slow traffic around, and it will take a few years for those to go away.

So in my trip of the imagination, I will go to Los Angeles from Phoenix in about ten years from today. By that time, people will have stopped staring in amazement at self-driving cars (the way they did when the first cars appeared on the road), and it will just be another thing, like Smart Phones. People will probably argue as to whether they prefer the Android version of their self-driving car, or the Apple version. I think I would like an iCar, myself.

My self-driving car will be able to take the high-speed lane this year, which has just been completed. The slower traffic will need to stay to the right, but the self-driving cars will get the dedicated high-speed lane. There won't be speed limits posted, it will be based on road conditions, and the car will decide. Yes, human-driven cars will probably try to use the lane, but the self-driving cars will be able to avoid them, and there will be a hefty fine for the law-breakers. Eventually physical barriers will need to be built, as people tend to make poor decisions about doing things like that.

For me, the best part will be not having to deal with airports. Instead of taking a shuttle to use an airplane to get to Los Angeles, I will be able to simply put my luggage in my car (including my dog!), request the address of my destination, and relax. When I get to LA, I will not need to rent a car or use a shuttle. I will not need to look at schedules, or coordinate times, and if I take off my shoes, it will be just to get more comfortable in my car.

The old-timers will scoff at people who use self-driving cars, the way that they scoffed at people who didn't know how to handle a team of horses in 1915. And there will be a lot of people who will never trust the new technology, the same way that many people never learned to drive, and many people will never use a cell phone.

I can already imagine, in the not-to-distant future, people trying to picture what life must have been like when you had to hold onto a steering wheel, and stare at the road. The old-timers will tell stories of how cars used to crash into each other, how people got hurt, and killed, and the young ones will find it hard to believe. Of course, it will be "the good old days", and movies will show people driving cars the same way that they show people riding horses into town. I'd like to see those movies! But I prefer to live in a time of self-driving cars.

Thanks for riding with me. Hey, we're in LA! Let's go to the beach!