Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Why St. Luke's Hospital sits at an angle, Villa Street, and La Ciudad

If you're a Phoenix time-traveler, like me, you notice some streets that aren't on the normal north-south axis. I call them "anomalies", and they usually indicate that the city was different back then. And while nowadays it's considered "trendy" to place buildings at an angle, when St. Luke's Hospital was built, its angle was along Villa Street. And Villa Street ran along the edge of the Salt River Valley Canal, the one that was built by Jack Swilling, and sometimes referred to as "the Town Ditch", or "Swilling's Ditch". And all of this was on top of La Ciudad, the prehistoric ruins of the Hohokam people.

Time travel with me. Let's start in 1929 with Frank Midvale, who was the successor to Omar Turney. By that time, much of the ruins of the Hohokam village of "La Ciudad" (which is Spanish for "The City"), had already been covered over. When the 1917 map was created, much of the prehistoric remains could still be seen, including the gigantic empty canals. But now, in 1929, there's an auto court, and a tent city, and the St. Luke's Home Cottages were already on top of the ancient ruins. By the way, the Hohokam ruins were all over the valley - they couldn't all be preserved, they are literally underneath the entire city of Phoenix. You can go see what was preserved at the Pueblo Grande Museum, by the way, at 44th Street and Washington. But that's only the tiniest fraction of what covered the entire Salt River Valley, from Tempe to where I'm writing this now, near New River in the west valley, and beyond.

As the city of Phoenix grew, old canals, like the old Salt River Valley Canal, were abandoned. Nowadays they have been covered up, and converted into storm drains, but they sat open and empty for many years. And while when fresh water flowed them as canals, they were a good thing to be close to, when they were abandoned, they became a stinky, muddy, mess that weren't exactly "prime real estate".

Nowadays hospitals are bright, shining places, that enhance the value of a community. But if you time-travel back to Phoenix prior to the 1960s, they were places that communities stayed away from. They had sick and dying people, contagion, that sort of thing. So St. Luke's was along Villa Road. And Villa Road had been built along the Salt River Valley Canal, which was on an angle, flowing towards downtown Phoenix. The road is still at at angle, and St. Luke's was built on that angle. The angles are still there, and the ancient ruins are still underneath.

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  1. Very interesting Brad. Thank you for helping me learn about my own past. This needs to be taught in all the schools especially in the Gila River Indian Community and in the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community schools.

  2. I stumbled across your site and since I immigrated to AZ in 1965 from Connecticut I find the information you provide very interesting and I'm adding some of your photos to my vast Phoenix photo collection, thanks.