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

How to do history adventuring in Phoenix, Arizona


I love going history adventuring in the Phoenix area, and I do it all of the time. I live nearby Glendale Community College, which is just south of the Sahuaro Ranch (yeah, that's how they spell it), and when I walk over there, it transforms for me into the Bartlett Ranch in the 1890s. I stand there and try to imagine when you could see to Four Peaks in the east and the White Tanks in the west (you can still easily see the White Tanks - it's not that far from them). Just being there is the whole point. I don't necessarily need to take photos, or read plaques, or go into buildings and talk to tour guides. I just like being there, with my feet touching the same ground that the pioneers walked on, and the Hohokam, too.

Collecting old photos of Phoenix is my hobby, and I've never been satisfied with "back in the day" or "somewheres". I want to know as precisely as possible when the photo was taken, and exactly where. And I want to visit there, both physically, and as a time-traveler.

I've been doing this kind of stuff since I lived in Los Angeles in my twenties. It was a way for me to take a "mini-vacation" - to just get away from the noise, the traffic, and all that stuff that makes life exciting and nerve-racking. But you have to realize that most people enjoy traffic, and noise, and crowds, and going to the local Starbucks, maybe talking about what a celebrity has been doing lately. So, if you wander off, well, you're kind of weird. Here are some things I've done over the years to make me feel less weird:

• Have a cover story. Telling people that you're looking for where Hattie Mosher's house used to be is just gonna puzzle people. They would have to listen to who she was, and then try to figure out why anyone would want to just go where there's just a parking lot nowadays. I have several cover stories - I have a bad ankle, so I'm always rehabbing it (that's actually true, it's made me gimpy for over ten years now), I'm interested in architecture (that's true, although I could never do the math to become an architect), I'm doing research on a book (that's not true, I just write in this blog). In my younger days I used a trick that I learned from reading John Steinbeck, which is to tell people that you're trying to win a bet. People will be comfortable with just about anything you're doing as long as they know you're trying to win a bet!

• Find an historic building in Phoenix. Yeah, you'll have to start by listening to people say that they've all been torn down, so just show them this list of the Historic Property Register for the Phoenix area. If you go visit all of the places on that list, let me know!

• Find someone to share it with. Over the years I've found that many people actually do like this, if they understand the point. At first most people may think that it's some kind of "history lesson", but time-traveling is different, and you have to do it to understand. It just feels good.

Image above: Floyd Ikhard Appliance in 1945, 1st Avenue just south of Roosevelt, Phoenix, Arizona.


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