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

The building, and rebuilding, of Metrocenter Mall, Phoenix, Arizona


For people who grew up in Phoenix, or even people like me who have lived there for a long time, the name of Metrocenter is really just something we take for granted. Of course, when the mall was built, in 1973, at I-17 and Dunlap, it was very far from being the center of the metropolitan area. Of course, the developers had high hopes.

Time travel with me. Although Metrocenter Mall opened in the 1970s, it was clearly a 1960s design. The kind of design that was inspired by science fiction movies, like "2001, a Space Odyssey". The way the future was supposed to look. It must have absolutely blown people away, especially kids who saw it when it was new.

I visited Metrocenter Mall yesterday with a friend of mine who grew up in that neighborhood in the 1970s. It was fascinating to see all of it from his point of view, from riding his bike with his friends past the farmland and open fields, to seeing the construction of what must have been astonishing to see.

I asked my friend to describe all of it from his point of view, which started when his family moved to the area near Cactus Park (which is next to Moon Valley High School, at 35th Avenue and Cactus Road). I enjoyed picturing my friend, who has recently became a grandfather, zooming around there on his bike, when Cactus Road was pretty much the edge of everything.

But not really. There was a place called WesTown, which had been there since the 1960s. But the area south of there was still mostly open farmland, empty desert, and new subdivisions. His parents bought a brand new house in 1972.

In 1973, my friend got to see Metrocenter Mall when it first opened. It was easy for him to get to, even on his bike, and he worked at several places there, including Sears Auto Repair.

As we walked through the mall yesterday, I asked him to describe it through his eyes. His Metrocenter was the one from the seventies and eighties, and every once in a while I would recall things from the nineties that I knew. Of course, I never saw the indoor skating rink, or most of the cool stuff that he described, and it must have been amazing.

As we walked, I told him about my interest in Phoenix history, and how I'm learning that the city of Phoenix seems to re-invent itself just about every generation. It's as if there's a recognizable city, then it all gets torn down and rebuilt, and another city grows on top of it, and again and again. The old-timers have been seeing their city suddenly become something entirely different as long as Phoenix has been around, since 1870. And Metrocenter Mall is now doing the exact same thing. There was a major interior renovation in 1996, and a major exterior renovation in 2007. Yesterday we could see some very serious construction beginning again.

For the kids in the future, Metrocenter Mall will always look the way it did in the 21st Century. There will be places to hang out, places to buy stuff, places to see movies. When they themselves become old-timers, they will probably see it reinvented for the next generation, and the next. This is what Phoenix does, it rises from the ashes and is reborn.

Thank you for walking around Metrocenter Mall with me.

Metrocenter Mall in 2016

Metrocenter Mall under construction in 1972

Metrocenter Mall in 1975 


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