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

The different eras of the city of Phoenix, Arizona


When I moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1977 I was seeing just the latest of the series of “rebirths” of that city. Cities, like people, grow and change all of the time, so creating a label for a particular era is just arbitrary, but it does help to visualize it. And the city of Phoenix has had some amazing rebirths, beginning with the rebirth of the city over the Hohokam ruins. So, at the risk of over-simplifying it, I have tried to create labels for eras. The modern era, of course, is when I arrived (this is my blog, after all!) and spans the 1970s to present. The oldest era that I am going to deal with is the territorial era of Phoenix, which spans from 1870 to 1912. Come along with me and let's take a look.

• The Territorial Era. Territorial Phoenix is from the founding of the city in 1870 until Arizona's admission to statehood in 1912. There are a lot of old documents, and old photos, but most of it is gone if you want to visit it "in person". The best you can do is visit old cemeteries, or a few old buildings that got left behind. Actually Territorial Phoenix lasted until the 1920s if you look at how dramatically the city changed then.

• The prosperity of the 1920s. In the 1920s, before the stock market crash of 1929, there was a lot of money to spend in the U.S. Here in Phoenix it's reflected in the boom of business buildings built then, and some especially nice luxury neighborhoods, too. Most of this was built over territorial Phoenix, which were old adobe and wooden buildings that were mostly about ready to fall down, anyway. And, of course, farms and ranches were converted into subdivisions then as they are now. Air-conditioning was coming into use.

• After The Crash. The stock market crash of 1929 plunged the entire world, including Phoenix, into a depression. Money dried up and the extravagance of the 1920s led to the lean years of the 1930s. Sure, the rich were still getting richer, but most of the world was suffering. Building slowed down in Phoenix. This era goes through the 1930s right up until the end of World War II in 1945.

• Post World War II. This is the era that most people in Phoenix are aware of, and it's mostly what this city looks like today. It's the huge boom in the economy of The United States that we consider "the 50s". In Phoenix, there was an explosion of new houses. And the businesses moved away from downtown and started the march uptown. Maricopa county continued to grow and expand tremendously, making for some serious "growing pains" related to infrastructure, such as roads, freeway, and schools. This boom time continued through the 1960s and 1970s.

• The Modern Era. During the 1970s, Phoenix realized what a tangle this valley had become. By the 1980s there were plans to start revitalizing downtown, build more freeways (there had only been one - the Black Canyon, I-17), and upgrade public transportation. Downtown Phoenix had especially suffered from neglect between the depression era and the modern era. The city planners took a look at the ashes and were determined that the Phoenix would rise again. It has.

Image at the top of this post: Drawing of a Phoenix bird, an ancient symbol of rebirth, rising from the ashes of fire.


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