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

Why Arizona is the far west and Minnesota is the midwest


I live in Glendale, Arizona, and grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I had always wondered why Minnesota is called the midwest. Minnesota really isn't west at all, is it? I mean, Arizona is west, right? How could a place in the middle of the country be called west? And to make it even more confusing, Minnesota is part of the Old West and Arizona is part of the New West.

Anyway, it all has to do with history. Luckily, I enjoy learning about history, and if you “time travel” back to the days when most of the population of the United States was living east of the Mississippi River, it all starts to make sense.

That's because “The West” was anywhere west of the Mississippi River. And that included such Old West places as Kansas, and Minnesota. If Minneapolis doesn't make you think of the Old West, think of Dodge City. See what I mean? Google Jesse James and you will find him in Northfield, Minnesota.

Of course, places like Arizona, New Mexico, etc. were west, but they were further west, and much newer. You see where I'm going with this? So newspapers would differentiate by calling them the Far West. Of course, the Minnesota area was called the Midwest. Starting to make sense now?

Nowadays when we think of gunfights at the OK Corral, etc., it's all the Old West. And when I stop at interesting places, like the Eagle Eye Cemetery near Aguila (in the photo) I just call it having an Old West feel. But really, it's the New West. Or the Far West. That's because I'm from the Midwest.

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Watching construction in Phoenix, Arizona


Like all kids, I love watching construction. Of course, I really have no idea what's going on, I just think that it looks cool. I enjoy seeing the Tonka Toys moving around, and I wonder what it would be like to be one of the guys in the hardhats.

Luckily, I live in the Phoenix area, which always has stuff going on. OK, to be fair, construction hit a nasty bump about eight years ago, but it's recovering nicely nowadays. There are new buildings under construction, subdivisions, freeways, you name it.

Yes, I understand how annoying construction is to grownups. They see the orange signs and know that wherever they're going, there's probably gonna be a delay. So, among all of the other things that make me weird, as I am well over ten years old, is that apparently I never really needed to get anywhere in that much of a hurry. So if grownups complain about construction, I nod and sympathize and secretly I am hoping that traffic will stop long enough for me to get a good long look.

I collect old photos of Phoenix, and believe me, there are a lot of images of construction! The city of Phoenix has been pretty much in a state of continuous "under construction" since it began, in 1870. It must really annoy the grownups.

When I look at the old photos, I like to imagine what it would have been like to have been standing there when one of my favorite buildings, like the Luhrs Tower, or the Professional Building, was being built. It must have been a mess, and the grownups must have hated it, and the kids must have loved it.

Image at the top of this post: Glendale Community College under construction in 1965.


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History adventuring on the Arizona Highways


Today I'll be going history adventuring to Sedona, Arizona. I live in the Phoenix area, and it's really not all that far, but like most people I just can't seem to get away as often as I'd like. There's always something to do here, some project to finish, some errand to run. But unlike most of the people I've known in my life, who are much more responsible than me I guess, I do manage to get away. But there's a trick to it, and it may surprise you - there is no destination.

When I tell people that I'm going somewhere, their first question tends to be "how long will you stay there?". Well, I'm not staying there at all. My adventure will be along the Arizona Highways. I could try to explain that just the view out of the window is so spectacular in Arizona that it looks like it was "just painted on", or when the sunlight hits the clouds just right I often joke that the sky looks "Photoshopped", but I usually just get blank looks.

Another reaction I get when I tell people that I'm going somewhere is a recommendation for a restaurant. And yeah, I like restaurants, and I like to eat, but somehow that seems to change an adventure on an Arizona Highway into just waiting in line for a table. Heck, I can do that anywhere, and I have. My interest in waiting for a table in restaurants is slim, to say the least. Yes, I will do it, to be sociable, but really there are so many other things that I want to see. So I pack a lunch.

I will be taking the backroads. If going to Sedona via Wickenburg sounds kind'a weird, all I can suggest is that you try it. Right up there with the top questions I get about my travels is "how quickly did you get there?" The fastest route, of course, is to take the freeway, rev up the speedometer, and pass all of the trucks as quickly as you can. But to me, that's a video game, which I tired of long ago. And my serious motorsport friends do that on a track, like Bonduraunt, not along the edge of a cliff. I've driven some seriously-fast cars in my day, and I really have no interest in doing that on a public highway.

There is only one destination in life, and I realized that very suddenly at a young age. So I've been an enthusiast for the journey for quite a while, and the adventure starts the moment you look out of the window.

Thank you for history adventuring with me.

Image at the top of this post: The first issue of Arizona Highways, April 1925. Like California Highways magazine, which no longer exists, it was published to encourage the building of highways to provide access to scenic beauty.

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Living in three places at the same time, Los Angeles, Canoga Park, and Winnetka, California


I've always enjoyed history, and I got a real kick out of figuring out that I lived in three places at the same time in my late twenties - Los Angeles, Canoga Park, and Winnetka, California.

To be fair, I lived in Los Angeles. And if you are reading this anywhere but in the LA area, that's probably enough. But if you live in LA, you know that you have to tell people exactly where in LA you live. I mean, it's a big city!

So, I lived in Canoga Park, which is on the west end of The San Fernando Valley. And that's enough to tell most people where I was. But it wasn't enough for me. After I started exploring the area around my apartment complex, I realized that I was in Winnetka. Now, of course, there is a Winnetka Avenue, and most people just thought that I lived there. I lived a couple of blocks from Winnetka Avenue, at Saticoy and Mason.

This tiny part of Canoga Park, which is a tiny part of Los Angeles, is Winnetka. It was actually a community between Canoga Park and Reseda that was originally The Weeks Poultry Colony (they raised chickens) and was named after the hometown of the founder. He was from Illinois.

Of course, there was no internet back in those days, and I had no idea who to talk to. I visited some historic museums but they didn't really help much. I wanted to know - was my neighborhood Winnetka?

Then the Federal Government answered my question. While I was living there, about the time I turned thirty, they built a new post office a couple of blocks away. And when they put up the lettering it said, "United States Post Office, Winnetka Station, Winnetka, California".


Image at the top of this post: The Weeks Poultry Colony, Winnetka California.

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Why people in Arizona go to San Diego in the summer


San Diego, California is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, in the very best climate that planet earth has. That climate, by the way, is shared with places like the Mediterranean Riviera, which is between 30 and 40 degrees latitude.

This Mediterranean climate is never too hot or too cold. Its position on planet earth, along with the tempering effects of either the Pacific Ocean or the Mediterranean sea (as the case may be) creates some of the most delightful weather in the world, summer and winter alike.

Conversely, Phoenix Arizona, although it's at about the same latitude, gets hot in the summer. Really hot. Terribly, uncomfortably, horribly hot. And the people who live there, if they can, have always tried to get out of there for the summer, their first choice being San Diego.

Being an old Angelino myself, I know nothing about San Diego. To me, Los Angeles seems to be the closest place to go sit on a beach, but it's not, San Diego is. And not only has San Diego been more accessible to Phoenicians for over 100 years, the city welcomes them. Yeah, the residents call them "Zonies", which isn't very nice, but overall the city of San Diego makes things comfortable and inviting to people from Arizona.

Now don't get me wrong. Los Angeles, and especially Santa Barbara, are great places. And that's where I go, when I can, especially as I have friends there, and I know my way around. But Los Angeles has never been as successful as San Diego in attracting people from Arizona.

I'm an old desert rat, so I'll be spending another summer here. And yeah, I like the fact that Phoenix gets less crowded, and that you never have to wait in line at a gas pump, and that the prices are much lower. But if you're going to San Diego, I'll admit it, I'm jealous.

Image above: Ad for the Coronado Hotel, San Diego. The Most Delightful Summer Seaside Resort. This ad ran in the Phoenix newspaper in 1890.


Sail Bay, San Diego, California



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Being a desert rat in Phoenix, Arizona


I've lived in Phoenix for most of my adult life. And as much as I love living in the desert, you gotta admit the summers are just awful. Not just hot, but ridiculously, horribly, uncomfortably hot. And the heat starts coming on by April and the Sonoran Desert is a terrible place to be until October. So if you can get away, you really should. But I'm a desert rat.

I learned how strange this was way back when I was going to ASU. I lived in Tempe, in a less-than-fashionable neighborhood, and in the summer I watched the town empty out. The people left behind I called "desert rats". And if you've never been a desert rat, you may be surprised at what these people do to make it through the summers in Phoenix. Here are a few things:

• Early mornings. Desert rats know that the desert is at its coolest early in the morning, just before sunrise. When the sun comes up, wham, it starts getting very hot. So you'll see desert rats stir in early morning, and then scamper back for shade.

• Avoiding mid-day. Mid-day is not the time to be out. There's an old expression from 19th century India that said "Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon-day sun". It's also true in Phoenix. Unless you're a mad dog, or have no idea how the climate works in Phoenix, you'll stay inside, in the shade, during mid-day.

• Heat acclimation. Of course, not just mad dogs and Englishmen have to go out during the day in Phoenix. There are a LOT of people whose jobs require them to do it. For these amazingly tough people, they do what is called "heat acclimation". I've never been tough enough to do this, but it's like anything else that you teach your body to deal with, like extreme cold. Yes, it hurts, but there are people tough enough to take it. Some of these people tell me that you get used to it, but I can't imagine how.

• Air conditioning and shade. Desert rats aren't stupid - they want to stay cool. They know about air conditioning and shade. They don't want an apartment, or a house, with a "sunny south window" exposure. They turn their backs to the sun, and make sure that their air conditioning is working correctly.

Personally, I've always liked being a desert rat. Even though I'm a sociable person, I like the way that 100-degree temperatures tend to clear out the traffic in Phoenix. If you've lived in Phoenix long enough, you can actually feel the town get less crowded after April. If you've never seen it, well, you probably have the money to get away in the summer. If you've seen it, you know what I mean.



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Being an adjunct faculty at Glendale Community College


I just loved teaching at GCC, and I still enjoy going over there nowadays, where I use the Fitness Center and the track, and I occasionally eat a cheeseburger (highly recommended!). And even though I haven't taught there for many years, I still feel at home there, which is strange since I was just an adjunct faculty.

If you're not familiar with the term "adjunct" - it just means a part-time teacher who comes in, does a class or two, and leaves. They have no office, no telephone number, no guarantee that they will get any classes to teach the next semester, and they are about 80% of the teachers in the Maricopa County Community Colleges System.

Now waitaminute, this isn't a conspiracy, man, this was just something that happened in order to keep the costs down and the schools open. I have no idea how long this has been going on, but based on the word "adjunct", which means "in addition to", it makes me think that all of this just kind'a snuck up on the system. As of this writing, many of the very last of the full-time professors are retiring, and with them will be going away the reason that Maricopa County needed to scrounge for cheap teachers - those impressive early salaries and great benefits. Yeah, adjuncts don't get a salary, nor do they get benefits. They are hired by contract per class and are given a particular dollar amount. If a class is cancelled, of course they get nothing.

I enjoyed teaching there because I was doing other stuff, like personal training, and corporate training, in Adobe software. And really, that's what an adjunct faculty position was designed for - either someone who was looking to earn a little bit more on the side, or maybe someone who just wanted to give back to the community. They were never supposed have the same salary and benefits as the full-time faculty.

Of course, the schools found that they could do with less and less of the expensive full-time faculty, so as the enrollment grew, the majority of the teaching ended up being done by the people who were just supposed to be "adjunct" - you know, in addition. That addition, as I mentioned, had grown to 80% of the teachers in the system by the time I started in 2001, and it's still pretty much the same nowadays.

Yeah, it would be nice to pay the teachers a decent salary, give them benefits, and some type of job security. But that's ruinously expensive - and the money has to come from somewhere, taxes, tuition, and most people would agree that taxes and tuition are already too high.

As I said, my experience in my years at GCC was positive. I wasn't trying to use an adjunct position as if it were a full-time job. I worked at a lot of places, doing software training, and also doing Graphic Design and Illustration freelance, which I've been doing all of my adult life.

I understand why Maricopa County is doing this, and I'm OK with it. Still, one of those full-time faculty positions would have been nice...!

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How Cactus Road in Phoenix, Arizona got its name


The very first road that I ever drove on in Phoenix, back when I was 19, was Cactus Road. I was heading south from Flagstaff and somehow that name just seemed absolutely perfect. I grew up in Minneapolis, so the thought of seeing a road that was named Cactus just tickled me. And yeah, there are some cactuses (cacti?) there, but really that's not where the name came from. It came from the little town of Cactus, which has left without a trace, unless you count the road that once led to it.

I love learning about Phoenix history, and something names can be a real clue. Like Los Angeles, Phoenix grew by having a lot of little towns grow together. Sometimes the names of the towns remain, sometimes it's just the name of a community, and sometimes the towns retain their independence.

I wish I could tell you more about Cactus, Arizona, but all I have is this photo. And of course, it shows up on old maps. It was where Cave Creek Road crosses Cactus, which must have been waaaaay out in the middle of nowhere 50 years ago.

The Sunnyslope area in the 1950s, including the little town of Cactus.


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Living in the San Fernando Valley in the 1980s


I was staying at a friend's place in Calabasas last year and decided to take a tour of the neighborhood by jumping on to one of the free shuttle buses that do continuous loops through the neighborhoods. I just wanted to do some sight-seeing, and it was pretty cool.

I was the only passenger most of the time, and the driver and I started talking. I recalled living in The San Fernando area, specifically Canoga Park, in the 1980s, and she asked, "was it nice back then?". That's when I realized, wow, that was a long time ago!

To answer her question right away, no, Canoga Park was not nice back then. I'm sure there was a time when it was, but I'm not that old. My memories of Canoga Park, and the San Fernando Valley, are filtered through my being young, and just starting my career. And although Canoga Park was the cheapest place to live in the west valley, that's all it had going for it. I worked in Woodland Hills and was making plans to try to move to a nicer area, like Thousand Oaks. But, as I say, I was young and was able to laugh it off.

What I remember most about Canoga Park in the 1980s was the sound of car alarms, 24/7. Whether the sound was nearby, or off in the distance, it never, ever, ended. This was in the days before car alarms stopped after a few minutes, so some just went on until the battery in the car died. And it was crowded. My apartment had one (1) parking space assigned to me, and if someone else was in it, I had to go drive around the neighborhood for quite a while looking for street parking.

The apartment complex where I lived, at Mason and Saticoy, were all "studios". That is, a single room with a half-wall division for the bed area. I really didn't care, it was just a place to hang my hat until I found something better. It was about 500 square feet. Big enough for a kitchen, a living room, and a single bed. But what really surprised me is that I was the only one that I knew who was living alone in one of these apartments in the entire complex. Most of the apartments had families, and the one directly across from me housed eight young men, who slept there in shifts. This was my first lesson on poverty, and crowding.

While I was living in Canoga Park in the 1980s, the city passed a law limited the number of people who could live in a one-bedroom apartment. That number was 12. Twelve. I have told that story many times, but if you never lived in a place like that, you would never believe it, and I don't blame you.


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Why the southern foothills of Camelback Mountain are called Arcadia


If you've lived in the Phoenix, Arizona area, chances are you're familiar with Arcadia, which is a very pricey neighborhood between Camelback Mountain and the Arizona Canal. For many generations it's been big, beautiful mansions and lush landscaping, and before that there were miles and miles of citrus groves. So, using an idyllic term like "Arcadia" (that's Thomas Cole's 1838 painting "Dream of Arcadia" at the top of this post) just seems to make sense. But really, you have to look at it from a Real Estate agent's point of view.

Getting people to invest in land that's miles away from the city limits, and that faces south in one of the hottest climates in the United States, takes some sales skill. Naming the area Arcadia painted a idyllic picture that took a while to live up to the name. In fact, it was kind of like naming the area north of Camelback Mountain "Paradise Valley", which they did when it was nothing but dirt and cactus.

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Ever since I was a kid, I've had a particular fascination with how things are named. Many times things are named with a lot of optimism, and it works out. "Phoenix" was one of those names, and so was "Arcadia". The people who named them must have been "unrealistically optimistic" at the time, but time has proven them right.

Arcadia in 1932


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Unfinished business in Phoenix, Arizona - the Collier Center


If you ever walked out of the America West, or U.S. Airways, or Talking Stick Resort Arena, on Jefferson, anytime from the '90s up to the present day, and wondered why the two blocks on either side of 2nd Street looked kinda incomplete, it's because they are.

The original design of the Collier Center, which is shown in this model on the 2nd floor of the Bank of America Building, included three more towers, one of which was to be a hotel. Of course, the Bank of America building was completed, and some smaller buildings, but the rest of the project was never finished. In fact, the block to the west (Block 23) is still just a parking lot.

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I visited the Collier Center for the first time just a few days ago and this model gave me a real sense of time-traveling. It's from the 1990s, and as you can see, the idea was to have a high-rise hotel on the northeast corner of 3rd Street and Jefferson. It was a great location - the parcel of land extended out because of the curve created in the 1980s as Jefferson curved around the south building of the Phoenix Civic Plaza. So people could stay at the hotel, and go to a basketball game, or a baseball game, or go to the Civic Plaza. It seemed to make sense.

Of course, the hotel was never built. I have no idea why, I just know that architects hate this kind of stuff. Of course it's never too late, and it's possible that there are plans to complete this project. If you wander past it, on 3rd Street, you'll see that the concrete was set and that construction was beginning. Maybe they'll try again. And personally, I'd like to see those second-story palm trees and the reflecting pool!

Looking west at the Collier Center model from 3rd Street, Phoenix, Arizona.

Image at the top of this post: Looking north at the Collier Center model from Jefferson at 2nd Street, Phoenix, Arizona.

Block 23 in Phoenix, Arizona - from City Plaza to Fox Theater to unbuilt Collier Center buildings


If you're a serious fan of Phoenix history, you know the importance of Block 23. It was the original City Plaza, which was there from 1870 until 1931, when the Fox Theater was built there, on the northwest corner. In all of the time I've been in Phoenix, Block 23 has just been a blank space, which is now just an underground parking garage, with a parking lot on top of it.

I visited the Collier Center yesterday, which is on Block 24, and was surprised to find out that the entire project, from the 1990s, was never finished. Collier Center is located between 2nd and 3rd Streets and Washington and Jefferson. On Washington is the Bank of America tower, but the southeast corner, which faces Chase Field, is unfinished, because the original plan, which included a high-rise hotel, was never completed. There's a model of it on the 2nd floor of the Bank of America building, if you're curious about it. The model also shows where two more high-rise towers were planned to be built, on Block 23, which is also still a blank. This plan was from the late '90s. Well, this happens. Architects must really hate to see this happen.

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Downtown Phoenix has really started to grow in the last few years, so rumors are circulating as to what will be done with Block 23. If you lived in Phoenix between 1931 and 1975, you probably would like to see the Fox Theater still there. If you lived in Phoenix between 1870 and 1930, you probably miss the park, with the trees, and the Band Stand, where generations of people in Phoenix would go, especially to watch parades.

Block 23 certainly is a prime piece of downtown Phoenix Real Estate. It has spent most of its time as one of the most important places in Phoenix, and hopefully it will stop being "just a blank". I'll let you know what I find out.

1881 plat map of Phoenix, Arizona. Block 23 is labeled as Plaza.

The Plaza (marked as 13) on the Dyer map, 1885. Block 23. The two-story building across Washington is the Fry Building on 2nd Street, where Majerles is nowadays. You're looking northeast.

Riding past the City Hall Plaza in 1905, Washington looking southwest towards 1st Street. Block 23 is at left, where the trees are.

The Band Stand at City Hall Plaza in 1911, Washington between 1st and 2nd Streets. Block 23.

The Fox Theater in the 1930s, 11 S. 1st Street. Block 23. In the background you can see the old Fire Station, which was on Jefferson.

JC Penney's in 1958, Washington and 2nd Street. Block 23. To the right is the Fox Theater.

1990s plans for Block 23 from the architect's model. You are looking southeast from 1st Street and Washington towards the Bank of America Building.

Image at the top of this post: Looking northwest across block 23 from 2nd Street, from the Collier Center. 

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The historic Eucalyptus trees along the Arizona canal at Northern and 7th Street


If you're a Phoenix time-traveler, like I am, you notice the big trees. Even Eucalyptus trees, which tend to grow pretty fast, rarely get a chance to get really, really big in Phoenix. There always seems to be some excuse, making another lane for traffic, etc. And so for over twenty years I've been keeping my eyes on the historic Eucalyptus trees that are along the Arizona Canal on Northern just east of 7th Street. These trees were planted in the 1920s as a wind break for the El Domingo Ranch citrus groves. That means that they're approaching 100 years old nowadays.

I collect old photos of Phoenix and I see that the canals used to be lined with a LOT of trees. And I'm not talking about photos from territorial times, I'm talking up until the last couple of generations. And mostly the trees are gone.

But the trees are still there along the canal at Northern and 7th Street. They are big, and magnificent. And no, I have no idea why they haven't been cut down, because I know that they cost money to maintain, and that they require water. But I'm glad that they're there.

Eucalyptus trees along the Arizona Canal in the 1970s. SRP decided to keep and maintain this stand of eucalyptus to show what the canals and agricultural areas used to look like pre-1950s.


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Understanding, and embracing Res Time


As an average white guy, I will never really understand Res Time. Res Time, by the way, is the usually sarcastic term that describes how many people deal with the concept of time on an Indian Reservation. And I've dealt with it, both as a teacher, and as a man who is trying to gain a larger understanding of the world and how people see it.

The first time that I learned about Res Time was back when I was teaching at the Art Institute of Phoenix. If you haven't noticed, there are a LOT of talented artists who are Native American Indians, and mostly because of the money that the Casinos have been making in the last couple of decades, there are often scholarships given to these people. And while the creativity, creating the artwork, and using the computers came easily to all of my students, including those who had grown up on Indian Reservations, the concept of time was not only bizarre to many Native Americans, it was frustrating. Sadly, many of these talented people were unable to keep up with their studies, not for lack of talent, but for lack of understanding "Non-Res Time". So I made a point to keep my eyes on people who were having trouble with being on time, making deadlines, etc. And believe me, it wasn't just the Native American students! We encouraged students to write stuff down, wear watches (this was before cell phones were popular), that sort of thing. In the world of commercial art, being on Res Time was a bad thing - it risked missing classes, missing deadlines, which could cost someone their career.

The next time that I encountered Res Time was a more personal situation. And while I'll never be able to really understand it, it's an amazing thing. I wish I could describe it to you, but I really can't, not in this language. I could recommend that you take off your watch, or stop looking at your cell phone. I could recommend that you not drive past a bank, either, but that wouldn't stop you (if you're like me) from worrying about time. So, here is a compromise - carve out some time, and stop thinking about it. Go visit an Indian Reservation - hey, there's one right next to Scottsdale, you don't have to go far. Stop at a convenience store and look to see if some baskets or pottery is for sale. But mostly just go there. Get out of your car, look at the desert, look at the mountains. I can't guarantee you'll find Res Time, but you'll come close to it.

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Why Phoenix, and Los Angeles, got rid of their streetcars at the end of the 1940s


Since it's been so long since the late 1940s, not many people can actually remember the street car system in Phoenix and in Los Angeles. Street cars, or trolleys, have survived in museums, in imaginations, in popular literature, and in movies. And so, when the question arises as to why these systems went away after World War II, no one really likes to point out that they were a terrible mess by then.

If you prefer conspiracy theories, then going back in time and seeing what was really happening will actually be kind of boring. Both Phoenix and Los Angeles had grown around what is now called "Light Rail". It was all financed privately by Real Estate developers, like Moses Sherman, and yep, it made these guys rich - especially in Los Angeles! Of course, once the real estate was all developed, the cities took over these systems, and by the 1940s, they were, to say the least, pretty beat up - especially in Los Angeles, where they got a LOT of heavy use.

In Los Angeles, the decision was made to invest in freeways, beginning with the Arroyo Seco (the Pasadena Freeway). By the 1940s, the streets of LA were terribly clogged with cars, and so the freeways helped relieve that. And LA continued to build freeways, only slowing down the construction by the 1970s, when the public's taste for them started to sour.

In Phoenix, the trolley cars just stopped, but no freeways were built until the 1960s (and then only one - I-17) until the 1980s. Phoenix made the decision to create "mini-freeways" of gigantic multi-lane roads set a mile apart. When traffic congested, another lane or two were added. Nowadays, some of these surface streets are as wide as football fields - which only pedestrians seem to notice!

Contrary to popular belief, the introduction of automobiles didn't cause the trolley cars to disappear. Autos were common in Phoenix and Los Angeles decades before the end of the trolley cars. But with improved road construction, and freeways, the autos became much more popular, and the old trolley cars were condemned and taken out of service.

Image at the top of this post: Streetcar making the turn north onto 2nd Avenue from Washington in the 1940s.

The maze of electrical wires over Washington in the 1940s.

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Surviving Valley Fever, Phoenix, Arizona


If you live in Phoenix, Arizona, you've survived Valley Fever. I'm not exactly sure what it is, I just know that you breathe it in from the desert dust. For most people, it's hardly noticeable. It can be like a cold. Or you can die from it.

I contracted Valley Fever right after I moved to Phoenix, when I was 19. For me, it was bad enough to give me pneumonia and put me in the hospital. I was in the County Hospital, the one at 24th Street and Roosevelt. Yes, it's connected to what was originally called the Insane Asylum. No, I wasn't insane, I was just indigent (you know, poor). So that's where I went.

This must have been the very first time that I considered the possibility that I might die. And it just seemed to be so wrong. There I was, in Phoenix, where everything was beautiful, and life was filled with such possibilities. I remember asking the nurse if people died from this, and she just said, in a very matter-of-fact way, "yes". And it just seemed so sad that she would have to see people like me die, so I didn't.


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Why the park at 59th Avenue and Bethany Home Road is called Chicken Park


I didn't grow up in Phoenix, but a lot of my friends did, and whenever they refer to the park at 59th Avenue and Bethany Home Road, in Glendale, they call it "Chicken Park". Of course, the official name is Bonsall Park, but if you Google "Chicken Park", Google still finds it. Go ahead and try it, I just did.

There haven't been any chickens there since the 1960s, but somehow the name has stuck, which I think is kind'a cool. It goes back to 1913, when the U.S Poultry Experiment Station in Glendale was the Government Ostrich Farm. The chickens arrived in 1919, and from what I can tell, they were gone by the 1960s.

Gone, but not forgotten!

From the California Poultry Journal, Los Angeles, California, May 1921.

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The Strip Club signs of Phoenix, Arizona


No history of Phoenix, Arizona would be complete with a mention of its strip club signs. Now, don't worry, I'm not going into graphic detail here (this is the internet, you can find that elsewhere), but I am going to mention them, as they have been part of the background of Phoenix that I've been looking at since I was a teenager.

I've only lived in two other places in my whole life, Minneapolis and Los Angeles, so I really don't know, but it has always struck me that the strip club signs around Phoenix were pretty blatant. There have always been these big signs all over the place, on city streets where everyone goes by all of the time, that say some pretty outrageous stuff.

For those of you who have never been inside of a strip club, this is how it works: It's a dark room, filled mostly with men who are intently staring at a young woman on a stage. As a song begins, she dances in place, and during the course of the song, she removes her top. Then she puts it back on, waits for the next song, and repeats the procedure. As a young man, of course, I found it fascinating, but after seeing it a few times, I have to admit that it seemed a very simple source of entertainment. OK, that's all I'm gonna say about it. If things have changed much from the last time I went into one of these places, in the '80s, I would be surprised.

Grand Avenue used to have a lot of big signs. No, I'm not going to quote them, and I don't want you to, either. And yes, they were rude and obnoxious, but they were part of Phoenix.

Image above: looking towards South Mountain past the sign for the Playpen in the 1960s, Phoenix, Arizona.

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Going outside in Phoenix and Los Angeles


I'm an outdoorsy person, but not in the way that most people think of it. I don't need to hike for miles (and I'd rather not) through distant mountains. I like to go outside, but I like sitting on patios. And since I've lived in Los Angeles and Phoenix all of my adult life, people have considered me pretty weird because of my tendency to go outside.

When I lived in Los Angeles, in the 1980s, there was a popular song "Nobody Walks in LA". And I found it to be just as true in Phoenix. To be fair, the song really meant that only a "nobody" walks - that is, homeless people, poor people, people who aren't celebrities, etc. It's still the mindset in Los Angeles, and Phoenix, today. Ask anyone who has lived there for a long time - they never go outside, unless they're getting in and out of their car (with the closest parking spot available!), or if they're doing a hiking trip in Sedona. Walking around Phoenix is just considered kind'a crazy. And in the summer, when it's over 100 degrees, it is!

But it's not hot all of the time in Phoenix. In fact, the weather is so wonderful from October through April that people visit from all over the world, just to go outside. Today is March 12th and I guarantee you that someone from Minnesota is standing on a balcony in Phoenix right now, just being amazed. Yesterday at the Sahuaro Ranch I saw someone sitting in the parking lot next to their RV. Just sitting there. I imagined that they had come from somewhere where you couldn't just sit outside in the warm sun in March, but I really don't know.

Being outside is for tourists, and locals never do it. Unless, of course, they're crazy like me. I never stopped being a tourist in Phoenix and Los Angeles. That makes me a nobody, I guess.

Image above: Sahuaro Ranch, Glendale, Arizona. The parking lot where I used to work (Glendale Community College) is just south of this. Sometimes I would walk over there and eat my lunch.


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The difference between a tramp and a bum


You really don't hear the words "tramp" or "bum" anymore. Well, not in the way that they were originally used, to signify someone who travelled around. And nowadays, when we see someone who looks like what our grandparents might have called a bum or a tramp, we just lump them into a category called "homeless", and assume that they are bums. But this does many of these people a disservice, as many are tramps but not all are bums. Please let me explain.

Time-travel with me, and let's tramp around the world. Yes, we're wandering around, from city to city, country to country. We have no permanent address. When we need money, we work for it. We take odd jobs, we follow migrant work. We may not have a permanent address, but that really doesn't matter. We're seeing the world, maybe waking up on a beach one day and then feeling the snow fall on us the next. We're tramps, we are not bums.

Bums follow the same path as tramps - no permanent address, that sort of thing, but they refuse work. If they want a cigarette, they "bum" one. They panhandle, which is an old-fashioned term for begging. They "borrow" things that don't belong to them (and every lock that ain't locked when no one's around...!)

When I see someone waking up in a park, slinging their backpack over their shoulder, I don't assume that they are bums, I assume that they are tramps. If they walk up to me, hassle me, and beg for money, I usually just say no and smile gently. On occasion I've walked with people to share breakfast and to my local Church, which gives food, and helps people re-establish their life, if this is what they choose, and need.

If you've never been a tramp, it's easy to assume that they are all bums. But they're not, if you take a closer look.

Who Ragsdale Road in Desert Center, California is named after


If you're like me, and you've driven between Phoenix and Los Angeles more times than you can count, you know that there is a particular stretch of desert is which is the most mind-numbingly boring stretch of road imaginable. It's between Indio and Blythe. And if you're a time-traveler like me, you have always stopped at Desert Center, which is halfway between those two places.

I like to stop there on Ragsdale Road, which was the original highway before the freeway was built, and try to imagine what it was like. Yeah, it must have been pretty miserable - dusty and hot. The modern freeways may be dull, but they're safe, and as my car glides along I-10 with the A/C on, while I'm listening to my iPod, I hardly know that I'm in the desert.

Anyway, I found an ad in Desert Magazine from 1939 which had a picture of "Desert Steve" Ragsdale. He seems to have had a good sense of humor, as he describes Main Street as 100 miles long (you know, from Indio to Blythe).

As far as I can tell, there really never was a lot there. Well, more than now, anyway. There was, and is, a landing strip nearby. And of course there was a place to eat and get gas. Looks like there was a swimming pool, and showers. It must have felt nice to rinse the dust away! I'm guessing that the cabins were pretty cozy. Many of them are still out there, falling apart, among the palm trees which have fallen down. When those palm trees were standing, they must have provided a lot of much-appreciated shade!

I've been paging through the Desert Magazine, and have enjoyed traveling across the desert, in my imagination, in the 1930s. I doubt whether I would have liked it in "in real life" - I'm so used to the comforts of the 21st Century, but it's nice to visit.

At Desert Center in 2013


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The meanings behind the names of the mountains in Phoenix, Arizona


I've spent all of my adult life in Phoenix and Southern California, and I have to admit that I get a little uncomfortable when I can't see the mountains. No, I'm no expert on them, it's just that they are like old friends. If you live around mountains, you know what I mean.

It wasn't until fairly recently that I decided that I would try to learn the names of all of the mountains that have been friends of mine for so long, and I'm still working on it, so here is a little bit of what I know:

• North Mountain and South Mountain. Although I like to poke fun at the fact that Phoenix has long since grown around these mountains, they never indicated the city limits, anyway. They're the northern and southern edges of the Salt River Valley. North Mountain is north of Northern and South Mountain is south of Southern. I didn't say that this was going to be difficult.

• The White Tank Mountains. Those are the mountains that you see to the west beyond the 101 freeway, in the west valley. They were named after the water tanks (natural) that were found in them, and are still there. In the desert, water is important!

• The Estrella Mountains. If you’re a neighbor of mine, in the west valley, take a look south. You’re actually looking at the north end of a very large mountain range, named for the Spanish word for stars. Many people think that South Mountain and the Estrella Mountains are the same, but there's a sizable gap between them, and besides, South Mountain goes mostly east and west and the Estrellas go north and south. If you have a lot of time on your hands, drive south on 51st Avenue and just keep going, and going. When you get to the Gila River Indian Community, you will get the best view of the Estrellas.

• Camelback Mountain. Yes, I know I'm not going in any particular order, but you have to admit that Camelback Mountain is the “signature” mountain of Phoenix. It was named, simply enough, because it looks like a camel lying down. Its head faces west. The best view of it is from Camelback Road and about 48th Street. That's Camelback Mountain in the 1920s in the photo at the top of this post.

• Piestewa Peak. Named after Lori Piestewa of Tuba City, Arizona, a American Indian woman who died in the Iraq War in 2003. Many Phoenicians still call it Squaw Peak, and there are still streets and signs that say Squaw Peak. By the way, the peak is just part of the Phoenix Mountains, which have great hiking trails.

There you go. Yeah, I know this is just a start. There is so much more to see, and to learn! Thank you for history adventuring with me.

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How fast cars went in old-time Phoenix


If you were born anytime after the middle of the 20th century, it's probably very difficult to imagine a world without cars. I have always like cars a lot, and my interest in history has made me wonder what it would have been like seeing one for the very first time in a place that had only known horses, such as Phoenix, Arizona in 1905.

The car I have parked in my garage right now has an engine that produces 140 horsepower and a top speed of 95 miles per hour. It can cruise easily for hours at 75 miles per hour. And if you're thinking, well, that's no big deal, that's my point.

Cars, or automobiles, were first referred to as "horseless carriages". The power of a horse, although a pretty crude estimate, is how engine power was estimated from the beginning. And if you've ever stood next to a real, live horse, you know that these animals are powerful. So, an engine that could produce the power of a horse was pretty impressive. Yeah, one horsepower.

When you look at old photos and see horses pulling carts or trolleys, you are seeing the pace of a walking horse, which is, like people, about 2 to 4 miles per hour. Adding additional horses to a wagon wasn't really about making it go faster, it was really about pulling heavier loads. Of course, if you had enough horses attached to a lightweight vehicle, like a stagecoach, you could move along pretty good. Not as fast as a racehorse, which can do up to 40 miles per hour, but definitely more than 2 miles per hour. But most of the time, especially around town, horses were going 2 - 4 miles per hour.

So the car that you see in the photo above is traveling at about the speed of a horse, possibly a little faster, 4 to 8 miles per hour. That is not to say that the car couldn't go faster, but it would have needed a much smoother surface that the old streets in Phoenix could provide.

Image at the top of this post: The Adams Hotel in 1905, Central Avenue and Adams, Phoenix, Arizona.


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The beautiful storm drains of Phoenix, Arizona


Cities like Los Angeles, California and Phoenix, Arizona have the same problem. They need to get rainwater off the streets as quickly as possible. I've lived in both cities and see that there are two ways to do it - the ugly way and the beautiful way.

In Los Angeles, ugly storm drains criss-cross the city. They are scars on the landscape, filthy concrete paths with barbed wire fences around them. They perform their function beautifully but they are so ugly it's unbelievable. If you've ever seen The LA River in movies, you know what I mean. All of the channels in the city look like that. And if you are a "form follows function" person, I ask you to go live next to something like that. Maybe it won't bother you, but it bothers me.

In the Phoenix area, a different approach has been taken, and if you don't see any of it, well, that's the idea. Instead of just pouring massive concrete ditches everywhere, the process of channelization (yes, that's what they call it) has been combined with aesthetics. Here are some examples:

• The Crosscut Path. On 48th Street between Indian School Road and McDowell there is a linear park where you can walk, bike, take your dog, etc. on top of a channel that had been an ugly scar for almost 100 years. If all you see is a park, that's the point. Below it is one of the most massive storm drains in the city.

• Tempe Town Lake. If you think it's beautiful, and that's all, it was designed that way. And wow, does it look great at night with the lights shining on it.

• Thunderbird Paseo Park. Just north of me is the single largest diversion channel in Phoenix. But it is designed as a park. Great place to walk, bike, even play Frisbee Golf. No barbed wire.

• Tres Rios Wetlands. I've talked to people who have gone there and had no idea that it a giant water treatment plant. That's it up there in the photo. Some storm drain!

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The face of a Phoenix, Arizona pioneer - George Loring


When we think of the old west, we think of the faces of Clint Eastwood, or John Wayne. So when I first saw this photo of George Loring, one of the pioneers of Phoenix, I have to admit that I was a little surprised. Not exactly a rugged pioneer face!

If you've never heard of George Loring that's not a surprise, either. He was a businessman, a good citizen, a family man, and that's about it. The fact that he came to Phoenix in the early 1870s is what makes him remarkable to me.

He started a business called Loring's Bazar (yes, he spelled it that way) on Washington between Central and 1st Streets (at least that's what the streets would be called later). His place of business, which was made of adobe, was on Cactus Alley. For you serious Phoenix history buffs, that's where the Ellingson building was later built, which was where Donofrios Cactus Candy was.

Arizona history is filled with so much nonsense, shoot-em-up stuff, that people like George Loring have been all but forgotten. He is no relation to me, except in spirit, as I remember being young and scared and new in town myself.




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The Arizona Confederate Memorial in Phoenix, Arizona


I grew up in Minnesota, and moved to Phoenix when I was a teenager, and had no idea of the connection between Arizona and the Confederacy. And so seeing the Confederate Memorial in Wesley Bolin Plaza (near the State Capitol Building in Phoenix) a few years ago really got me thinking.

A little bit of research about the history of Arizona answered my questions about the Confederacy, but something that puzzled me is why the memorial was built, in 1961, and why it remains.

The answer is on the memorial itself. It says, "A Nation That Forgets Its Past Has No Future". And that is exactly the point. Whatever history has to say after over 100 years, it should always be able to look back. The truth can be painful, but the truth is important.

When this memorial was built, in 1961, there would have been people whose grandparents remembered the Confederacy. And in addition to a family connection, there was a reason why Arizona remembered the Confederate Army. It had to do with another war, one that had been going on for a very long time in Arizona, with the Apaches.

When the Civil War began, in 1861, the United States Government, which had been supplying troops for that war, mostly turned its back the area that is now called Arizona. The Confederacy had been watching, and were quick to step in.

Real history is a very complicated thing. If you see something like this that makes you wonder, "what?" then it's time to do some research. You may not like what you find, but it will be the truth.

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Learning the names of Indian Tribes in Arizona


If, like me, you have decided to begin learning the names of the Indian Tribes in Arizona, and have been dismayed by the dizzying amount of them, and how a name that had been used in the past is no longer being used, and has been replaced with a tongue-twister, don't give up. I think that I can help.

Walking up to a person while carrying a clipboard and trying to categorize them as if they were some type of wild bird, is not only insulting, it's foolish. So, if you're doing that to anyone, including me, don't expect a lot of cooperation, or even a straight answer.

But if your research of Indians in Arizona is based on old movies, which were usually filmed in Monument Valley, it's time to start all all over again. And the best place to start in Arizona is right after the Civil War. I strongly recommend the History of Arizona by Thomas Edwin Farish. It was printed in 1918, and if you go to Volume VI, you can get a good look at Arizona, especially around the Salt River Valley, going back to 1867. That's where I'm starting.

The most important thing to learn about any tribe of people, from the Pimas to the Saxons (my tribe, from England) is that their name to themselves was always just “the people”. And the names of the river near them was “the river”, and, you guessed it, the mountains were “the mountains”. Only outsiders give names to these things.

Thank you giving me the chance to hold the Talking Stick. Your turn is next. And if you know what that means, that's a good start, too.

Photo above: 1889 group of Pima (Akimel O'ogham) and Maricopa (Xalychidom Piipaash) Indians in Arizona, and a cowboy.


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Where the 1912 Sine Hardware building in Glendale is, and why people can't seem to find it nowadays


Yes, the 1912 Sine Hardware Building is still there, in downtown Glendale, Arizona. It's in beautiful condition, and there's even an historical marker on it. It's on 58th Drive about a block south of Glendale Avenue.

If you're interested in Glendale history, and you can't find it, it's really not surprising. It took me many years to figure out why. The main reason is that the where it is seems to make no sense to our modern eyes. Now it's on a little tiny road that's so small that even people who have been in downtown Glendale a lot have never gone. But in 1912 it was the main entry into Glendale from Grand Avenue. Even in books, this road is often mislabeled as Glendale Avenue. But it was much more important to the town. It was 1st Avenue.

Travel back in time with me and let's travel from Phoenix to Glendale in 1912. The edge of town for Phoenix is 7th Avenue, and Grand Avenue begins there, going northwest towards Glendale and Peoria. We're riding in my brand new Model T, barreling along at as fast as 15 miles an hour, sometimes even faster. The railroad tracks are on our left.

As we get closer to Glendale, which is on the right, we decide to stop at Sine's Hardware. So we turn on 1st Avenue (which is 58th Drive nowadays). There would be no reason to go all of the way to the intersection of 59th Avenue, because the town in right there, on our right. Why would we overshoot it?

Going north on 1st Avenue, we would probably stop at the park on Main Street, which is still there, built by William Murphy, whose company built Grand Avenue, and the Arizona Canal.

If you want to visit 1st Avenue nowadays, look for 58th Drive just south of the Glendale Municipal Building. No, not 58th Avenue, and definitely not 59th Avenue. 58th Drive. It's only a block long, and Sine Hardware is there on your left. You can't miss it.


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