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

Maryvale, past, present and future, Phoenix, Arizona


As someone who is interested in Phoenix history, when I mention Maryvale to people I get a lot of different responses. My opinion about Maryvale is that I find it fascinating. And I'm interested in its past, present, and future.

Let's time-travel back to Phoenix after World War II. After the dark days of the war, the United States' economy was booming. Yet, one of the worst things that happened to young people who wanted to start a family was the terrible housing shortage. It seemed like homes just couldn't be built fast enough, and just about anything with four walls was acceptable. So, houses were being thrown up everywhere, and people were glad to have them.

John F. Long (on the left) in Maryvale in 1961, with spokesman actor Ronald Reagan.

But Maryvale was different. The developer, John F. Long, didn't just want to build a bunch of houses. He wanted to build a community. He wanted shopping centers, hospitals, and parks. Nowadays we call that a "Master Planned Community". He called his new community Maryvale, after his wife Mary.

It must have been amazing. Instead of building just a bunch of houses out in the desert, John built a place for people to live. He designed a community which even included a golf course. It doesn't sound like much now, but it was a pretty new idea back then!

Maryvale in the 1960s. The new golf course in on the left.

Of course the houses were affordable. That was as important back then as it is now. But they weren't just cookie-cutter houses, they had style. If you look at old photos of Maryvale, you can see that.

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Nowadays, Maryvale has lost a lot of that style. In fact, a lot of people look at it and wonder what I'm talking about. When people talk about Maryvale they talk about how run-down it's gotten. And it is kind'a sad to see, especially if you know about what John and Mary had done.

Maryvale Community Hospital in the 1960s

The future of Maryvale will depend on what people in Phoenix want. As of this writing, there is still a lot of wide-open land around Phoenix, especially north and west, with brand new subdivisions being built. I visited one of them yesterday and I was reminded of the people I knew in Los Angeles who bought houses so far away from where they needed to go that they spent several hours a day commuting on the freeway. And as nice and new and the houses were that I saw yesterday, I saw no community. I saw gigantic block walls and big slabs of boxy houses. I wonder if this is what people want? I guess they do. But maybe it's because they never knew about places like Maryvale.

How Glendale Community College was built around the historic palm trees


If you've ever been on the campus of Glendale Community College, at 59th Avenue and Olive in Glendale, Arizona, you've walked past some historic palm trees that are over 100 years old. Of course, unless you're fascinated with Phoenix history like I am (and a tree-hugger), you really can't be blamed for walking right past them and not seeing them. But once you start seeing them, then some pretty cool history of Glendale starts to appear.


Walk with me. It's 1899 and we're going to pay a visit to William Bartlett at his ranch, which is a few miles north of the little settlement of Glendale, Arizona. As we get closer, we begin to see the entrance, which is lined with tiny little palm trees. Bartlett is a pretty wealthy man, so he had a lot of seedlings sent over from California to line his driveway, which was just west of where 59th Avenue is nowadays, at Olive. No, they're not date palms, they're simply California fan palms. They don't produce dates, they're just decorative. And they were planted there just for show, just like his rose garden, which is also still there in front of the house at the Sahuaro Ranch.


Time-travel to the 1960s now. Those palm trees are now pretty darn tall, and since there isn't much else out there, they've become important to the people who have seen them for over fifty years. And when plans were being made to build a campus there, you can bet that people were worried that the bulldozers would just knock them down. But they didn't, the historic trees were carefully transplanted.


Walk around the campus with me today. The trees that were planted that led up to the Sahuaro Ranch are still there, marching right now through the center of campus. The ones that weren't moved, by the way, are over behind the fire station. If you want to see the original trees in their original position, that's where they are.

Thank you for walking with me.




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How Grand Avenue created Glendale, Arizona


Contrary to popular belief, the railroad tracks weren't there before Grand Avenue was built. Grand Avenue was there for many years before the railroad tracks.

Everyone know the story of how towns grow up in the old west - the railroad is built, and towns grow up along the tracks. But it didn't happen that way to Glendale, Arizona.

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Time-travel with me. Let's go to Van Buren and 7th Avenue in 1885. We're at the city limits of Phoenix, Arizona. And as we look northwest, there's nothing but empty desert out there. Sure, Wickenburg is waaaayyyy out there, but there's really nothing in-between. And there's certainly no railroad. But we're hanging around with William Murphy and his "unrealistically optimistic" investors, and we're told that he wants to build a road out to the end of the canal that was just finished, about twelve miles northwest of where we're standing.

I don't know about you, but I'm not investing! He's already convinced some people to start a temperance colony called Glendale. A temperance colony, by the way, is where alcoholic spirits are forbidden. It was written into all of the documents that alcohol would never be allowed to be sold in Glendale, Arizona. But don't worry, you can get a beer there now, the law went away in 1933.

A privately-funded road was built, and it was called Grand Avenue. And it really didn't go anywhere, unless you counted the handful of people living in Glendale. But darned if he wasn't right, after all! Glendale succeeded, and within a few years you could even take a train there. How about that?

Thank you for history adventuring with me.

Image at the top of this post: looking north on 1st Avenue (now 58th Drive) from Grand Avenue in 1915, Glendale, Arizona.

The man that Christown Mall is named after - Chris Harri, Phoenix, Arizona


Christown Mall (now called Christown Spectrum), at 19th Avenue and Bethany Home, in Phoenix, Arizona, was named after Chris Harri, who owned the land.

Chris Harri
I've always had a particular fascination with names, and the fact that they named this mall after a farmer's first name really tickles me. Although I can't imagine that they were ever tempted to call it Harritown, but they could have called it anything, like the Super-Dooper Tropical Paradise Mall, or something. But they called it Chris.

It must have been amazing. Time-travel with me to 1961. We are going to step into the air conditioned comfort of the brand new Chris-Town Mall. And whatever we had seen in Phoenix before, in the 1950s and 1940s, just couldn't compare. This mall was an immediate success from the day it opened and still remains a place that people love. And I've asked around to see if I'm supposed to call it Spectrum nowadays, and I guess some people do, but I just checked their website, and the official name is Christown Spectrum. Chris would have approved, I'm sure.

The interior of Christown Mall in the 1960s.

1958 article about the land being purchased from Chris Harri for the Chris-Town Mall.

Chris Harri in 1958.

Image at the top of this blog post: The entrance to Christown in the 1960s.

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Why you should, and shouldn't have invested in land in Phoenix


One of the most common things that I hear people is say is that they wish that they had invested in land in Phoenix.

I really have no idea how buying land works, and I have to admit that it kinda puzzles me. From what I understand, you get a loan, and then you pay it back, with interest, for years. Of course, the idea is for the land to become attractive enough that someone else will buy it, for more money, or that you will be able to sell it to a developer who wants to build something there. And I know many places that would have been a good investment, such as the land in the photo at the top of this post, which is looking northeast on Camelback Road at about 24th Street in the 1940s. Of course, you'd have to invest in the land before it started to get pretty darn expensive, which started to happen in the 1960s. And of course you'd have to put up with your friends wondering if you're crazy for buying land "way out in the middle of nowhere". But you would the last laugh, right?

The Sun Valley Parkway and Bethany Home Road. The White Tank Mountains are in the background. You are looking east.

Well, for some land in the Phoenix area, people are still waiting. I'm talking about the Sun Valley Parkway here. If you're familiar with the Sun Valley Parkway, I'm impressed. If not, don't worry about it, it's way out in the middle of nowhere, on the west side of the White Tank Mountains. And, yes, you can still invest in land there, the same way that my neighbor from the apartment complex where I lived years ago invested in the 1980s. So, let's see, as of this writing, he would have been paying for the land for over thirty years, and his chances of getting rich quick are pretty much over. He was an old guy, older than I am now, so I suppose that his children, or grandchildren, have the land now, either paying for it, or at the very least paying the property taxes on it.

So, if you think you should have invested in land in Phoenix, rest assured that you still can. I see a lot of empty land around, and I'm sure that you can buy it if you want to. And maybe it will be as valuable as 24th Street and Camelback. And maybe it will be the Sun Valley Parkway.

Thank you for history adventuring with me.

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How Dwight Heard built Phoenix, Arizona and its tallest building


If you look very carefully in downtown Phoenix, on the west side of Central Avenue between Adams and Monroe, you can find the Heard Building. It's only nine stories tall, but in 1920 it must have been absolutely amazing. And it was a symbol of the prosperity of Phoenix, and one of it's most successful citizens, Dwight Heard.

1949 ad for the Dwight B. Heard Investment Company. Note the address is simply "Heard Building". No address necessary.

Yes, Dwight is the same guy who created the Heard Museum. That is, he and his wife Maie, who was also his partner in their Real Estate business. To me, Dwight and Maie represent just about the ultimate of "unrealistically optimistic" people about the future of Phoenix. They arrived in Phoenix as a young couple, started their Real Estate Company in 1897 with the help of her father, and well, got rich. Very rich. And in 1920, Dwight must have absolutely blown everyone away with the gigantic "skyscraper" on Central Avenue.

The old Heard Building in 1908, southeast corner of Central and Adams, Phoenix, Arizona.

Time-travel with me to territorial Phoenix. Speaking for myself, I wouldn't have invested in Phoenix Real Estate. Who would want to live in such a harsh climate? And the streets of Phoenix, which were dirt, turned into mud every time the town flooded, which was every darn year. And some years, like 1891, were really, really, bad. But Dwight and Maie believed in the future of Phoenix. They encouraged investment, they sold real estate.

In front of the Heard Building in the 1930s

Although Dwight Heard never held a public office (he ran for Governor in 1924 and almost won), he was a pretty big mover and shaker in town. He ran the newspaper, the Arizona Republic. He had friends in high places, like Theodore Roosevelt, whom he encouraged to help build a dam on the Salt River in 1911.

As of this writing, the Heard Building is still there, and hopefully it will be preserved. As a symbol of "unrealistic optimism" about the future prosperity of Phoenix, no other building compares.

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The man that Dysart Road is named after


I live in Glendale, Arizona and I don't usually go west of the Agua Fria River. When I do cross it, I see names of roads like El Mirage, Litchfield, Dysart, and many more. And I've always been curious about the names of roads in Phoenix. Most of the old roads in Phoenix led to farms, like the Bell farm, the Osborn farm, the Thomas farm, or the Broadway farm, so I was inclined to think that the road got its name like that. But then every once in a while there's a road like Sarival, which is a contraction of Salt River Valley, and I became suspicious again. This is what I found out today.

Dysart was named after Nathaniel Dysart, a rancher who lived in the valley a looooonnnnggg time ago. That's his picture up there, and here is a newspaper article from the Arizona Republican about his becoming executor of the will after his mother's death in 1918. He lived until 1957, donated the land for the Dysart School, and yep, Dysart Road is named after him.

1918 article about Nathaniel Dysart. From the Library of Congress.

I started becoming suspicious of names back when I was 19 and I decided to drive up to Snowflake, Arizona because I figured that I'd see a lot of snow there. Then I found out that it was named after two guys named Snow and Flake. Seriously. Google it if you don't believe me. And then I learned that the pleasant lake just north of me was named after Carl Pleasant. Can you see why I get suspicious of names?

I really have no idea why I've always been so obsessed with names, and why I have always spent so much time in libraries trying to figure out stuff. Maybe it just makes me feel more comfortable with where I'm living, as if someone was going to walk up to me at any time, grab my lapels and demand to know who Dysart Road was named after. Of course, that's never happened, but it still makes me happy to find out. And it makes me happy to share it, because I know that there are people out there who care, and think it's kind'a cool, too.

Thank you for history adventuring with me.


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How Sarival Avenue got its name


Sarival Avenue, a contraction of Salt River Valley, was named after Sarival Cotton.

If you know your Arizona history, you know how important cotton has been for the economy. In fact, the town of Goodyear was created by the Goodyear company to grow cotton, which, back in the 1920s, was necessary in the production of tires. It's not true anymore, of course, but back then tires had to have cotton to hold them together, especially long staple cotton.

Time-travel with me, and let's follow the money. And there was a LOT of money to be made producing tires after automobiles were invented, and especially during World War I. The Goodyear Company had to import its cotton from the Middle East, which was very expensive, and they decided to experiment with growing something similar in the United States, in an area that was very similar to Egypt, the Salt River Valley, where Phoenix is.

The original location of Goodyear, Arizona, south of Chandler. From a 1935 map.

The first little town of Goodyear, which supported the new cotton farms, was south of Chandler. And yes, they were very successful! So successful that Goodyear decided to go find more cheap land elsewhere, and they found it in the west valley. After World War II, they pretty much abandoned the original Goodyear, and moved everything over to the Goodyear that most of us who live in the Phoenix area nowadays are familiar with.

There were a lot of names for the new All-American cotton developed by Goodyear, such as Pima. The name Sarival was just another name that they came up with (it didn't catch on quite as well!). And when roads were built out in the west valley, in addition to naming them Cotton, or Litchfield (after Goodyear executive Paul Litchfield), they named one Sarival.

Thank you for history adventuring with me.

1920 ad for the Bank of Chandler, mentioning Sarival Cotton

1920 ad for Sarival Cotton.

Images from the Library of Congress

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Phoenix, Arizona, an oasis in the desert


Like a lot of people who live in Phoenix, I left Minnesota to get away from snow and cold. And as a teenager, that's all that I thought about. Then, little by little, I wondered why there was such a big city right in the middle of a desert?

My interest in history has made me do some careful research over the years, and I'm still learning. And Phoenix has been so successful, that just about all of the traces of how it came to be have been hidden. And, really, that was the point. Phoenix is an oasis in the desert that sits on the edge of a watershed.

So, if you live in the Phoenix, Arizona area and wonder why it's here, when it doesn't appear to rain very much, you really can't be blamed for being puzzled.

The watershed for Phoenix, Arizona.

The most common misconception I've heard is that the Phoenix, Arizona area was a lush, green, landscape with flowing rivers, etc., before it was ruined by people. That's simply not true. The Sonoran Desert has been a harsh, hot, dry place for over 10,000 years. But its secret is that it sits next to one of the largest watersheds in the world, the uplifted area northeast of the valley. And what people have been doing here for a very long time is capturing that water, storing it, channeling it through canals, and using it.

The Arizona Canal at 7th Street and Northern, Phoenix, Arizona.

Personally, I see the canals of Phoenix everywhere. But most of the people I've known hardly give them a thought. And many people think that the water in the Arizona Canal, or Grand Canal, comes from the Colorado River. It doesn't. It comes from the Salt and the Verde Rivers, which have been flooding this valley for thousands of years.

As I drive around Phoenix, in addition to canals, I see flood control areas. If you've lived in Phoenix for a long time, you know that flooding is a real concern. But these places that control flooding are mostly disguised as parks, such as The Sahuaro Ranch near me in Glendale, or the Thunderbird Paseo Park, which is a gigantic flood diversion channel.

Yes, Arizona is a dry place. If you drive outside of the oasis of Phoenix, you see that. But the Salt River Valley is an oasis. And if you live in the desert, it's a good idea to stay close to the oasis. That's what I'm gonna do.


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The gentrification of Sunnyslope, Maryvale, and downtown Phoenix, Arizona


The term "gentrification" is applied to an neighborhood that is, uh, less than fashionable, or to use a term that no one uses anymore - "blighted", and is going through the process of restoration or replacement  of old buildings. Right now I'm watching Sunnyslope, Maryvale, and downtown Phoenix going through the process of gentrification.

As an old Californian, I know that gentrification means that an area becomes too expensive for the people who have been living there, sometimes for generations, and the ordinary grocery stores become replaced with expensive "boutique" shops. The neighborhoods get prettier, but it displaces a lot of people who need affordable housing.

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When I moved back to Phoenix from Los Angeles in 1989, I was particularly fascinated with Sunnyslope. To my eyes it just seemed impossible that an area with such beautiful mountain views could be so, uh, less-than-fashionable. I wondered why Central Avenue didn't just go up into the mountains and have mansions there. Of course, it does now. And the process continues. If you remember Dunlap east of Central Avenue from before the current stuff was built there, it's just amazing. Of course, Sunnyslope is moving slowly in the direction of gentrification, and unless you saw it in the 1980s, you would probably not be impressed by what you see now.

I'm also watching Maryvale. I've been watching how Grand Canyon University has changed the Camelback corridor from I-17 to 35th Avenue, and how they restored the old Maryvale Golf Course. Beautification, and gentrification, of Maryvale, could be on its way.

Downtown Phoenix went through a period of gentrification that began in the 1980s, and has recently sped up tremendously. Of course, memories are short, so all the families that lived in all of the houses that were condemned, torn down, or turned into trendy restaurants, are forgotten by most people.

When I worked for Bank One, back in the '90s, I discovered an old map of Phoenix from the 1960s that clearly marked - in red - blighted areas. And that meant that loans were not to be given to those areas. And without home improvement loans, and construction loans, neighborhoods don't get the attention they need. But when a lot of attention is given suddenly, the process can be shocking. I'm keeping an eye on things, I'll let you know what I see.


Image at the top of this post: S Mountain in Sunnyslope in the 1960s.

The invisible mountain pass between South Mountain and the Estrellas


I live in Glendale, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, and it was only recently that I realized that there's a mountain pass between two ranges just south of me, South Mountain and the Estrellas. A very big mountain pass! And it seems to be invisible to most people living in Phoenix.

It's invisible to most people because, if you're like me, the mountain range south of Phoenix is simply "South Mountain". It isn't. South Mountain only goes as far as 51st Avenue, then there's a large pass, and then the Estrellas begin.

I discovered this a couple of years ago when I started learning about the plans to complete the freeway loop, and people were saying that it would have to be built "through the mountain". So I decided to take a look. Ride along with me.

To see the invisible mountain pass, you need to go south on 51st Avenue. If you're familiar with the area, which is Laveen, on down to the Gila River Indian Community, you know that it's more than just a narrow mountain pass, it's actually very wide, with room to build a freeway without ever touching a mountain.

It's actually an amazing place to visit. So few people know about it that it seems so very far away from Phoenix. But it isn't, it's just invisible.

Image at the top of this post: 1935 map of the Phoenix area. Look for the mountain pass between the Estrella Mountains and the Salt River Mountains (nowadays called South Mountain).

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Why the LA River creates such a problem for Los Angeles freeways



When I mention the LA River, people usually say "Huh? Los Angeles has a river?" Or they say that they've seen the river in movies, but that's it. Most people have no idea where the river is, or why it creates such a problem with Los Angeles freeways.

If you want to, you can see the LA River using Google Satellite view. Actually, it's just a concrete channel, and has been for decades. It's more of a wash than a river, because Los Angeles is a desert city, where rivers and creeks only flow after a heavy rain. And the city would be flooded if the water was channeled away, which was completed long before anyone who is reading this post was ever born.

But here is where it creates a problem for the freeways - bridges. Some of the most congested freeways in Los Angles cross over the river on a bridges that were built in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. And those bridges are in exactly the same place. That's why the freeway goes from eight lanes to two so suddenly - you're crossing over the river! So if you want to know where the river is without looking at a map, look for what I call "pinch points" - which is where the freeway narrows for no apparent reason. One of the most obvious is over by the LA Zoo (pictured above).

The solution, of course, is to widen the bridges, which Caltrans will do. Of course, it would mean shutting down some of the most crowded freeways in California (even if they only do it in a weekend, which is possible), and doing some very expensive construction. Of course, they're doing it because of the LA River, that even many people who grew up in Los Angeles know nothing about, so expect a "conspiracy theory" to be posted on social media about how Caltrans is wasting money, shutting down freeways for no apparent reason.

In the meantime, every time you get close to the river on the freeway in Los Angeles, expect traffic to slow down and jam as it moves into the few available lanes. And it's all because of a river that doesn't seem to exist, the LA River!


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The 1893 Laird and Dines building in Tempe, "modernized" in the 1930s, and restored in 2000


As a history adventurer, I have started to learn to recognize buildings that have been "modernized". There are several around Phoenix that were built in territorial times and then covered up with stucco to give them a more modern look. A lot of times you can still see the original bricks from over 100 years ago, if you take a look around the back of some buildings. But if you're in Tempe, luckily, you don't have to look so hard at the Laird and Dines building, which is on the southeast corner of Mill Avenue and 5th Street.

This building was "modernized" in the 1930s. I have no memory of it from when I was at ASU in the 1980s, it was just another crummy-looking building on Mill Avenue. But I love looking at it now.

I understand why old buildings get modernized. My guess is that the building was starting to look pretty run-down by the 1930s, and putting stucco all over it probably sharpened it up, for a while.

What the Laird and Dines building looked like in the 1930s, up until 2000, southeast corner of Mill Avenue and 5th Street, Tempe, Arizona.

In 2000, as part of the millennial celebration, the City of Tempe restored the Laird and Dines building to its original territorial appearance. Thank you, Tempe!

In front of the Laird and Dines building in the 1890s. Bicycle Repair Shop.


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Remembering the Pink Sidewalk, Phoenix, Arizona


Even in my younger days I was often interested in exploring, rather than just going with the crowd. Of course, I hiked up Squaw Peak (what is now called Piestewa Peak) several times. It's a great hike, and it's part of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, so I recommend it. It's just north of the Biltmore, at about 24th Street and Lincoln. But I often took a different route, the one that went south on the foothills. I always enjoyed the view of the city from there, and of course, there was never anyone around. And there was a narrow concrete sidewalk to walk on, which interested me. I called it the Pink Sidewalk, as did most of the people who were familiar with it did.

My research about why exactly it was built, and by and for whom, has been inconclusive. I had always heard that it was built in the 1930s for William Wrigley, Jr. to walk his dog. It could have been built for the guests of the Biltmore to walk on. Of course when I last walked on it, in the 1980s, it was obviously long-abandoned, and I usually stopped where the ruins of the little dam was, which is private property nowadays, at where 29th Street ends, north of Lincoln.

Location of the Arizona Biltmore in the 1920s. The Phoenix Mountains, and Squaw Peak, are in the background.

When the Biltmore Hotel was new, the area north of it was just open trails. Lincoln Drive wasn't built through there until the 1960s, and guests of the Biltmore would go up into the foothills of Squaw Peak (where there are houses now) on horses. I don't know anything about horses, but I know that they don't need a narrow little sidewalk.

Enjoying a trail ride on the foothills of Squaw Peak in the 1970s

And the sidewalk was very narrow. And my best guess is that it was just ordinary concrete, and over the years the desert turned it kind of pink. Sidewalks tend to do that over time in Phoenix, you know.

Image at the top of this post: Looking north towards Squaw Peak (Piestewa Peak) over the Arizona Biltmore in the 1950s. Note the trails up into the hills just to the left. That's where the Pink Sidewalk was.

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What people in California mean when they say the valley


California has a lot of valleys. But only the the valley. The San Fernando Valley.

And yes, I know how big California is, and how many mountains it has, and how many valleys. But if you mention the valley, you are talking about the San Fernando Valley.

The San Fernando Valley is, technically speaking, part of Los Angeles. Places like Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks, and Canoga Park are actually just part of the city of Los Angeles. That is, they are city of LA water, city of LA police, that sort of stuff. To make it even more confusing, there's Burbank, which is in the valley, but they actually are their own city, with their own mayor, police force, etc.

I lived in the San Fernando Valley in the 1980s, and since I'm a bit of a map geek, I started being very specific about where I lived. That's because there's the Conejo Valley (where Thousand Oaks is), the San Gabriel Valley (where Pasadena is), and LOTS of other valleys. But when someone at a party in Santa Barbara asked me where I lived, and I said "the valley", and I was asked "which one?" - my host jumped into the conversation to clarify that there was only one "the valley".

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The valley of the 1980s was the time of "valley girls", which became recognizable in popular culture by saying things like "gag me with a spoon!" (I still have no idea what that's supposed to mean). Valley girls shopped at the Sherman Oaks galleria.

If you're interested in making the San Fernando Valley your home, and would like to know where to live, look at it as if it were a bowl, with the most affordable housing in the center and the most expensive stuff along the edges. I worked in Warner Center, which is in Woodland Hills, where the rent was so expensive that I couldn't even imagine it, and I lived in a "less-than-fashionable" area nearby called Canoga Park. And with all due respect to the nice people of Canoga Park, it wasn't a place that I exactly bragged about. So if you live in places like Tarzana, or Encino, you say so, but if not, you just say that you live in the valley, if you know what I'm saying here.

Image at the top of this post: Van Nuys, California in the 1970s. The valley.

Exploring the 1953 underground parking garage, Block 23, Phoenix, Arizona


Today I explored a parking garage. Yes, I know it sounds like the most pointless thing in the world to do, but if you come along with me I'll try to tell you what I see, and why I find it so fascinating.

The location of this parking garage is on Block 23, between Washington and Jefferson along 2nd Street, where the 1953 JC Penney's building was, in Phoenix, Arizona. You may have parked there while you were at the big game - I saw a lot of people doing that today. But if all you're seeing is a parking garage, you're missing so much. Time travel with me.

Looking west on Washington towards 2nd Street, and JC Penney's, in the 1950s, Phoenix, Arizona.

It's 1953 and the Del Webb Company has just finished the ultra-modern JC Penney's building in downtown Phoenix. This really was the last great effort to try to keep shoppers coming downtown, instead of shopping in the new malls that were being built. So while the building itself was impressive, the parking garage was even more so.

There were, and are, three levels. The entrance was on the northwest corner of 2nd Street and Jefferson, where there was also a Chevron gas station. And to exit the parking garage, JC Penney customers rode escalators that took them up to Washington.

Article about the JC Penney's parking garage in 1953. Note the escalators.

My goal today was to find the escalators, or at least where they were. And it was easy. There's a blocked-off door way back in the northwest corner of the garage, and you can still see how the entrance worked. And, although the escalator is all crunched up, it's still there, if you peek through a little window.

1953 escalator entrance from the bottom level of the JC Penney's parking garage.

If you want to time-travel back to the 1950s, walk along the sidewalk on Washington from about halfway between 1st to 2nd Street. Still embedded in the sidewalk is the original plaque set by Del Webb when they began construction in 1952. And if you look very closely, you can even see, peeking out where the asphalt was poured over them, the original tiles for the entrance. I don't know if asphalt can be removed without damaging the tiles, or if anyone other than me cares, but I think that it would be way cool for them to see the light of day again, maybe when the block is redeveloped.

Thank you for history adventuring with me.

1952 construction plaque for the JC Penney building, Washington near 2nd Street.

The 1953 tiles from the entrance to JC Penneys, peeking out along the edge of the sidewalk on Washington near 2nd Street.

Article about the underground parking garage in 1953.

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Riding a bicycle to work in Phoenix, Arizona


Among the many strange things that I've done living in Phoenix is to ride my bike to work. It was actually a very tiny distance, from about Butler to just north of Dunlap, but it pretty much convinced my co-workers that they had a very strange person among them.

To me, however, it made perfect sense. As a fairly athletic man, a simple bike ride of about a half-mile was, literally, no sweat for me. I wore a shirt and tie at work, so I rolled my dress clothes up into a bag, and changed at the Fitness Center in the building where I worked, which was Corporate Center. You know, the building over by Fajitas.

As a kid from Minneapolis, Phoenix was absolute bicycle heaven to me. No hills! If you've ridden hills, you know what I mean. I spent my childhood bicycling around Minneapolis, and since it was mostly transportation, struggling up hills wasn't something I enjoyed. Phoenix is flat! And the weather! People who asked me if it wasn't ever too hot had obviously never been on a bicycle in the early morning in winter - cold was the only thing that stopped me. The heat felt great!

I was lucky. The building where I rode my bike to had a locker and showers. And I was able to lock my bike in an area that didn't tempt thieves. And what I remember the most is that at 5:00 I left my cubicle, went downstairs to change, and in ten minutes I was outside riding my bike. Sometimes I just went home, sometimes I just rode along the canal.

I only did this "commute" for about a year, and then our department moved into the main building in downtown Phoenix. And no, I never considered for an instant doing a ten-mile bike ride to work!

I am seeing more bicycles in downtown Phoenix nowadays, and instead of wondering how in the world the people do it, I just wonder why more people don't. Maybe it's the lack of a place to change, and shower, maybe it's a lack of safe places to lock bicycles. And maybe it's just that people don't think about it when they're designing buildings for people. Hopefully they will in the future!

Image at the top of this post: Bicycling on Central Avenue in 1908, Phoenix, Arizona. You're looking north towards Adams. Territorial Phoenix was very bicycle-friendly!


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Block 23, Territorial City Hall, Phoenix, Arizona


If you've been following the story of Block 23 in Phoenix, you may have read about the plans to build a grocery store there. As of this writing, April 2016, it's just been announced, but no construction has begun. Block 23, by the way is between Washington and Jefferson and 1st and 2nd Streets.

If you lived in territorial Phoenix, you would have called Block 23 City Hall Plaza. This chunk of land was set aside when the city was platted in 1870, and until the late 1920s it was a public space, mostly filled with trees, a fountain, and a gazebo where generations of Phoenicians gathered to socialize, and to watch parades.

Of course Phoenix has always had growing pains, so by the time the new City Hall/Maricopa County Courthouse was planned to be built over on Washington and 1st Avenue (now Historic City Hall), the old Territorial Court House was really in need of being retired. And so the city turned over Block 23 to commercial use, and a gigantic theater was built there, called the Fox. The old-timers must have been outraged, but Phoenix was no longer a tiny town. Of course, they were probably outraged back in 1893, when they started seeing numbers instead of names on maps of Phoenix. The map above, by the way, was created by a company called Sanborn, which did very careful labelling of buildings for fire insurance purposes. Note how 2nd Street has Maricopa (the original name) in parenthesis, and Montezuma is now labelled as 1st Street.

If you lived in Phoenix between 1931 and 1975, you will remember the Fox Theater, which was on the northwest corner of Block 23. And if you lived in Phoenix between 1953 and 2008, you will remember the JC Penney's building, which the city of Phoenix took over in the 1970s, about the time the city bus terminal replaced the demolished Fox Theater.

Nowadays Block 23 is just a parking lot. People who remember Phoenix know how important this place has been historically, and how it's changed over the years, just like most of Phoenix.

Block 23 in 1888. You, and the horses, are looking east from 1st Street between Washington and Jefferson, at the Territorial City Hall building.


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