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

Phoenix, Arizona before air conditioning


In this blog I like to explore things in my imagination, and I appreciate your coming along with me. Today I'd like to time-travel back to Phoenix before the days of air conditioning. This may seem like too much of a stretch of the imagination, unless, of course, you remember those days. They really weren't that long ago.

Speaking for myself, since I came to Phoenix in 1977, my lack of air conditioning just had to do with the fact that the "less than fashionable" apartment that I first lived in had a thing that was called an air conditioner, and the manager insisted that it was supposed to cool the air, but all it did was make noise. I also didn't have air conditioning in my car, as I had come from Minnesota, where it wasn't really needed. But let's travel back further in time.

I think that it surprises people that most of the homes that were built by John F. Long in the 1950s and '60s didn't have air conditioning. They had, as an option, evaporative coolers (sometimes called "swamp coolers"), which was just air blowing past fibrous mats that were damped with dripping water. True air conditioning, which was then called "refrigeration", was for the wealthy, or commercial buildings.

Like any technology, it starts out very expensive, and then the price goes down. In old-time Phoenix, any type of cooled air, even just air being blown past some water (you know, "swamp cooling") started in businesses like movie theaters and hotels. Real air conditioning (refrigeration) followed, but was still mostly in commercial buildings, not homes.

By the time I got to Phoenix, in the late 1970s, true air conditioning (refrigeration) was becoming common in homes. Many homes had both evaporative cooling and refrigeration. The house that I'm in right now, built in 1985, had just refrigeration, or what we just call air conditioning (A/C) nowadays.

When you consider that Phoenix goes back to 1870, there were a LOT of people who lived there long before even the slightest hint of air conditioning was invented. Around the turn of the century, electric fans became available. By the 1920s, places like the San Carlos Hotel boasted that they were air cooled (evaporative cooling). By the 1960s, malls were being built that were enclosed with true refrigerated air, such as Christown. It must have felt like heaven to the old-timers.

So, come along with me and let's walk into Christown Mall in 1965. Mmmmmm! That feels great!

Interior of Christown Mall in the 1960s, 19th Avenue and Bethany Home Road, Phoenix, Arizona.

Image at the top of this post: Looking north on Central at Monroe in 1935. Note the sign for the San Carlos Hotel - Air Cooled!


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