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

The happiest baby ever, Phoenix, Arizona 1938


Time-travel with me, and let's be the happiest baby ever, in Phoenix, Arizona in 1938.

The photo at the top of this post is of my neighbor and fellow history adventurer, +Carole Lowe Beath . As you can see, she was the happiest baby ever.

It's 1938, the United States is still digging itself out of the Great Depression, and there's a major World War just around the corner. But we're a happy baby, and that doesn't matter. What matters is that we're in Phoenix, and the future looks bright.

Phoenix, Arizona in 1938

Dad works for Union Oil (look carefully - there's a "76" sticker in the back window of the car). The house, by the way, is at 339 N. 20th Drive, which is near 20th Avenue and Van Buren. A nice neighborhood!

Phoenix will grow so fast after the 1940s it will be almost unrecognizable. That's what Phoenix does, it grows, and it's still growing.

The "happiest baby ever" house is still there, by the way. The neighborhood isn't what it used to be, which is typical of Phoenix. Carole is still pretty cheerful, and I just love seeing Phoenix through her eyes! I wrote this, and posted her photos with her permission. Thank you, Carole!


Thank you to my patrons on Patreon who help support History Adventuring! If you like these blog posts, and would like to make suggestions for future ones, please go to patreon.com/PhoenixHistoryAdventuring where you can show your support for as little as $1 a month. Thank you!

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Driving up Central Avenue at Van Buren in the 1950s


Let's time-travel back to the 1950s in Phoenix. We're heading north on Central at Van Buren. It's a one-way now, but it wasn't then. Let's look at the buildings.

I did this with one of my very best PhDs (Phoenix History Detectives) on Sunday. As we drove along, my tour guide, who saw all of this when it was new, pointed out interesting buildings, and I saw them.

Of course they're not all there! Most of them are gone. And so when you find ones that you recognize, like the 1st National Bank Building there (which is now an ASU Building), it's a lot of fun.

The grey building on the left with the radio tower is the Westward Ho, and in front of it is the old Post Office building, which like a lot of buildings in downtown Phoenix, are being repurposed by ASU. Behind the Standard Oil Building (I've moved to the right front now), is the Sahara Hotel, which was where Hattie Mosher's house originally was, and is where the ASU Law Building is nowadays. If you lived in Phoenix in the 1970s and later you may remember the Sahara as the Ramada Inn Downtown.

Of course, the mountains never change. Those are the Phoenix Mountains, with Squaw Peak (now called Piestewa Peak) behind the 1st National Bank Building, and Camelback Mountain to the right.

This photo, which is from a 1950s postcard, was taken from the top of the Security Building. Traffic looks pretty light, it was probably a Sunday.


Thank you to my patrons on Patreon who help support History Adventuring! If you like these blog posts, and would like to make suggestions for future ones, please go to patreon.com/PhoenixHistoryAdventuring where you can show your support for as little as $1 a month. Thank you!

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Watching the Arizona Capitol Building being built in 1899


Let's go time-traveling back to 1899 in Phoenix, Arizona and watch them getting started on the construction of the Territorial Capitol Building.

I spent the night in back of the Golden Eagle Livery Stable at 2nd Street and Washington. Not sure where you were, but I see that you're walking from the direction of Melinda's Alley, so I won't ask.

The trolley line goes all of the way out to the Capitol Grounds, but since neither one of us has a nickel, I guess we'll walk. It's not that hot today. Well, not as hot as it's been lately.

The Capitol Ground have been there for almost ten years now, and it's a good-looking park with trees, people picnicking, that sort of thing. I suppose after the new building is completed, people will still take the trolley out there to picnic.

We've been walking for a while and my darned ankle is starting to hurt already. I wish we could jump on one of those cars! Yeah, I don't even have a penny, I sure can't afford to ride the trolley. Man, it sure is dusty - I wonder if they'll ever pave this road?

There goes the trolley! Moves along pretty fast, must be going over ten miles an hour. Amazing how the electrical wires up there work - modern technology! And I understand that it's the tried-and-true Direct Current, not that crazy Alternating Current. Thomas Edison likes D.C., and I figure that he knows what he's talking about!

Well, here we are. Looks like they're making good progress. No heavy machinery that I can see, maybe we should see if they need some help from a couple of strong backs!

See those guys standing over there smoking cigars? That's Moses Sherman - he owns the trolley line and all of the land around here, and he donated the land for the Capitol. And that's the architect, James Riely Gordon. I understand he came all of the way out here from Texas. Maybe I'll go over there and say howdy!

Architect James Riely Gordon

Moses Sherman

The Arizona State Capitol Building in 2012, celebrating 100 years of Statehood.

The Arizona Territorial Capitol, which became the State Capitol, is now a museum. It was carefully restored in the 1970s, is open to the public, and tours are offered. 17th Avenue and Washington, Phoenix, Arizona.

The Golden Eagle Livery Stable was where the Bank of America Building is nowadays, and Melinda's Alley, which was the "red light district", was between Monroe and Adams.



Thank you to my patrons on Patreon who help support History Adventuring! If you like these blog posts, and would like to make suggestions for future ones, please go to patreon.com/PhoenixHistoryAdventuring where you can show your support for as little as $1 a month. Thank you!

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The Santa Ana Winds of Southern California


If you've lived in Southern California, anywhere from Santa Barbara down to San Diego, you know about the eerie feeling of the Santa Ana Winds. It's those rare occasions when the wind blows from inland, not from seaward. It starts in the Mojave Desert and blows down all of the way to Baja California.

My favorite description of it is from Raymond Chandler, who wrote the Phillip Marlowe mysteries in the 1940s

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks."

Of course, Chandler was referring to Los Angeles, and most people in LA aren't bothered by the Santa Ana winds anymore, they just turn on their air conditioners. But if you've felt it, you know it.

My apartment in Santa Barbara didn't have an air conditioner, and it really didn't need it for the three years that I lived there. When the Santa Ana winds blew in, which was only once in the time that I lived there, it really awful.

The Santa Ana Winds

Image at the top of this post: 1961 fire in the Pasadena Hills. From the USC Libraries Digital Collection

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Raymond Chandler's 1940s Santa Monica - Bay City


If you've read Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe stories, and are familiar with the greater Los Angeles area, you recognize his fictional "Bay City" - Santa Monica.

Why Chandler chose to fictionalize the name, and still use familiar street names and landmarks, I have no idea. My best guess is that he wrote in kind of a hurry, and hoped that people wouldn't figure much out.

I have no idea if they used "Bay City" for Santa Monica in the movies. I've seen the movies, but they've left little impression on me. The books, however brought me back to the 1940s. In fact, I was living in Hollywood when I first read them, just up from Franklin on Argyle, and Chandler's fictional hero spent a lot of time around there.

If you're not familiar with Los Angeles, then Santa Monica and LA seem to be pretty much the same place. But they're not. Santa Monica is not part of the City of Los Angeles. It has its own mayor, its own police force. And when Chandler needed a fictionalized corrupt police force, he invented Bay City.

Of course, the Santa Monica police force wasn't any more corrupt in the 1940s than the Los Angeles police force. But Chandler needed bad guys. It was a writing device, that's all.

If you're interested in time-traveling back to Santa Monica in the 1940s, go pick up one of Chandler's novels, and look for Bay City.

By the way, don't read Chandler too carefully. If you're still trying to figure out who killed the chauffeur in "The Big Sleep", you can stop. While it was being filmed, the director called Chandler about this, and Chandler said "oops". Enjoy the backgrounds!


Thank you to my patrons on Patreon who help support History Adventuring! If you like these blog posts, and would like to make suggestions for future ones, please go to patreon.com/PhoenixHistoryAdventuring where you can show your support for as little as $1 a month. Thank you!

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Netflix background watching of Los Angeles


Everyone loves a sentimental journey - seeing the old neighborhood, that sort of thing. And luckily for me, one of my old 'hoods was Los Angeles in the 1980s. And that means that I can see it in the backgrounds of low-budget movies on Netflix. I do it all of the time.

But it gets better. Because I'm not just interested in a sentimental journey, I like time-traveling to Los Angeles in any era. And since so many TV shows and movies were made in the Los Angeles area, I can see a lot of it, just by "background watching".

A few days ago I discovered an old TV show from 1955 called "Alfred Hitchcock Presents". They're short stories (mysteries I guess you'd call them) shot in Los Angeles. And while I'm sure that the stories are wonderful, and the acting is great, I'm looking at the backgrounds.

The first episode, called "Revenge" (remember that these were thrilling mystery stories) is set in a trailer court near the beach where the lead characters have recently moved to relax. Of course, there's a mystery. But what really caught my eye was the Pacific Coast Highway, near Malibu, which I'm very familiar with. I immediately posted some screenshots on Facebook, hoping to get the help of my California friends, which I did.

This looks to be a trailer court that's still there, looking towards Will Rogers Beach, on the Pacific Coast Highway a little south of Sunset. I know that Alfred Hitchcock didn't intend for this to be a "slice of life" from 1955 Los Angeles, but it is.






Thank you to my patrons on Patreon who help support History Adventuring! If you like these blog posts, and would like to make suggestions for future ones, please go to patreon.com/PhoenixHistoryAdventuring where you can show your support for as little as $1 a month. Thank you!

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Finding the original Sky Harbor Airport Terminal, Phoenix, Arizona



If you've flown in to Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, you know that there are Terminals 2, 3, and 4. And that gives you a pretty good clue that something is missing. It is - Terminal 1 is just a parking lot nowadays, and not a terribly big parking lot, which gives you a good idea how small Phoenix was in 1952, when that Terminal was built. But I remember using it in the 1980s, so Phoenix old-timers, and historians, know about it. But it's not the original Sky Harbor Terminal.

When one of my fellow history adventurers wanted to go find the location of the original Sky Harbor Terminal a few days ago, I scoffed. I had seen old photos of Sky Harbor in the early 1930s, when it was just a landing field, with a few scattered buildings. But by the late 1930s it was a real airport, with real terminal buildings.

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Take a look at the photo at the top of this post. Yes, there's a terminal building, and there were a lot of other buildings, including a little chapel. It was all on the northern edge of Sky Harbor, just south of the railroad tracks, between 24th Street and 32nd Street. The little street is called Air Lane, which is south of Washington. Really. Air Lane. Go check it out on Google maps. I'll wait.

Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife Olgivanna at the original Sky Harbor Airport Terminal in the 1950s, Phoenix, Arizona

So that's where the original Sky Harbor Terminal was. Of course, the buildings there nowadays are all fairly modern, my best guess that the oldest is from the 1960s. And the chapel is gone. But the bell is still there, on a tiny stucco display hidden away next to an empty building, surrounded by fences and barbed wire. Whether it's in the exact spot it used to be, I have no idea. If you go there, like I did a few days ago, you can expect to see a Homeland Security Vehicle drive by. I'm sure that most people would have no idea what you're seeing. You're seeing the original Sky Harbor Airport.

By the way, the chapel was used by people who wanted to fly into Arizona to get married. A three-day wait for a blood test to get a marriage license was not required in Arizona.


Flying over the original Sky Harbor Terminal in the 1940s, Phoenix, Arizona. You're looking northeast, towards the railroad tracks. Air Lane, between 24th Street and 32nd, south of Washington.

Walgreens in downtown Phoenix in 1933


Let's go to Walgreens in 1933 Phoenix. It's on the southwest corner of Central and Monroe. If you live in Phoenix nowadays, and don't recognize the picture in the building, that's not surprising, it hasn't looked like that since the bricks were covered up just a few years later when it became Owl Drug. And over the years the facade has been continuously updated, to keep it looking modern, smooth, and shiny. And maybe that's because Phoenix didn't want its buildings to look "old fashioned".



If you had visited this corner ten years ago, the old Central Methodist Church had been there. In 1925 it was torn down and this new building went up. Now, don't worry, the congregation built a nice new church just a few blocks north, between Pierce and Fillmore.



OK, let's go back to the southwest corner of Central and Monroe. Wow, everything is so modern! Phoenix went through a huge building boom in the '20s and my old town is hardly recognizable anymore. I sure don't see any horses downtown anymore! Theres even traffic lights! I'm glad it says "go" for the green light, some of the old-timers still aren't used to the color system. And I notice that a lot of people don't seem to pay attention to the "No left turn" sign, either! The traffic is just crazy! Watch out!

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Let's see now, what do I need at Walgreens? Maybe I'll get some hair oil - 17 cents seems like a good price.

As of this writing, the Central-Monroe Building has revealed the 1925 bricks for the first time since the early 1930s. It's where Michael's Jewelers, and Subway is nowadays.


The southwest corner of Central and Monroe in 1933. On the corner is the Monroe-Central Building, built in 1925, the tall building in the background is the Heard Building, built in 1919. Between them is the Craig Building, built in 1929. All of these buildings are still there.

Automotive repairs in 1943 Phoenix, Arizona


Let's go to 1943 Phoenix, Arizona. Luckily, we have a nice new car, and luckily, we're right near Paul Bennett's Super Station, which was on the northwest corner of Van Buren and 2nd Avenue.

You may be saying, "Now waitaminute, we've got a brand new car, shouldn't we be able to just get in it and go?" But it's 1943 and even brand new cars need a LOT of maintenance. Maybe not as much as in the old "Model T days", but a lot more than they would need in the 21st Century.



The most important thing is regular lubrication. The guys who work there are often called "grease monkeys" because they're always covered in a lot of grease. I have no idea how many lubrication points my car has, but it's a lot. And they need to be attended to on a regular basis. Yeah, I could get a grease gun and do it myself, but luckily I'm wealthy enough to have Bennett's do it, and do it right.

Of course I'm going to have Goodyear tires on my car. I know how important the Goodyear company has been to the economy of Phoenix, starting way back during World War I. It's that long-staple cotton, usually called Pima cotton, that reinforces Goodyear tires, although I've heard people talking about maybe replacing the cotton with something plastic, one of those crazy chemicals they're working on nowadays, like Nylon.



You know, I haven't driven out to Goodyear for a long time, now that I think of it. Maybe I'll go play some golf over at the Wigwam. But first I'm going to get a tune-up - hopefully all they'll need to do is to gap the plugs, set the timing, and replace the points. I'll fill up the tank with gasoline from the Texas Company. I hear it's good gas, although it's all the same to me.




I wonder if Paul is around today? He sure has a great place! Hmmmm.... I wonder if I need a new battery?

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Central and Monroe, downtown Phoenix, Arizona in 1926


Let's go history adventuring to an area of downtown Phoenix that should look familiar to you - looking south on Central from Monroe. What should look very familiar is the building there in the background, the Luhr's Building, which is on Jefferson, and the building at the right, the Heard Building, still looks pretty much the same, although it's gone through some face-lifting since this photo was taken in 1926.

The trolley tracks there are on Monroe. There wasn't a track down Central until the new Light Rail went in. On the left is the Western Auto Supply Company, which was in the old Post Office. Next to it is Pinney and Robinson, Sporting Good Exclusively (the one with the rifle above the sign). And then there's the Builder's Exchange. All of these buildings were replaced in 1931 when the Professional Building was built there (originally the headquarters for Valley Bank, now the Hilton Garden Inn). Then there's the alley (originally referred to as Melinda's Alley) and the Adams Hotel. It's the one that was built in 1911 and was demolished in 1973. It was actually two of three (the first one burned down in 1910) and the current one (the building that looks kind of like a cheese grater) was originally called the Adams Hotel, and is now called the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel (it's a Marriott).

Staying on the left, and as you look farther in the distance, you can see the First National Bank of Arizona Building, which was on the southeast corner of Central and Washington, then the Commercial (Luhr's) Hotel (you can just see the balconies sticking out), and then across Jefferson is the Jefferson Hotel (nowadays called the Barrister building, and whose claim to fame is that it was the building in the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock movie "Psycho").

The Luhrs Building hasn't changed a bit since it was built in 1925. It's where the Bitter and Twisted is nowadays. The interesting building with the spires was the old Opera House, which at this time was where Hanny's Menswear was (they moved to their new building in 1949).

The tall building on the right is the Heard Building, built by Dwight Heard (yes, the guy who started the museum) in 1919. Then there's the Occidental Boarding Rooms (where you see the sign that says "Layner and Bowler Corp., The World's Largest Water Developers". Below that is "Schick and Fagan, City Homes, Ranch Lands". This building was razed in 1929, and the current 130 N. Central (where the Valley Bar is nowadays) was built not long afterwards.

At the far right is the original Central Methodist Church, where Michael's Jewelers and the Subway are now.

Thank you for history adventuring with me! Watch out for traffic! Aaa-ooo-gahhhh!

The Luhr's Building, Central Avenue and Jefferson, Phoenix, Arizona.

Looking south on Central from Monroe in 1926, and modern day Phoenix, Arizona.

Vintage photo from the ASU McCulloch Brothers collection

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Visiting downtown Phoenix, Arizona in 1933


One thing you can always say about Phoenix is that it's constantly changing. If you go away for a few years, and come back to Phoenix there are always new buildings. And the old buildings have disappeared! Of course, if you look very carefully, you can see familiar buildings. Let's visit downtown Phoenix in 1933.

We're on Central between Adams and Monroe, looking southwest. The first thing that I notice is the Heard Building, where Dwight Heard publishes the two newspapers, the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette. It's no longer the tallest building in town since the Luhrs Building, at Central and Jefferson, went up in 1925.

But the buildings north of it have disappeared. The old Occidental Boarding House is gone. In its place is a modern-looking building with the Great Western Business College (I think that's Lamson Business College!), and on the ground floor is McDougall and Cassou, Lucille's (I think that's a dress shop) and a Florist. Hey, it's owned by the Donofrio family - they make the best ice cream! It's a beautiful Art Deco building, and it sure out-classes the old Occidental, which was built back when Arizona was still a territory. I guess progress marches on. Hopefully this beautiful building will never be "modernized" in the future, and have its facade covered!

The brick building to the right is new, too. The old Central Methodist Church is long gone, they've moved up Central to a bigger place now. Looks like Honan's is a hat shop. Strange how they just jammed that building right up against the building next to it. I guess Phoenix does that kind of stuff. Call me old-fashioned, I like the bricks. Hopefully they'll never be covered up!

As of this writing, all of these buildings in the photo at the top of this post are still there. The Heard Building is the most recognizable, although it's gone through some minor face-lifts. The rest of the buildings were "modernized" beginning not long after the 1933 photo was taken. The building at far left, the Gooding Building (right behind the sign that says "Indian Store"), was modernized when it became Raskin's Jeweler's in the 1950s, and still has a very plain facade. The facades of the other buildings were also "smoothed out" to be modernized. 






Thank you to my patrons on Patreon who help support History Adventuring! If you like these blog posts, and would like to make suggestions for future ones, please go to patreon.com/PhoenixHistoryAdventuring where you can show your support for as little as $1 a month. Thank you!

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Why the railroad tracks go through some of the most expensive real estate in Santa Barbara


I love the sound of a train whistle in the distance, and the click-click-click of a train going by. In the distance. My house in Glendale, Arizona is just a few miles from the train tracks and I love it, especially at night. There's such a wonderful, lonesome sound of a train passing. In the distance.

Of course, if it were a few feet away from me, I'd think differently. The sound of a train whistle right nearby late at night, or the clatter of a train going by every closely is annoying loud. And trains are dirty, they burn diesel fuel, and before diesel it was even worse, pouring out black smoke, and soot. And that's why it's always puzzled me that some of the most expensive real estate in Santa Barbara is right next to the railroad tracks, near the beach.

It made me wonder if people "back in the day" didn't mind being woken up by the noise of a train going right past their house. Or if somehow they weren't bothered by the smell, and the smoke. But it's not that at all, it's the change in the past 100 years about being close to the beach.

Nowadays, of course, we want to be right near the beach. Closeness to the beach is all the rage - people who have houses so close that they can walk to the beach, or have a view of the ocean right at the beach, are considered lucky. 100 years ago it would have been the opposite.

If you've spent much time in Santa Barbara, you know it's windy. Down by the beach at night it's windy, damp, and unpleasant. The beach is an unprotected area from strangers, too, dark and lonely. 100 years ago it would have been the last place that you would have wanted to live if you could afforded to live inland a bit. And that left the beach area pretty much open, and unwanted. Left to people too poor to live elsewhere, and transients, and tramps.

And that's why the train tracks are there. They were built long before attitudes about living at the beach changed. When the attitudes started changing, in the 1920s, the building started close to the beach. Luxury places, fancy hotels. Go visit the Santa Barbara Biltmore, the train tracks run right next to it. Take a look at the Santa Barbara Hilton, same thing. Train tracks. And where the Hilton is was empty and unwanted right up through the '80s. It's where the bums used to sleep.

Of course it's too late to move the railroad tracks now, so they do the best they can. And hopefully people staying at these luxurious resorts will just consider the train going by, seemingly inches from their windows, to be part of the charm of Santa Barbara.


Thank you to my patrons on Patreon who help support History Adventuring! If you like these blog posts, and would like to make suggestions for future ones, please go to patreon.com/PhoenixHistoryAdventuring where you can show your support for as little as $1 a month. Thank you!

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How I turned Los Angeles into a small town for me


I really am a small town person. I grew up in Minneapolis, so I'm "Minnesota friendly" and some of my best memories are of visiting my grandmother in Bovey. Like her, I'm a "homely person" (yes, she often said that of herself - but she knew she was being funny), I like a small group of friends, I like my neighborhood, my local businesses. I'm no dazzling urbanite!

But after I got my degree at ASU, Phoenix felt too small to me. I wanted to go to "the big city", and that's Los Angeles to me. So I gathered up my earthly belongings (which wasn't much) and moved to LA. And it was awful. It was so crowded, and so noisy, and there was so much traffic. I felt like I was in a beehive, and no one seemed to know anyone else. I got what I called the "LA hee bee jee bees", which was a feeling of being overwhelmed by all of it.

My solution was history adventuring, which I still do now, although it's not quite as a medical necessity for me, living in a quiet suburb of Glendale, Arizona. And I remember the exact moment when it started, at the library in Hollywood in Beachwood Canyon. I glanced over at a photo on the wall and I saw the Hollywoodland sign in the 1920s. And I thought "was it ever like that?"

Of course it was. And whenever I got the LA hee bee jee bees I would go to all of the wonderful places that I was discovering. Places that had been there, since, like forever. I went to Los Encinos, I went to the La Brea Tar Pits. Someone recommended Raymond Chandler to me, and in my imagination I turned my Los Angeles to his, in the 1940s.

I talked to the locals. I was extremely interested in people who had grown up there. They had played there as children. I found the local restaurants - you know, the ones that only the locals knew about. I got to practice some of my Spanish. I ate pizza with so many jalapeƱos on them, it made my ears ring.

I carved out a very tiny area that I knew well. I learned it the way a kid on his bike learns the streets of his neighborhood. Anything beyond there I didn't pay attention to. I walked over to the little convenience store a couple of blocks away from apartment and I bought a Coke. Every day. I smiled at people, I said hello.

I'm glad I lived in Los Angeles. If I hadn't moved to the big city I would have regretted it all of my life. But my Los Angeles is a small town, otherwise I wouldn't have survived there.

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How Phoenix, and the Old West, was built on whiskey


If you've ever wondered about what people say about the massive consumption of whiskey in the Old West, even in old-time Phoenix, yes it's true. But like so many things that we look at in the past, it can be very difficult to imagine it with our modern eyes.

As a 21st Century man who enjoys a glass of whiskey now and then, I can understand the attraction. Of course, I only have small amounts, in moderation, and only in moments of relaxation. I've never been a big drinking man, and after a shot or two I'm mostly glued to my chair, and then I need to go lie down. I can't imagine doing anything constructive with whiskey inside of me, like building a city, or fighting in the Civil War, but a lot of people did.

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Time-travel with me to territorial Phoenix. It's a harsh place. Air conditioning wouldn't be invented for a very long time, and while there are doctors and dentists, they're nothing like what we have now. People lived with the kind of pain that nowadays we can hardly imagine. And yes, they "self-medicated" - with whiskey.

Now don't get me wrong, people in Phoenix weren't stumbling around drunk all of the time. In fact, drunkenness was considered to be a very bad thing. A man's ability to "hold his whiskey" was part of his badge of honor. Only fools got drunk. Men could "take a snort" from their flask, and get out and do the work to be done.

Obviously times have changed. I would be very surprised to see the local Sheriff with a flask in his pocket nowadays, as much as I would be surprised to see the local Sheriff in Territorial Arizona without one.

Yes, people drank whiskey in old-time Phoenix. A lot of it. They also built a city at the same time.

Image at the top of this post: Ad for whiskey from a 1911 Phoenix newspaper

Visiting downtown Phoenix, Arizona in 1922


Time-travel with me to Phoenix in 1922. The image that we're about to dive into is from the McCulloch Brothers Collection, which ASU just released online recently. This is the west side of Central Avenue between Adams and Monroe. Specifically, it's just north of the Heard Building (the one on the left, which is still there).

Back when I worked for Bank One in what is now Chase Tower, in the mid-1990s, I used to wander around these streets on my lunch hour. I would try to figure out what all of the buildings were, and I figured that many of them were much older than most of the people I talked to suspected. But it wasn't until the internet was invented that I was able to get the answers that I had been looking for for so long. And I'm having so much fun with this! Come along with me and let's visit the Occidental in 1922.

Oh, in case you're wondering why I say it's 1922, it's because that's a 1922 license plate there on the car to the left. The Heard Building had just been completed in 1920, and it must have been amazing. OK, let's go.

It sure looks like Phoenix is booming in 1922! Here at the Occidental Boarding House, where I'm staying, it seems like just about everyone is selling Real Estate. There's the Action Realty Company right next to Fashion Millinery, and the Casa Grande Land Company. Phoenix is a pretty dusty place, so the Central Cleaning Works get plenty of business! I'm not sure what Rittenhouse & Detwiler does, but they sell Oil Engines and Irrigating Pumps, and I think it must have to do with agriculture.

Real Estate and Loans go together, that's for sure. And that Model T has the name of someone who sells Insurance and Bonds. Can't quite read the name? Joe Something.

Of course, the big money is shown off by Dwight Heard whose new building is next door. It's the tallest building in Arizona - nine stories! He and his wife Maie have gotten very rich with their company, the Suburban Land and Real Estate Company. I hear that they like to collect art from all over the world. They'll probably start a museum some day.

Dwight and Maie (Bartlett) Heard became extremely wealthy in Phoenix, and traveled all over the world, collecting art. And they did start a museum, which they built just north of their house. The museum is simply called the Heard Museum, and it specializes in American Indian Art.

The Heard Building (the one on the left) is still there as of this writing. It's gone through a lot of face-lifts, but it's structurally the same. The buildings north of the were razed in 1929, and the new buildings, which were built in the 1930s, are still there, in the place of the Occidental (which is where State Farm and the Valley Bar are now) and the Central Methodist Church (which would be just to right, off the edge of the 1922 photo, where Michael 's Jewelers and the Subway are now. If you want to see this view nowadays, stand in the middle of Central Avenue just south of Monroe and face west-southwest. And look out for traffic!



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The strange existence of the La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles, California


The existence of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles has always puzzled me. And no, I don't mean the existence of Ice Age animals who lived there (they lived all over the world then), or the existence of pool of black gooey tar. I'm puzzled as to why such a large area in such a crowded city has been preserved.

I recently listened to Adam Corolla's comical take on the La Brea Tar Pits. And not only is it brilliantly funny, it really makes sense. He wonders why a city would bother to preserve a big open area of grass, mud, and tar. And yes, if you've never been there, that's really all the La Brea Tar Pits is. Sure, there's a little museum, and there are fiberglass statues of Ice Age animals, but the place is really just about tar pits. Yes, pits of tar. That black, gooey stuff that sticks to your feet after you've been on the beach in Southern California. Adam mentions that, and it's true. I always had to scrape tar off of my feet when I came home from from the beach in Santa Barbara. It stained the carpets of my car. It's black, sticky, and messy. And it smells bad.

I've been to the La Brea Tar Pits more times than I can count, and I'm always up for another visit. But I've always considered myself kinda weird. I like open places like that. I like to imagine another time - in this instance, about 10,000 years ago. I go to historic buildings, I visit arboretums.

What Adam suggests is something that I've always wondered about. Why isn't there the type of museum that most people like there? Why just an empty area with pools of tar all over the place? Why not a museum of baseball stuff, or football? Even though that stuff doesn't interest me, I know that it's what most people just absolutely love. And when Adam suggests paving it all over, well, he's absolutely right - because that's exactly what the city of Los Angeles did. Pretty much the whole area of Southern California was just as nasty and unpleasant as the La Brea Tar Pits before it was cleaned up. There was tar, and mud, and ooze, and mosquitos, and lots of reasons why people wouldn't want to ever live there. And it was all cleaned up through some of the most gigantic engineering projects in a modern city. And they did such a perfect job that most people wouldn't guess in a million years that areas like La Brea (which is Spanish for "the tar") and La Cienega (which is just a nice way of saying "the swamp") were pretty unpleasant areas for people until they were drained off and cleaned up. What's the Spanish word for "mosquitos"? Malaria?

But somehow, and for whatever reason, this place of expensive real estate has remained pretty much as it's been since the end of the Ice Age. The tar, the swamp. And I like going to places like that. Apparently other people do, too. If you go there, look out for the tar, the mud, and probably mosquitos, too.

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Walking under the trees in old-time Phoenix


Walk with me in old-time Phoenix. It's 1915 and Phoenix is a city of trees.

There are old-timers who remember Phoenix before the trees. Fifty years ago this area was just open desert, with riparian areas of a tangle of mesquite, wide and low to the ground.

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Then the canals were built, starting in the 1860s, after the Civil War. Jack Swilling saw the big abandoned canals left by the Hohokams, and formed a company to start building modern canals. And the first thing they did was to plant trees.

Looking north up Central from Monroe in 1919 towards a city of trees. You're standing in the Heard Building, which is just north of Adams.

Trees were planted along the canals, along the laterals, along the roads. That's why Phoenix is a forest of trees. Water that had flooded the valley for thousands of years has now been successfully controlled, especially because of the big dam up on the Salt River, called Roosevelt.

It's September, but it's still hot. And what a difference the trees make! We can walk for miles and miles and always be in the shade. I feel sorry for anyone who has to go out into that hot sun! Trees have made all of the difference here in Phoenix, and hopefully they will always be there. It's hard to imagine Phoenix without the trees, but I guess the old-timers saw it. It must have been terrible.

Thank you for walking with me under the trees.

Most of the trees of Phoenix were gone by the 1970s. After being a city of trees for almost 100 years, they disappeared. Some of them, like the Cottonwoods, were drinking up way too much water from the canals, some just had to get out of the way to make room for more lanes, more parking areas, more buildings. Trees had become less important as air conditioning had been perfected.