This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

A buried treasure in downtown Phoenix, Arizona


I worked in downtown Phoenix in the '90s, and have been interested in the historic buildings ever since. I would often walk around during my lunch breaks and wonder what the buildings looked like "back in the day". Most of what I saw looked pretty terrible, and I would squint my eyes and imagine.

I'm a Graphic Designer, and a frustrated architect (I couldn't do the math!) so I really enjoy looking at buildings. All types of buildings fascinate me, and like all designers I'm saddened to see what I know to be a beautiful design that has been buried. And it's most often done with the best intentions, to "modernize" a building, or to make the building more usable, or more attractive to tenants. I understand. But I could see that there were beautiful buildings there under all the stucco, and matchboard, and plastic. There were times when I wished that I could take a penknife to them and scratch away the ugliness, and reveal the beauty.

To my amazement, it's happening nowadays. Old buildings are being rediscovered, and their original beauty is being revealed. And I feel like saying, "There! I told you so!" to people who have seen me stop and walk up to some of the ugliest old buildings in Phoenix. If you've been in Phoenix in the last few years, you've seen many examples, and you know what I mean.

The Phoenix Motor Company in 1939, 4th Avenue and Van Buren, Phoenix, Arizona.

Nowadays I have my eyes on the Phoenix Motor Company Building, at 401 W. Van Buren. That's it in the 1940s there in the photo at the top of this post, but if you've driven past it for years and don't recognize it, I'm not surprised. It has been completely stuccoed over, and from the front has no features at all, as if someone just put plaster all over someone's face. I stopped and looked at the building this past weekend, and I saw something that really excited me - bricks being exposed! Look for a big featureless building with a dome, and that's the one. It's on the southwest corner of Van Buren and 4th Avenue.

There's a beautiful building under there! And hopefully the people who are restoring it will find the old photos, and be inspired.

Exposed bricks on the Phoenix Motor Company building in December of 2016. If you know what's underneath, it's very exciting!