Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Financing the frontier - Valley National Bank of Arizona

Banks are pretty darned important to the growth, and continued health, of a city. In Arizona, especially Phoenix, the most important bank was Valley National Bank.

Valley Bank in 1911, when it was on Adams between Central and 1st Avenue.

As someone who worked for Valley Bank, I'll admit to having a bit of prejudice for that bank. Although I really don't know anything about banking, I was a Graphic Designer in the Marketing Department. I worked on brochures, and that kind of stuff. But I like the history of Phoenix, and I got curious enough a few years ago to read the dullest book that I've ever read, called "Financing the Frontier", which is about the history of Valley Bank in Arizona. A friend of mine bought it for me, and while I do appreciate it, and learning more about banking in Arizona, it's not exactly a page-turner.

The headquarters for Valley National Bank in the 1940s, when it was in the Professional Building, Central and Monroe.

If you know more about banking than I do (which wouldn't be difficult!), you know that it's all about loans. And without getting into any detail that I don't understand, Valley National Bank was very liberal about loans, beginning with the Presidency of Walter Bimson in 1939. His motto apparently was "loans, loans, loans!" And while Valley Bank had been there for over forty years by the time Bimson became President of VNB, he transformed the bank into what would become a powerhouse, and would drive the growth and expansion of Phoenix after World War II.

Yes, there were other banks in Arizona, and Phoenix, but no other bank made it as easy to get a loan as Valley Bank. Bimson built a LOT of branches, all over Arizona, and he empowered the managers there to make loans. Managers had unprecedented power to make loans, sometimes on just a handshake, so the story goes. Real Western stuff. And it was very successful, and Phoenix grew like wildfire.

Phoenix, and Maricopa County, exploded with growth in the late forties, and all through the fifties, driven by a robust American economy, the desire for Americans to live in a warm climate, and Valley Bank loans.

Valley National Bank building its new headquarters, Valley Center (now Chase Tower) in 1972, Central and Monroe (right across from its old building).

Nowadays, of course, banks that are too liberal about loaning money aren't seen quite the same way. Making loans without careful research and secure collateral got the banking industry in trouble just a few years ago. Personally, I was surprised to see the outrage against banks that made loans too freely. When I was a kid, or when I watch old Western movies, it's the bank manager that WON'T make a loan (to the poor old widow, for example) who's the bad guy. Nowadays it's just the opposite.

When I started working for Valley Bank, in 1989, they were on the verge of bankruptcy. People who understood the situation better than me were genuinely concerned, not just for their jobs, but for the city of Phoenix, and all of Arizona. I still remember someone explaining it simply to me by saying, "If Valley Bank goes out of business, we'll all have to leave Arizona, and the last one turns out the light". Luckily, VNB was bought by Bank One, which in turn became JP Morgan Chase, which is a very solid bank, headquartered in Manhattan. And they continue to finance the frontier.

Image at the top of this post: 1902 ad for the Valley Bank of Phoenix.

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How Phoenix, Arizona was destroyed by cars

To me, Phoenix has always been a city designed around cars. I live in the suburbs, and I remember that the most important thing to me when I bought my house was the garage. I love cars, and I've owned a lot of them. I've always had the "cowboy" mentality, of never walking when I could ride. So it wasn't until I started learning about old-time Phoenix that I realized that it had been destroyed by cars.

Like most people in Phoenix, I had no idea that Phoenix was an old as it is. I figured that it had pretty much started when the oldest malls were built, like back in the '50s. Or that maybe it was as old as the '20s, because of the old buildings that I used to see downtown. Actually, Phoenix goes back to 1870.

Time-travel with me to a Phoenix before automobiles. I'm making the distinction there, because there were cars, it's just that they were Street Cars. It's 1905, and we can go anywhere that we need to without the need for anything but our feet and the Street Cars.

The car lines (or trolley tracks if you prefer) were laid out beginning in the 1880s. Mostly they ran east and west along Washington, but you could also take the Indian School Car Line up 3rd Street, to the Indian School, on Indian School Road. You know, way out in the country. The cars also ran to East Lake Park, where there were things to do, which included a Natatorium (indoor swimming pool).

The cars (remember that I'm referring to Street Cars here) ran just about all of the time. There was no need to consult a schedule. But we really don't need the Street Cars, everything we need is right here within walking distance. And we have something that's almost unheard of in the 21st Century, free delivery. It worked like this: we walk into a store, choose what we want, and it's delivered to us. We don't carry stuff around, we just walk home, or take the Street Car back. The deliveries are done either with horses and wagons, or on bicycles, or on those newfangled things called "motorcycles".

The first car in Phoenix. You're looking east on Washington at 2nd Avenue.

Look! There's Dr. Swetman, with his horseless carriage! Let's go look at it, maybe he'll give us a ride. Can you image how wonderful it will be like when everyone has their own horseless carriage? No more walking, no more muddy streets, no more Street Cars.

Image at the top of this post: Looking west on Washington from just east of 1st Street in 1905, Phoenix, Arizona. The automobiles will change everything in just a few years.

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Exploring Block 77 in 1893 on a Sanborn map

Something that I recently discovered which helps me a lot of with my exploration of old-time Phoenix is Sanborn maps. They have wonderful detail, but they can be kind of confusing to figure out. Since I'm exploring Block 77, come along with me and let's see what we can see on this.

By the way, these maps were created as part of a way for insurance companies to pay for fire damage. The idea was to carefully diagram what was exactly where before a fire so that the damage payment could be paid out correctly. Of course, nowadays, they're just really cool detailed descriptions of the buildings, which is fun for time-travelers like me.

We're in 1893 Phoenix on Block 77, and to get yourself oriented, this block is where the western half of CityScape is now. At the top, where it says "Porter Building" is Washington, to the left is 1st Avenue, to the right is Central Avenue, and at the bottom, where it says "Undertaker" is Jefferson.

Back in 1893, the alley there where you see "77" was called Wall Street. It was never an official name, but that's what people called it because of the banks that lined it. Phoenix had a lot of "unofficial" streets like that, which eventually just became alleys, or are completely gone nowadays. As you can see, along Wall Street there were a lot of businesses. Other unofficial streets in Phoenix included Cactus Way, and Melinda's Alley.

The bank there on the corner of Washington and Wall was Valley Bank, the same bank that was around in Arizona until 1992, when it became Bank One, and is now Chase Bank. The Porter Building became the Hotel Denver, and was there until this whole block was demolished in 1974 and replaced with Patriot's Square Park in 1976. CityScape has been there since 2010.

OK, let's snoop around. The building that says "Undertaker" there on the southeast corner of Central and Jefferson became Roy's, which was a Hotel Supply Company starting in 1939. The dot-dot-dot with yellow on it, by the way, are overhangs over the sidewalk. I'm no expert of Sanborn maps, so if you are, please comment and explain some stuff that catches your eye!

The original Patton Opera House was there, just south of the Porter Building, and it looks like there was an east-west alley, and in 1893 there were businesses on the north side of it, but not much on the south.

Jumping to the 1st Avenue side, I see a Liquor Warehouse, but I'm not exactly sure what Corr Iron Sides means. There's a Blacksmith & Wagon Shop south of the Liquor Warehouse. Up on the the Washington and 1st Avenue corner, I see a tailor, and a meat shop. Not sure what Sal. means? Looks like a Jewelry Store, a Harness Shop, an Insurance Office, and another Warehouse for Liquors. Then we're back on Wall Street, where the banks are. Walking along Washington, I see a Grocery Store, and apparently the wall was Lath & Plastered. There's a Watch Maker, a Bakery, and a Meat Shop in the Porter Building. Walking south on Central, in the Opera House there's a Gally (not sure what that is?), a Drug Store, Stage and Scenery, and the Keely Institute (gotta find out more about that!). The walking along the alley (don't have a name for that alley) there's a Grocery Warehouse.

Walking south again on Central, I see a Dyeing and Cleaning place, a place to get Paints and Wall Paper, then in what I'm now calling the Roy's Building, the "Maricopa" Club Rooms, and the Undertaker. The southwest corner of Block 77 looks pretty empty, so I'll cut across over to the Liquor Warehouse, maybe they'll give me a free sample of some whiskey!

Thanks for walking around Block 77 in 1893 with me!

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How to be comfortable living in Phoenix, Arizona

If you've recently moved to Phoenix, Arizona, it may be a bit uncomfortable. Of course, the first thing you'll need to do is to make sure that you have good air conditioning, especially in your car. It gets insanely hot in Phoenix! But being comfortable living somewhere runs deeper than that. I see people who never seem to get comfortable in Phoenix, and I think that I can help.

I moved to Phoenix from Minneapolis, Minnesota, when I was 19. Aside from the first lesson (getting decent air conditioning), I tried to get comfortable with the Phoenix culture. And, by the way, if you've never lived anywhere except Phoenix, you really don't see a culture, it's just the way things are done. But to a midwestern boy on his own, it was all very different, and strange, and wonderful.

The first thing that I did was to eat some Mexican food. I had friends who took me to La Cucaracha, which was on 7th Street and Indian School. I know that I liked it right away, and I recall my friends laughing at me as I reached over and grabbed the nearest water I could find, even though my food wasn't all that spicy (for them!).

And that leads me into something that may make some people uncomfortable, that is, understanding a bit of the hispanic culture. One of the friends that I made at ASU had been born in Mexico, and I hung around with him a lot. I met his family, I visited his neighborhood. I had learned a little Spanish in High School, and I tried to use a bit of it, and I practice. I remember how delighted his dad was that I could talk to him in Spanish.

When I moved to California, I continued to seek out people who were locals. I wasn't ashamed of being from Minnesota, but I really didn't want to be one of those people who swam in the ocean in the winter (we California locals just called them all "Canadians").

Of course, what has happened to me over the years is that I am neither a real local in Phoenix, or Los Angeles, nor am I a true Minnesotan anymore. When I've visited Minneapolis to see old friends, I often felt as if I should have been wearing a serape, or a sombrero. I haven't been back there in years, but I wonder if you can now get any decent Mexican food there?

I became comfortable living in Phoenix, as I made it my own. I never suffered from homesickness, because Phoenix is my home, and hopefully always will be.

Image at the top of this post: Looking north over downtown Phoenix in the 1970s.

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Discovering Wall Street in Territorial Phoenix, Block 77

If you've spent much time exploring Territorial Phoenix, that is, between 1870 and 1912, you probably already know about streets that weren't on any maps, but people knew about anyway, such as Melinda's Alley, or Cactus Way. But you may not have noticed Wall Street. It was in Block 77, the original business district of Phoenix. It's where the west half of CityScape is now, and where Patriot's Square Park was from 1976 to 2009.

Wall Street ran north and south between Central Avenue and 1st Avenue from Washington to Jefferson in what was originally called Block 77. By the way, Phoenix was divided into 98 blocks when it was first laid out, which went from Van Buren to Jackson, and from 7th Avenue to 7th Street.

Phoenix Block Map from 1881

The names of the streets in Phoenix originally were Presidents (east-west streets) and Indian Tribes (north-south streets). They were, of course, just marks in the dirt, and the little adobe buildings that were originally built must have looked pretty tiny compared to the skyscrapers of today's Phoenix. And it was the gigantic scale of these streets, and blocks, that made people come up with ways to describe spaces in between. And one of those places was Wall Street.

In Territorial Phoenix, there really wasn't much need to use addresses. Territorial Phoenix was small enough that you could pretty much see the whole town from the tower of the Court House, which had a clock on it, by the way, which just about everyone could easily see, to know what time it was. Locations were described by who owned what area of a block, for example the Irvine Block, or the Porter Block. And the big buildings that were built there were referred to in the same way, as the Irvine Building, or the Porter Building.

Wall Street is where the banks, and financial institutions, were. And if you know your Phoenix history, you know that it was all about the gold being found in Wickenburg. Phoenix flourished, like San Francisco did, because of gold. For the City by the Bay, it was because of the 49ers, for Phoenix, it was the Vulture Mine. And Phoenix became a place to store the money (banks) and spend the money (merchants). And of course, Real Estate!

As you can imagine, there were a LOT of places in Phoenix that were happy to handle money. The biggest ones were: Valley Bank, the National Bank of Arizona (1st National Bank), and the National Bank of Phoenix. Impressive names for tiny little places in a dusty little desert town. There were Real Estate Offices, which also did similar functions as banks, such as lending money. And they were originally all on Block 77, along an alley between Washington and Jefferson between 1st Avenue and Central. And whether it was rustic humor or not, that alley was referred to as Wall Street.

Three friends standing on the northeast corner of Washington and 1st Avenue, Phoenix, Arizona. They're in front of Wakelin's, in the Monihon Building. Right behind the man's head is the Valley Bank building, which was on Wall Street. You're looking southeast.

Image at the top of this post: 1895 ad for George Perkins. Note the address, which was Wall and Washington Streets. Sounded better than "along the alley".

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Why the Street Cars went away in the 1940s in Phoenix and Los Angeles

Like most people my age, I've never been on a Street Car. To me they're only things that my parents' generation remembers, or something I've seen in movies. And my interest in them was sparked by a movie in the 1980s called "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", which was about a conspiracy to buy up all of the Red Cars, tear up the tracks, and replace them with something called a "freeway". Of course, it was just a movie, but I started doing some research on the Street Cars of Los Angeles, and sure enough, they just suddenly disappeared in the 1940s, just like in Phoenix.

Of course it makes a great conspiracy story, and the reality is, sadly, much more more dull. I'm fascinated with learning the real story, so here it is: the Street Cars got old and rickety, were expensive to repair, were unreliable and uncomfortable, and people just stopped using them not long after gasoline-powered automobiles, and buses, became common. In fact, if you can imagine the luxurious feel of being in a modern bus in the 1930s and '40s, you probably would never want to ever get back in an old rickety Street Car. Oh yeah, and nobody wanted to pay more than a nickel, so the Street Car fare prices were held back, even though prices were going up for everything else.

The last Street Car in Phoenix did its last run in 1948. And Street Cars only lasted that long because of the gasoline and tire shortages during World War II. After the war ended, the new technology of comfortable buses really took off. And if you're not familiar with how awesome buses were in the 1940s, you need to take a look at them. They must have been a revelation.

Bus at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in the 1940

Conspiracy stories make for good conversation, and great plots for cartoon movies, but that's about it. Phoenix and Los Angeles both inherited the trolley systems that had been built by the Real Estate Developers starting back in the 1800s. I'm sure that when the Street Cars were new, back when having a horse was the most common form of transportation, they were wonderful. Fifty year later, those old Street Cars must have been pretty rough, and the new buses must have felt like heaven.

Thanks for history adventuring with me!

Image at the top of this post: Street Cars in Phoenix in 1945. You're looking north on 1st Avenue towards Jefferson.

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How to explore Phoenix, Arizona using the Light Rail, and why

If you live in Phoenix, Arizona and haven't been on the Light Rail, well, you should. I had to go downtown last month and sit around for two days before being dismissed from Jury Duty and I decided to take the opportunity to use the Light Rail. And it's wonderful.

Now waitaminute, I'm not promoting Light Rail for commuting, although I'm sure it's fine for that, and many people use it that way. I'm talking about adventuring on the Light Rail, and seeing Phoenix.

If you're a middle-aged guy like me (which I guess is what I'm going to call myself until I'm 100), you probably don't even think about using the Light Rail. I have a perfectly good car in my garage, and all I gotta do is walk into my garage and drive anywhere I want to go without having to do anything but hold onto the steering wheel.

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And I've done a lot of holding onto steering wheels. When I worked downtown in the '90s, I drove back and forth every day from suburban Glendale. Sometimes I tried Grand, sometimes I took 7th Street. Either way I went I spent a lot of time staring at taillights, and traffic lights. I then drove into a parking garage, and went to work. Then I did it again, and again, and again, year after year, because that's what you do.

A few years ago, after hurting my ankle, I got spoiled. I asked people to drive for me, and I started doing a lot of sight-seeing. When I visit friends in California, the shuttle picks me up, and someone else drives. I also let someone else fly the plane, so I can look out the window and drink coffee. I appreciate the nice people who hold onto steering wheels and watch taillights and traffic lights so that I can sight-see.

If you're not into sight-seeing, riding on the Light Rail will just be boring. There's no steering wheel to hold onto, no tail lights to see, no stop lights. But if you like to see stuff, it's wonderful. And the best part is that, although it doesn't stop as often as the bus, it does stop at the Light Rail Stations, and you can get on and off as much as you want (using a 1-day pass).

Electric trolley car in 1905, 1st Street and Washington, Phoenix, Arizona.

When I'm adventuring, I keep in mind that most people aren't. Most people are just trying to get somewhere so that they can get back to where they started. For most people transportation is like being in an elevator. I'm sad for these people, but I understand that it's the norm. When I first starting flying for business, in my twenties, I remember how exciting it was to be thousands of feet up in the air, and I always got a window seat. Most people in the plane just sat there, read a magazine, or watched the in-flight movie. I would be looking at the ocean, or the mountains, and marvel at it. Yeah, I'm weird.

So there you go. I know that the nice people at Valley Metro didn't build the Light Rail just to entertain me, but that's how I see it, and that's how I'm going to use it. If I could, I would travel back in time and ride the trolley cars in Territorial Phoenix, but since I can't, I'll use the Light Rail and a bit of imagination. If you see someone with a gimpy ankle and a big smile on his face, it's me.

Life is an adventure! Thanks for riding along with me.

Beginning exploring Block 77, Phoenix, Arizona

I'm always exploring, and recently I started poking around Block 77 in Phoenix. It was the original business district, and its where the western block of CityScape is now, and where Patriot's Square Park was from 1976 to 2009. Block 77 is between Washington and Jefferson and Central and 1st Avenue.

If you're wondering why I'm calling it Block 77, it's because the original platting of Phoenix in 1870 was divided up by Blocks. The original town was laid out by William Hancock, the County Surveyor, who walked from the northeastern edge (what is now 7th Street and Van Buren) and counted off blocks to be sold to create the city.

When he got to Central Avenue (what was originally called Centre), he turned south and walked back to the eastern edge of town again. Then, as you see in the map from 1881, he kept going, and created what seems like strange zig-zag numbering system, until you realize that he was walking, and he stopped in what would be the center of town each time. By the way, as you've probably already guessed, Phoenix kept the naming of the east-west streets (which were Presidents), but it abandoned the names of Indian tribes for the north-south streets, and went with numbers, using Avenues on the west side of Central, and Streets on the east side.

So the two blocks that are now CityScape, as you can see, are Blocks 77 and 22, and that's why they're right next to each other.

The Business District of Phoenix in 1915. You're looking north from Jefferson up Central. The building in the foreground became Roy's. Block 77.

My fascination with Block 77 started very recently, when I found that there are very few photos of it. I collect old photos of Phoenix, and I have a LOT of photos of Central and Washington. But the vast majority of those photos are looking north, northeast, or southeast. Very few are looking southwest, at Block 77. So naturally I was curious. And it's the same with photos of Jefferson and Central - most of them look northeast, very few look northwest, like the photo in the old postcard there, which is rare. Phoenix didn't like to look at Block 77, or show it off, and I think that I know why.

From what I'm learning, Block 77 wasn't exactly the kind of place that your average shopper, or tourist, went to. If you're familiar with an area called "The Deuce", which was centered over by Madison and 2nd Street, you know that it was an area that became filled with crime, beginning with Prohibition in the 1920s. And while Block 77 isn't in the same area as what is traditionally called "The Deuce", it looks like it had the same type of situation.

Block 77 just before its demolition in 1974. You're looking northwest at Roy's, on the northwest corner of Central and Jefferson. That's the First National Bank Building back there, which is now Wells Fargo. 

This is what I know so far about Block 77 - that the buildings there were mostly built in Territorial times, and that, unlike the rest of downtown Phoenix, it stagnated. New buildings, and businesses, were popping up all over downtown Phoenix in the 1920s and '30s, but not on Block 77. It was not an attractive area for investment. At least not the kind of investment that banks make, if you know what I mean.

Looking southeast over Block 77 in the 1970s, after the completion of Patriot's Square Park. This is the intersection of Washington and 1st Avenue.

I personally have no memories of Block 77, it was gone by the time I got to Phoenix, and in the place of that block the city had built a park. That park I remember well, as I used to wander around downtown Phoenix when I worked there in the '90s. From the people that I've talked to about the area, the park was an improvement, in spite of the fact that most of the time it was just a place for homeless people to hang out (they were moved out during special events, but they came back to the park).

I will continue to explore Block 77, and I'll let you know what I find. It may not be pleasant, but that's OK with me. I don't need my history to be all squeaky-clean, I'm a grownup, and I understand that everything isn't going to be that way. Looks like Block 77 began as a business district, and became a place of pawn shops and places much less respectable.

Thank you for exploring with me.

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Discovering Hattie Mosher, Phoenix, Arizona

If you're interested in Phoenix history, you know about Hattie Mosher. If you're just getting started, you'll meet her. You can't miss her. You can Google information about her, but like most stuff on the internet, there's just too much, so I'll try to explain her briefly here.

The Lount Ice Plant in 1905, Phoenix Arizona. This is where Hattie's fortune came from. Sam Lount was her dad.

The first thing that you need to know about her is that she lived in Phoenix and inherited a lot of wealth from her father. I won't do the "equivalent to today's dollars", but it was a ton of bucks. Her dad sold ice in Territorial Phoenix, so you can imagine that he made a LOT of money. So she inherited a ridiculous amount of money, and land, too.

The land she inherited included several square blocks of what is now downtown Phoenix, from Central to 2nd Street, and from Taylor to Van Buren. Her house was there, right in the middle of where the ASU Law Building is now, between Taylor and Polk, between 1st and 2nd Streets.

Looking northeast towards Camelback Mountain in the 1940s, Phoenix, Arizona. Hattie's house is right in the middle of the mostly empty lot.

I'd like to start with the end of her life, which was tragic. It's sad for anyone to die in poverty, and that's what happened to Hattie. She died of malnutrition at age 82, after having squandered all of her money. She wandered the streets of Phoenix.

My neighbor, +Carole Lowe Beath remembers seeing Hattie back in the early forties. Hattie would walk around downtown Phoenix, and apparently was a scary sight for a little girl to see. Carole remembers vividly that Hattie always wore an old-fashioned dress, and bright red lipstick.

Hattie had a lot of money, but she didn't like to pay taxes. She didn't think the streets should be paved, for example. She fought City Hall for years, and eventually City Hall won, and started paying off her property to pay for back taxes. By the time Hattie died, her fortune was gone.

"Mosher's Folly" in the 1930s, Central Avenue and Taylor, Phoenix, Arizona

If you remember back to the 1940s, you may remember a building that was always "under construction" at Central Avenue and Taylor. It was to be a hotel, but it was never finished, and people in Phoenix called it "Mosher's Folly". And if you remember the old Ramada Inn in the 1970s, you may remember that the restaurant and bar there was called "Hattie Mosher's", which was a smile and a wink to the fact that it sat on the property where Hattie's house had been.

The Ramada Inn in the 1970s, 1st Avenue and Polk. Note the name of the bar, which was Hattie Mosher's.

Image at the top of this post: Hattie Mosher and her bicycle. She was one of the first women in Phoenix to ride a bicycle in public, and it was scandalous. Note that women's bicycles were designed without a crossbar, to allow women to ride while wearing a dress. Girls' bikes are still designed that way.

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Historic photos and finding what's relevant to you

I collect old photos of Phoenix and Los Angeles. I started when I lived in Hollywood in my mid-twenties, and got the "L.A. Hee-Bee-Gee-Bees", which was caused by the fact that it was all too big, too crowded, and too overwhelming for me. And while I was at the library up in Beachwood Canyon, I saw a photo of Hollywood in the 1920s, when it wasn't quite so crowded. And I found the greatest medicine that I've ever had - the calming effect of what I now call "history adventuring".

Hollywood, California in the 1920s

But since I collect old photos, it confuses a lot of people into thinking that I just like old photos. I don't. If you show me a bunch of photos of, for example, Seattle in the 1940s, I have no interest, sorry. Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure that the photos are great, but I've never been there. And for me, they have no relevance. When I saw that photo of Hollywood there on the wall of the library, I was right there. I could see the Hollywood sign, I could see the hills.

I didn't grow up in Los Angeles, or Phoenix, but they're the places that I consider home. I care about these places, and I really can't get enough of seeing them. I like seeing them IRL (In Real Life), I like looking at photos, both old and new. I'm not "studying history" like I was forced to do back in school, I'm just enjoying.

If all of this stuff is new to you, then I recommend that you find what's relevant to you. It could be a neighborhood where you once lived, or place that you know. And if you find a photo of what it looked like when you were a kid, you will feel that delicious feeling of memory. That's a good place to start. And then the next step is to wonder what it looked like to your parents, or if your family goes way back in Arizona, what it looked like to your grandparents, or great-great parents. If you're like me, with no real roots in Phoenix (I moved there was I was 19), you may want to do what I do, just wonder what it was like before it was all covered over with concrete, before the freeways were built.

I'm an old teacher, and I know how pointless it is to try to get people excited about something that has no personal relevance to them. Learning about useless stuff is pretty much the definition of school for most people. So I would look for what I called a "reference point", which is how the information would be relevant to a student, how they could get a handle on it, how they would start.

So start with what's important to you, and take a look. As you learn more, more will become important to you, and at a certain point you'll wonder why other people aren't seeing what you're seeing?

Image at the top of this post: Downtown Phoenix in the 1940s. I worked in Bank One Center (now Chase Tower) in the '90s, and it looked at the two buildings on the left, the Professional Building and the Security Building, which are still there. I wondered what Phoenix was like back then?

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Seeing Phoenix, Arizona for the first time

I remember the first time I saw Phoenix. I was 19 years old and had driven there from Minneapolis, Minnesota in August.

I really had no idea what to expect. I had a vague idea that it might have sand dunes, and look like the Sahara Desert, or it might have look like some old Western town from the movies. It really didn't matter to me - it was an adventure, I was far from home, and whatever it was, it was going to be exciting, and exotic. I had grown up in a world of snow and pine trees, and I know what I wanted to see - a palm tree.

The first exit I took was Cactus Road. Just the thought of seeing a cactus growing outside was amazing, and apparently there was a road with the name "cactus"! I was stunned. I drove a bit, pulled over somewhere, got out of my car, walked up to a palm tree, and touched it with my hand. I can still feel that feeling. It was a feeling of awe, and amazement.

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Of course, if you've always lived in a place, you really can't see it that way. A road named "Cactus" and palm trees are just commonplace things. I often talk to my friends who grew up in Phoenix about that feeling and they just smile and nod. To them, the fact that it never snows in Phoenix, or that there are lizards on the walls is just the way it is, nothing to be amazed at.

After all of these years my amazement of Phoenix never ceases. Every winter I remember how strange it felt to be warm, and for there to be no snow. I still watch a lot of sunsets. When I lived in my little "shack" while going to ASU, I would always go out at sunset and watch the sun go down. I would just stand there, and see colors painted in the sky that I had never seen before.

If you want to see Phoenix the way I do, even if you've lived there all of your life, try seeing it through the eyes of people like me. Hang around with some people who are visiting, or with people who have just moved there. Yes, there will be conversations with complaints, about how tricky it is to use the freeways, or how things are so different from somewhere else. But let the conversation drift in another direction, and you may be surprised at how exciting and beautiful Phoenix, and Arizona, is. I guarantee that you'll see it for the first time, and it will be astonishing.

Image at the top of this post: An apartment complex named called "Saguaro". I just loved that! And the photo was taken in the dead of winter. Can you imagine?!

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A Californian in Phoenix

I was talking with a friend of mine who grew up in Phoenix, and has always lived there, yesterday outside on a patio of a restaurant, and as usual I was reminded of weird I am. I'm a Californian in Phoenix.

Oddly enough though, I didn't live very long in California, but it has strongly influenced me. I moved there was I was 25, after I graduated from ASU, and returned to Phoenix when I was 31. And I grew up in Minneapolis, so you would think that I would be more Phoenician, or Minneapolitan?

Of course, I don't notice my weirdness until I'm around normal people, like my friend. And one of the weirdest things that I do is to sit outside on patios. In Phoenix this really makes no sense. The buildings in Phoenix are comfortable and air conditioned. And while it isn't blazing hot all year long in Phoenix, it is most of the time. And I don't mean pleasantly warm, I mean "fry an egg on the sidewalk" hot. And of course in Minneapolis it's the same, except at the other extreme end of the temperature scale (unless it's summer and humid with mosquitos). And so in a very short span of time I became addicted to sitting outside, in the beautiful weather of Southern California, especially Santa Barbara.

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If you've always lived in Phoenix, I understand that you go from an air conditioned car to an air conditioned building, unless you're one of the people who has to work outside (how do you DO that?!). And so sitting outside, on a restaurant patio, has got to be the weirdest behavior imaginable. And it gets worse.

Outside patios in Phoenix are smoking areas. I'm a non-smoker myself, so when I see people outside, aside from trying to stay away from the smoke, I sympathize. Many years ago these people were allowed to smoke indoors. Now they have to go outside. I see a lot of these people, and most of them look as if they're waiting for the firing squad. Again, I sympathize. But they must look at me and wonder why I'm outside since I'm not smoking? Sometimes people ask me, as if to say, "Why are you outside?"

I sat on a patio yesterday in Phoenix (it's February) and it was glorious. When I lived in California I spent as much time outdoors as I could. I fell in love with the feeling of an ocean breeze, which I can still kinda feel in Phoenix (I have a good imagination!). I will sit outside when it's too cold, wearing a sweatshirt, I will sit outside when it's too hot, huddled in the shade (well, not in August in Phoenix!).

Luckily, my Phoenix friends humor me. If I try to explain, it seems to just make less sense. I like sitting outside. I'm a Californian in Phoenix.

Image at the top of this post: Selfie at Encanto Park, 11th Avenue and Encanto Boulevard, Phoenix, Arizona. South of Thomas Road.

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Preparing for a day of history adventuring in Phoenix, Arizona

Today I will be going history adventuring IRL (In Real Life) in Phoenix. Of course, I'm history adventuring all of the time in cyberspace, looking at old photos of Phoenix, maps, that sort of thing, but every once in a while I get out there in the real world.

If you'd like to do this, I encourage you. It's great fun, and it's an inexpensive form of entertainment. Of course most people will have no idea what you're doing, so it's not a bad idea to tell your friends that you're going to a restaurant with friends. Most people do that as the main focus of going anywhere except work and errands, and so it makes sense. Saying something like "I'm going to see the KPHO radio building on Buckeye Road and 23rd Avenue" will probably get blank stares from people. But then if you say, "And then I'll be going to Blah Blah Blah Restaurant", they will relax, and be fine with it.

But I know that you understand, so I'll tell you what the plan is today. I will be going to see the building there at the top of this post (the photo is from the 1940s). It was the original building for KPHO radio. I'll probably take a photo of it and do a "then and now" photo. But mostly I want to see it, and to feel what I would have been like to be there in the 1940s. There's nothing else I want to do. I have no other agenda other than going there. I take only photographs and leave only footprints. If you're a wilderness hiker, you know what I mean.

Of course, being there on the westside, there's so much else to see. A couple of weeks ago, as I was waiting to be dismissed for jury duty in downtown Phoenix in the Superior Court Building, I spent a lot of time looking out of the window (we waiting in the hallway for hours). And since the view was looking west, I could see the silos of Feeders Grain, which is along the railroad tracks just west of I-17. And I want to see that today also. And when I see it, I time-travel to a time when you could have seen it for miles and miles. Nowadays, of course, you gotta go look for it. And I have a LOT of fun doing that!

When I'm history adventuring, I know that I have to stop and eat, but I try to keep the time spent to a minimum. I pack a lunch, do a quick "pit stop", and then back to adventuring. There's so much to see!

Thank you for history adventuring with me!

Image at the top of this post: The KPHO radio building in the 1940s, 2333 W. Buckeye Road, Phoenix, Arizona. As of this writing, it's still there.

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Riding the Light Rail to downtown Phoenix from Glendale Community College, connecting with the bus

Although I'm looking forward to the Light Rail being extended out to Glendale, as of this writing, the end of the line is at 19th Avenue and Dunlap. I've been following the story, and the plans are to build it to Metrocenter, which is only about a mile away from there, but it will take some serious engineering (I'm looking forward to seeing the bridge over the freeway, which is supposed to be about half mile north of Dunlap!). Then hopefully it will proceed on Dunlap, which becomes Olive, to Glendale Community College, which is near where I live. Well, we'll see. But even if they do, it's gonna take a while, so in the meantime you have to make the connection with a bus.

The distance from GCC to what I'm calling "the end of the line" (19th Avenue and Dunlap) is about six miles, and the Dunlap bus is 90. A city bus, of course, stops quite often, so it takes a while to cover the distance. When you get on the Light Rail, however, everything changes. The Light Rail moves! It doesn't have to stop for traffic, it doesn't have to stop for lights, it only stops at the Light Rail stops. And in between, it flies! So sit down and hang on.

Valley Metro One-Day Pass. It's good on the Light Rail, also. All day.

Now waitaminute, before you wander out to the bus stop, go to Walgreens or Circle K and buy a One Day Bus Pass. That will get you on the bus, and on the Light Rail round trip. As of this writing it's four bucks and I defy you to try to get from Glendale to downtown Phoenix and back for four dollars. And you don't have to fumble for change or try to get dollar bills into a slot while other people are waiting. Get an All Day Pass. I bought four of them today at Walgreens. They have a picture of a cactus on them.

When you get on the bus, and insert the bus pass, it's activated. From that point on you can only use it for that day. And you don't need to do anything when you get on the Light Rail but have it in your pocket. There isn't an old-fashioned conductor going around shouting "tickets", but it's the same idea, and they spot check. And if you don't have a pass, there are Police Officers who will politely ask you to get off the train, and quite possibly make you have to do other unpleasant stuff, like paying a fine, and being barred from ever using the train again. So be sure you have the pass. Put it in your pocket so that you can show it if asked, although you probably won't be.

You can get off at any Light Rail stop, and get back on all day long. When you're ready to go home from downtown, just get back on the Light Rail, this time going the other way (Washington goes to the end of the line, Jefferson goes to Mesa). Then walk across Dunlap and the 90 bus takes you back to GCC.

Why public buildings were so magnificent in the 1920s and '30s, and so awful in the 1990s

If you look at the civic architecture of the 1920s and 1930s, that is, public buildings, in places like Phoenix Arizona, you'll see some spectacular, and often showy, design. And if you look at public buildings in the 1990s, you'll see that they look awful. It's not your imagination, and it's not a conspiracy, man. It has to do with changing attitudes, the difference between "boosting" a city, and showing careful spending of tax money.

"Boosting a city", which is an old-fashioned phrase, meant doing the kinds of things that would impress people who visited your city. That meant having impressive public buildings, including fire stations, libraries, that sort of thing. The idea was to show that your city was a good place to live, and maybe to start a business. It has everything to do with the Chamber of Commerce showing what a wonderful place the city is to invest in.

Obviously, Phoenix was successful. After World War II, the growth was explosive. The biggest problem Phoenix faced was getting enough houses built, and making sure that the traffic could move. Phoenix went from "boosting" to just trying to keep up with the huge numbers of people who were flooding in. There was no reason to try to attract people with showy buildings, the emphasis was on infrastructure  - roads, schools, flood control, that sort of thing.

Of course, with the increased population, more public buildings had to be built, such as court houses, fire stations, that sort of thing. And the emphasis changed from being showy to being functional. Showy architecture became something that people in a city were suspicious of - why would a building that was paid for with tax dollars have to be so fancy? And that attitude changed the look of public buildings.

No, I won't post any examples here. But the next time you look at a public building built in the '90s, you will see serious efforts to make it look like it was built as economically as possible. The idea was to build something that was functional without getting complaints that tax money was being wasted.

Of course, design is always about backlash, and attempts were made to put a little bit of "personality" into what could have been bland buildings, often with disastrous results. Again, I won't point out which buildings, but if you live in Phoenix, you probably know which ones I mean.

Image at the top of this post: Court House and City Hall in 1930, now Historic City Hall, southwest corner of 1st Avenue and Washington, Phoenix, Arizona.

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Leaving California for Arizona - howdy, stranger

One of the things that I liked about Phoenix is that I never got the sense that the locals resented newcomers. Sure, there were the frustrated comments about how slow "Snowbirds" drove when they visited Phoenix, but nothing like the sheer hatred of people who were moving into California. And I guess I can understand. Phoenix may have gotten bigger in the 20th Century, but it never got as crowded as places like Los Angeles.

When I left LA, to move back to Phoenix in 1989, I know that I made a lot of Californians happy. I remember the bumper stickers that said, "Save California, when you leave, take someone with you." Of course, I only did half of that request, but it was the best I could do. I never knew the Los Angeles of the before the 1980s, the Los Angeles of the Beach Boys, I only knew the Los Angeles of standing in line for everything. If people asked me if I was going back to Cali, I'd say, "I don't think so".

Like I say, I can understand the frustration of the locals. One day they would have a private place on the beach to hang out, and surf, and the next day they couldn't even see the beach for the crowding. Attempts to make areas "locals only" failed, in spite of every effort on the part of locals to harass the newcomers, and ultimately California became a place of walls, and gates. Places became protected areas, patrolled by private security.

I hadn't planned on moving back to Phoenix. I just went back to see some old friends. I was "between jobs" and I felt like I deserved a break. And I still remember with shock what I saw: space. There was room to breathe, room to park your car. You could drive right up to a gas station and buy gas without having to jockey around lots of other cars trying to do the same. You could walk right into a restaurant, sit down and be eating just about right away. There were no lines.

I remember taking a walk around a Phoenix neighborhood that looked very similar to the one I lived in in Los Angeles. Except that the streets weren't lined with parked cars, every house didn't have a sign that said "Armed Response". And whether it was actually true or not, I felt welcomed. Every face I saw looked beautiful, everyone looked happy. I still feel that way about Phoenix.

Arizona has historically been a welcoming place. Back in the days of "the Old West", it was a place where people went to in order to start their life over, maybe after a bad start. Yes, it's true that you never asked a man's name in Arizona, you waited for him to share it, if he chose to. If he didn't, that was his business, and the proper response was, "Howdy, stranger."

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Being a kid in Phoenix, Arizona

I didn't grow up in Phoenix. I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and by the time I got to Phoenix I was 19. And that meant that I already had a car, and was pretty much a "grown-up". And while I love Phoenix, and will always stay there, I've often wondered how in the world kids could grow up there. When I ask people who did, they just shrug their shoulders and say, "We were kids." And I guess that says it all. Kids do what they gotta do.

If you grew up back east, like I did, you know that summer is a wonderful time to be a kid. If you've never been in the "City of Lakes" (Minneapolis) in the summer, I strongly recommend that you go visit. In spite of the fact that it gets humid, and there are mosquitos, the summers in Minneapolis are glorious. As a kid I rode my bike along Minnehaha Parkway, and then around all of the lakes (you're always near a lake in my old neighborhood). I spent the summers playing tennis and riding my bike - I was indoors as little as possible. Ah, summertime. And then I ask people who grew up in Phoenix what they did during their summer vacation, they don't wish for that summer would never end, like I did. Of course, they played outside, even though it gets to over 100 degrees in Phoenix. Some people tell me that they played in the dark, which seems very strange to me, as by the time the sun went down in the summer, my brothers and I were finished playing outside, and it was time to come in.

Another thing that I've found strange in Phoenix is the lack of basements. When I was a kid, when I went into the house, mostly I would go to the basement. My childhood was separated from adults - who were upstairs, or inside. My friends and I were always outside, or in basements.

There were trees everywhere in my old neighborhood in Minneapolis, and I was always climbing them (monkey boy). I see precious few trees in Phoenix, and besides, who would be climbing a tree when it's 110 degrees?

I have to admit to being kinda jealous of the swimming pools in Phoenix. No one that I knew had a swimming pool in Minneapolis, and I was never a good enough swimmer to swim across the lakes, like a lot of my friends did. I probably would be a better swimmer now if I had grown up in Phoenix. And to be fair to my friends who grew up in Phoenix, they really can't imagine how I walked to school in the snow and cold, or delivered newspapers walking through snowbanks that were nearly as tall as I was. Kids do what they gotta do.

So I ask people who grew up in Phoenix how in the world they did it? And the answer is always the same - "We were kids, and it was wonderful."

Image at the top of this post: 2nd Graders at the Osborn School in 1953, Central Avenue and Osborn, Phoenix, Arizona. Where the Phoenix Financial Center is nowadays.

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