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

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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