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

How Real Estate Companies built Phoenix, Arizona


Every once in a while I hear about how city planners have screwed up again. They may be building a freeway to nowhere, or they may be building a neighborhood "out in the middle of nowhere". These people apparently have secret meetings where they plan how a city will grow, and they can predict everything, and are either geniuses with their foresight or they are idiots, or are absolutely criminal.

And then at a certain point in my life, I realized that there's really no one like that in charge. There's no group of people who have control of how a city is built. There are, of course, people in places (probably right now) talking about the future of Phoenix, and there are people who are hoping that they can do the right thing for the future, and I'm sure people who are hoping that they can make a lot of money by having things go their way. And not surprisingly, it's the people interested in money that make things happen. Real Estate Companies.

Now waitaminute, calm down here, especially if you work for a Real Estate Company. I know that there are a lot of people who don't understand what you do, and probably think that all you care about is money. Of course you do care about money. Real Estate Companies aren't charities, they invest their time and effort with the hopes of making money. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.

There are a LOT of failed investments in Real Estate in the Phoenix area, and I won't try to list them all (it's kinda depressing). My favorite one, by the way, is the Sun Valley Parkway, which is just west of the White Tank Mountains. If you have time, drive along there and look at the Real Estate signs, most of which are so old and faded that you can barely read them. If you've never even heard of this area, it's not surprising. Failure doesn't get much publicity.

My two favorite Real Estate Companies in Phoenix were owned by Dwight Heard (the Suburban Land Company) and by Moses Sherman (he also built the original trolley lines in Phoenix). These guys wandered out into empty desert, looked at it, imagined that they could make a lot of money if they sold the land divided up for lots, and built houses there. And they did.

Time-travel with me back to the 1890s in Phoenix, and let's walk out into the desert. Just like any empty area of the desert now, there's a lot of dirt there. Maybe a cactus or two, and possibly a tumbleweed rolling by. Now listen to Dwight, or Moses. They see a neighborhood there. Yes, they have dollar-signs in their eyes. Anyone else walking past them would wonder what they were looking at? They imagined a city, and they built it. And they got tremendously rich doing it.

Image at the top of this post: 1949 ad for Dwight B. Heard Investment Company. Founded 1897, Realtor.



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