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

The first buildings in Phoenix, made of adobe, melting away for years

The first buildings in Phoenix, Arizona were made out of adobe. That is, the dirt found in the desert (and there's a lot of dirt there!) mixed with water, made into blocks, and stacked on top of each other. They were the buildings that the Hohokam people made, and were the most economical way to build for the early pioneers of Phoenix. When the railroad made it to Phoenix in 1887 (17 years after the town was platted), bricks and other building materials became more economical, and the building of adobe structures was pretty much discontinued. Before the railroad, building materials (other than adobe) had to be brought down from Prescott, or places like that, laboriously with carts and oxen.

Just like today, old buildings were left when they were no longer used. It's a whole lot cheaper to just leave something to fall down on its own than to hire people to do a demolition. And the adobe buildings just melted, anyway.

The photo at the top of this post, from 1890, is typical of what you would have seen around Phoenix right up through the 1930s. That is, a modern brick building not far from an old adobe building. The brick building there, by the way, was the old Churchill Mansion, which became the first High School in Phoenix, at what is now Polk and 5th Streets. You're looking east.

Just like today, memories are short. And as the old adobe buildings melted away, it caused some confusion with the residents of Phoenix, who mostly assumed that they were all "prehistoric" (that is, from the Hohokams). And they must have looked very primitive! Of course, if you were Omar Turney, or some other expert on the Hohokams back then, the difference between the remains of a Hohokam adobe building, or one that was only a few decades old, would have been obvious. It wouldn't have been obvious to me - I would have just seen old adobe buildings!

Photo of the remains of a modern adobe building (built in the 1860s by Jack Swilling) in the 1920s. It was at the original Phoenix settlement, near where 32nd Street and Washington is now.

So, as you would expect, most people living in Phoenix naturally assumed that all of the old adobe buildings were Hohokam. And if you've ever seen what's left of an abandoned adobe building after a few decades, you will understand. There's not much difference between modern buildings and ancient ones. And eventually the adobe blocks just melt back down to just lumps and globs, like you see at Pueblo Grande. Those lumps and globs were all over Phoenix, some built by the Hohokams, some built by people like Jack Swilling.

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