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

The Phoenix, Arizona that never was, and why we believe in it


I like collecting old photos of Phoenix, and sharing them on Facebook, and one of the most common things I've always heard has to do with some description of the Phoenix that never was.

As an old Marketing guy, I have a theory about this. It has to do with how information is presented in advertising and promotion. And while I wouldn't go as far as to say that "In Advertising there's no such thing as a lie, only the expedient exaggeration" (Cary Grant said that in "North by Northwest"), I do understand that when we try to reconstruct the past based on only information that has been carefully presented, by the Chamber of Commerce, or advertising agencies, it's easy to imagine that it really was like that. That everything was perfect back then.

Now waitaminute, I don't want to be an "Adam Ruins Everything" kind of person. I'm as happy as the next person with what I call the "West of the Imagination", I don't need to always be correcting everyone, and saying how bad it actually was. My experience is that people who do that make people feel bad, and stupid. I don't want to do that. Also I don't want a punch in the nose!

Railroad Bridge over the Salt River in 1888, Tempe, Arizona. Artistic license is expected!

But no, Phoenix wasn't ever 73 degrees year 'round (not even in the Ice Age). It's a brutally hot desert, and while the maps may say "rivers" and even be colored in in blue, those were never rivers, they were riparian washes. The list goes on and on, and after many years people believe what was never true.

So I collect it all. The stuff that I'm pretty sure is real, and the stuff that I'm pretty sure is an "expedient exaggeration". I figure if I look at all of it, I'll be able to draw my own conclusions. Phoenix goes back way before anyone who is alive today could ever remember (it was platted in 1870), and even my oldest friends, with the sharpest memories, can only do so much. And they're not immune to advertising, and promotion.

Image at the top of this post: Advertisement for Herz-Rent-A-Car in the 1950s at Camelback Inn in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Not to be taken literally.



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