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

The billboards of old-time Phoenix


I really don't remember the billboards of Phoenix. By the time I got to Phoenix, in 1977, they were going away. Before that, from what I've been learning from collecting old photos of Phoenix, they were everywhere, the "pop-up ads" of old-Phoenix.

Of course, there are still billboards in Phoenix, but nothing compared to the amount that covered the valley prior to the 1970s. I'm interested in advertising, and I've studied some history, and apparently there was quite a backlash against how they were making American cities ugly by the 1960s, and there was even the "Highway Beautification Act" of 1965 that included limiting billboards on America's scenic highways. The message was clear: billboards were ugly, and people were tired of seeing them.

The reason that I'm aware of the tremendous number of billboards is because I visit the Duke University Digital Collections site, looking for images of Phoenix. The site is dedicated to advertising, and the advertising in Phoenix which the site has from the early 1960s to the early 1970s is billboards. LOTS of billboards. Of course now it's fun to look back and see them, but it must have been as annoying as an internet pop-up ad to the people at the time. That's how it works, after several years the annoying ads become things that people buy on ebay, and hang in their garage. It's hard to imagine, but those annoying ads that you see while surfing the internet today will probably be displayed in glass cases in the future and shown off to friends to see what life was like way back in the early 21st Century.

My hobby is collecting old photos of Phoenix, so I scour the Duke site and look at the backgrounds. I will usually crop out the billboard, especially if it was advertising liquor, or tobacco. And there were a lot of those! I won't post them here, but if you visit the Duke site, you'll see them.

I definitely have mixed feelings about billboards. I'm a Graphic Designer, so I understand them, and advertising in general. But I like scenic views, and even the most beautifully-designed billboard doesn't exactly enhance a mountain view. So I'm glad that there are a lot less billboards in Phoenix than back in the day. I enjoy seeing them in the past, but nowadays I'd rather see the mountains.

Billboard for A1 Beer on McDowell looking east towards 19th Street in the 1960s


1960s billboard for Allied Homes


Billboard for Herb Stevens Mercury on top of Barron Drugs in the 1960s, 666 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix, Arizona


Image at the top of this post: Billboard on 19th Avenue and Vogel in 1966, Phoenix, Arizona.

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