Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

How parking lots changed from beautiful to ugly in Phoenix, Arizona


Parking lots are ugly, and they've been ugly all of my life. It's as if there's nothing that anyone can imagine that's uglier than a parking lot. When I was a kid, there were song lyrics that said, "They paved paradise, and put in a parking lot". And the message was clear: parking lots are ugly. Ugly, ugly, ugly. Even the most perfectly paved and striped parking lot, brand new, is instantly ugly. And now I'm trying to imagine a time when parking lots weren't ugly. It certainly was before my day, I'm stretching my imagination here. So let's try to imagine beautiful parking lots. Time-travel with me.

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In order to see parking lots as beautiful, I suppose you have to see them when their function was brand-new, not long after cars were invented, and Phoenix became crowded with them. Before parking lots, the best you could do would be to hope to find a place to park your car along the edge of a street. And I can't imagine that people in old-time Phoenix were any happier having to drive around looking for a parking spot, and then having to walk a good distance to the building, than they are now.

Park Central Mall in the 1960s, Central Avenue and Earll, Phoenix, Arizona.

I try to imagine what the parking lot at Park Central must have looked like to people when it was new. To me, it's just a parking lot. The classic cars are interesting, of course, but I just can't wrap my head around seeing the parking lot as anything but an eyesore. But they must have been beautiful.

The parking lot at Uptown Plaza in 1955, Camelback Road and Central, Phoenix, Arizona.

I've been a passenger in cars when a parking spot can't be found, and it's not pleasant. Driving back and forth, looking for an empty spot on the street can be infuriating. And so seeing a big empty parking lot at places like Uptown Plaza must have been a thing of beauty.

But that beauty must have faded very quickly. In a longish life I've never met anyone who considers parking lots to be beautiful. I know engineers, and city workers, who can appreciate an excellent job, but I really don't imagine that they'll be hanging up posters of a parking lot anytime soon, the way you see with buildings, and bridges, and other works of engineering, and construction.

Yeah, parking lots are ugly. Way too much of my life has been in parking lots, and I imagine that in the future they will go away as we come up with better ways to transport ourselves, and our things. And those gigantic spaces will become a place that can be repurposed, maybe into gardens, or parks. And parking lots can become beautiful again.

Driving in old-time Phoenix like pushing a shopping cart


Whenever I look at old photos of Phoenix I wonder about the confusion. Vehicles and people seem to be going every which way. To me, they're supposed to stay to the right, right?

Well, yes, and no. In the photo above, of Washington in 1905, one would presume that there was going to be a collision. Some vehicles seem to be going the "wrong way". But don't worry, what we can't see in an old photo like this is how slowly they were going, really not a whole lot faster than a walking pace.

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To help picture this, just imagine pushing a shopping cart in a grocery store. Personally, I try to stay to the right, but if I see something to the left, I go the "wrong way" down the aisle. There's no reason for me to go all of the way to the end of the store, and then turn around so that I get get over. I'm simply not going all that fast. If I did that, I'd probably get strange looks from people, who would see me making U-turn after U-turn. I suppose it's possible to have a collision at 1-2 miles per hour, but I've never seen one. And I figure that it would be more embarrassing than damaging to the cart.

So at a walking pace, this type of driving made perfect sense for old-time Phoenix. As cars got more popular, and faster, it became dangerous, and drivers were told to keep to the right. This was a very difficult thing for people to remember, and was the cause of much confusion as the decades rolled on. Nowadays I rarely see anyone driving down the wrong side of the road, even in my quiet suburban neighborhood, and if someone were to do it on a major street or freeway, it would be deadly.

By the way, a human walks at about 2-3 miles per hour, and the walking pace of a horse is just slightly faster. So no one in that photo was going anything close to 10 miles per hour. And when you drive through a school zone nowadays, you're going 15. Now imagine going way less than half of that. The needle on the speedometer of your car would barely move. And if you did that, you'd be fine in old-time Phoenix, anywhere on the road.

From Los Angeles to Phoenix in three days in 1989


I've driven between Los Angeles and Phoenix more times than I can count. And to me, it's dull, dull, dull. I've tried many ways of trying to make it interesting, listening to audiobooks, you name it. I just hated it, and I'm glad to think that I'll never do it again. There's a nice company called "Southwest Airlines" that gets me back and forth now, and all I have to do is eat peanuts and look out the window.

But a lot of people do the drive. And the most common thing I hear them say is how quickly they did it. Six hours seems to be about average, and I'm pretty sure some of my "speed demon" friends who never stop for anything but gas have done better than that. And that makes me think of my personal record, which was three days in 1989.

I like cars, and driving, but I hated just sitting in a box for hours on end, holding onto a steering wheel. Back when I was a kid I dreamed of adventuring when I got a car, the way I saw people on TV did it. But the reality was just sitting in a box, stopping at a gas station, and then seeing how quickly I could get from one point to another. So I stopped doing that, and instead started adventuring, which I hope to be doing until I'm too old to risk walking outside.

I left the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles on a Friday afternoon, and made it as far as San Bernardino that evening. My girlfriend at the time was working there temporarily, and the company had put her up at a nice hotel. So it was late Saturday morning by the time I got back on the road again.

Driving towards Palm Springs, I decided to actually go see it. The freeway bypasses Palm Springs, so you have to take an exit, and I took the first one I saw. And I saw a sign that said I could take a tram up to the top of the mountain, so I did. I've had a lot of people ask me why I would take a tram up to the top of a mountain, and my only answer is, "Why wouldn't you?", and then of course, it just goes back and forth. I also noodled around Palm Springs for a while. I think I was looking for dress shirts, so I looked for a Ross or a Marshalls. I probably ate at KFC.

Palm Spring is kinda pricey, so I headed east to see if I could find a cheap motel, which I did, in Indio. As I recall, it was VERY cheap (I suppose the word "seedy" springs to mind) and when I woke up there was no hot water in the shower, so I just went and jumped into the pool. I must have had my swimming trunks, or I may have jumped in in my bluejeans. I don't recall. Anyway, it didn't bother me.

I rolled into Phoenix on Sunday, and knocked on the door of a friend that I used to know, to see if I could crash. He and his new wife answered the door, and I was told in no uncertain terms that my behavior was unacceptable, and that I should have called ahead. So I wandered off looking for another friend, which I found, and I crashed there for the night. I don't recall the trip home, so it probably took me less than a day.

And that's my record-breaking trip to Phoenix!

Image at the top of this post: the Mighty Mustang in 1989. All that V-8 power, and it ran great, and it still took me three days to go from Los Angeles to Phoenix.

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Buying a used car from the Phoenix Motor Company in the 1940s


I need a used car, it's the 1940s, and we're in Phoenix. So let's go to the Phoenix Motor Company Used Car lot, which is on the southeast corner of 5th Avenue and Van Buren.

I've been walking past this place for a long time now, and I see a car that I REALLY like. It's the '37 Ford Standard Coupe there, the one right behind the sign post. I wonder if it's a good car? And if I can afford it?

Since I know nothing about cars (except what I like) I'm glad you're along. I've been to your shop and seen the work you do, which is amazing. You must have grease running in your viens! I'll follow your advice - if you like it, I'm going to get it. If it needs some work, it goes to your shop first. If it's a basket case, then I'll go on walking.

1937 Ford Standard Coupe

There it is. Wow, I really like that car. Yeah, I know that you shouldn't let the salesman know that, so I'll try to calm down. I shouldn't have had all that coffee this morning! Luckily I'm carrying a flask, so I'll take a snort, it always relaxes me. It's a good thing this is the 1940s, in the 21st Century I'd go to jail for driving around with a flask of whiskey in my pocket, taking nips.

There's the salesman. I'll go talk to him while you go look at the car. Yeah, I'll distract him, talk about the weather. Once you give it the quick look-over, we'll wander over. If you shake your head, I'll understand.

So far so good. You're not smiling, but you're not frowning. Let's start it up. Wow, a huge plume of black smoke! That's a good sign, right? I have no idea. It seems to be running rough. I wonder if it needs new spark plugs? Maybe the timing is off. Jump in, let's take it around the block.

Roll the windows down, it's a beautiful day. And yeah, I think you're smiling! You are smiling! Nice. I'm going to go back and make an offer on this car. I think I'm going to call her "Nellie"!

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The wonderfully colorful buildings of old-time Phoenix


I wish that I could show you the wonderfully colorful buildings in Phoenix in the 1890s, but I can't. I've never found any color photos of Phoenix during that era, and photos that are "colorized" just look fake, so I won't do that. But the buildings were brightly colored, as brightly as the clothing that people wore, which is also mostly seen in black-and-white photos, or faded swatches of material. So I'll have to ask you to use your imagination, and time-travel with me.

No, I don't know the exact colors of the buildings in old-time Phoenix, but they certainly weren't black-and-white, and they were anything but dull and subdued. This was the Victorian era, a time of what many people consider excessive ornamentation.  There was scrollwork everywhere, and lots of different textures. And paint! Lots of paint! And lots of colors!

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It was all because of the industrial revolution, which made getting this kind of stuff very cheap. Things were being produced in mass quantities, and it drove the price down. Buildings could be very elaborate, and at less cost than before.

So let's walk down a street in Phoenix in the 1890s. Set aside the faded old black-and-white or sepia-toned photographs (which were light brown). The city was brilliantly colorful! The woman walking by has a new dress and is carrying a parasol which have more colors than you can count. And the ornate buildings that she's walking past are no less colorful. The bricks are new and sharp, the decoration is painted various colors to make it stand out. It's so colorful that the word "garish" comes to mind, the exact opposite of what most people think that this era looked like.


Over the years the colors faded. Victorian houses require a lot of upkeep, and a lot of paint, and in places like Phoenix they became more like "haunted houses" than anything else. And people forgot about the colors.


Image at the top of this post: Looking west on Washington towards 1st Avenue in the 1890s, Phoenix, Arizona. You have to imagine the colors.

Why I live in Phoenix, Arizona


I just love living in Phoenix, Arizona. I've only lived in two other places in my life, Minneapolis (where I grew up) and Southern California (where I spent my twenties), so it's not like I traveled around and have a lot to go on. But I made the decision, and it's my dearest wish that I will be able to stay in Phoenix for the rest of my life, which looks like it's gonna be a long one.

Like most people who moved to Phoenix from Minnesota, I just wanted to get away from the cold and snow. It was during my first year of Junior College after High School that I started working part time for a company that hired college kids to do physical inventory. That is, busloads of people would be dropped off at a store and stay there all night, counting stuff. We wore big old-fashioned calculators (even for those days!) and wrote down the totals on a piece of paper on a clipboard. Pretty brainless work really, and perfect for someone like me who didn't mind being up all night on my feet doring dull, repetitious work. It paid minimum wage, which to me was a lot more than I remembered from my paper route, which I stopped doing when I started Junior High School, at about 14.

At age 19 I was seriously pondering leaving the snow and cold. I had a car, and I had figured out how to read maps. I mentioned this to my team leader one day, and he said that they needed people in Phoenix. I had no idea what Phoenix was like, other than it didn't snow there, so I told him I'd like to go. As I sat in his office, he made a phone call, then turned to me and said, "OK, they're expecting you." So I drove there.

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I like Phoenix, but after I got my degree in Graphic Design at ASU, I wanted to move to the "big city". To me, there are only two big cities in the U.S. - New York (which was out of the question), and Los Angeles. So I moved to LA. After a few years of miscellaneous jobs I got an awesome job in the San Fernando Valley. Then, suddenly the department was eliminated, and I was out of a job.

My visit back to Phoenix was just to see old friends. You know, good for the soul. I slept on the floor of my friend Miguel's, whose wife didn't really seem to mind. I was there for just a few days when I signed a lease at an apartment in Phoenix, and arranged to borrow a truck from another friend to go get my stuff in California.

I found Phoenix to be just right. Not too big, not too small. I had spent a few years in Santa Barbara, which was too small. I had spent a few years in Los Angeles, which was too big. Minneapolis would be about the right size, but then there was that darn snow! So I stayed in Phoenix. I was lucky enough to get a great job just about right away, and I was able to buy the house that I'm now, and hopefully always will be.

I often ask people why they're where they are. Many times people just grumble and say that they'd love to move away. I saw this a lot of this in LA, where people would complain about watching the homeless people go by and staring out at the auburn sky. Then they'd say, "all my friends are here."

I like Phoenix. I'll want to stay here.


Image at the top of this post: 21 years old at the Saguaro Apartments in 1979, 4205 N. 9th Street, Phoenix, Arizona. Not luxury living at its finest, but no snow, and all the freedom I wanted.

Being rich in old-time Phoenix


Let's travel back to old-time Phoenix, and be rich. Since this is a journey of imagination, we can be as rich as we want. Let's be stinking rich, and live in a mansion.

Of course, no one really considers themselves to be "rich". In a longish life, I've known a lot of very wealthy people, who live in houses whose mortgages I could never dream of paying, and who vacation in places that make me wonder how there could be enough disposable income in the world to pay for them. People will only use the word "rich" if they're dreaming of wealth - once they have it, they will consider themselves comfortably well-off.

So let's be comfortably well-off. We owned some desert land that we got a lot of money for recently, and is now a subdivision. We're the same people that we were before, except that now we have a lot of money. A LOT of money!

I like Phoenix, so I'm going to stay here. A lot of people who became wealthy moved to California, but I'd rather not. Phoenix is my home. Yes, of course I'll buy a second house in California, but I'll only be there in the summer. I love Phoenix, but not the summers! Maybe I'll get something near Santa Monica, I like that area. Pasadena is nice, too.

Here in Phoenix I'm going to live on Millionaire's Row, which is on Monroe east of Central. That's where all of the fashionable mansions are. It's close enough to the city to be convenient, but far enough away to be exclusive.

Let's see, what else do I need? Yes, a carriage with some nice horses. No need to walk anywhere, and I certainly wouldn't use the Street Cars now that I can afford not to! Of course I'll have a nice big cellar, stocked with wine. I'll also have whiskey and gin, and nothing but the best. No more rot-gut for me!

It's good to be rich, it beats being poor!

Image at the top of this post: Houses on a side street in Phoenix in 1898. 3rd Street and Monroe, Millionaire's Row.

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When the Snowbirds return to Phoenix, Arizona


If you live in the Phoenix area, you know about Snowbirds. "Snowbird" is the slightly derogatory, slightly affectionate name for retired people who stay in Phoenix during the winter and then "fly away" before summer. My parents (pictured above) were snowbirds for many, many years. And they arrived in late September or early October, about the time of the year that I'm writing this right now.

So while you're enjoying the end of another horrific summer (I swear they get hotter and longer every year!) you will also notice that the valley gets a little bit more crowded, especially with large slow-moving vehicles (like my parents's Crown Vic, which was brand new when I took the photo).

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Snowbirds bring in an enormous amount of money to the local economy. Most of them, like my parents, are thrifty midwesterners, who have decided that it's time to live a little. But just a little. Snowbirds rarely have much interest in staying at expensive places, and they generally can be seen eating wherever there are specials. So don't expect Snowbirds to be spending money like drunken sailors, they don't. But there are so many of them that it really adds up. If you live in Phoenix, and care about the economy, you need to appreciate the importance of Snowbirds.

Of course, my description of Snowbirds is the typical stereotype: Elderly, driving large vehicles slowly, mostly from Minnesota. But like a lot of stereotypes, there's a lot of truth to it. So as you try to get through the traffic to work for the next few months, take a moment to see your Phoenix through the eyes of Snowbirds, and you'll see that it's amazing and beautiful. The weather is absolutely gorgeous, the skies are so blue, there are palm trees, and there's no snow and slush. You may find yourself slowing down a bit, too.


Image at the top of this post: Snowbirds in their natural habitat, a Mobile Home Community (you don't call it a Trailer Park!), Peoria, Arizona, in 2001.

Being an instructor at Glendale Community College in 2001


After five years teaching at a private college, I started teaching over at my local community college, Glendale Community College. Back in the late '90s and early 2000s, there was a huge demand to learn software like Photoshop, etc., so I had decided to go into business for myself, doing personal training, corporate training, and also teaching at the local community college, here in Glendale, Arizona.

Although I had a teaching certificate, and wrote "teacher" on my income tax forms, I never was comfortable with calling myself that. To me, I was a trainer, nothing more. I considered real teachers to be working at High Schools and Elementary Schools, or even to be teaching more difficult subjects in college, like geography. I was just showing people how to use software, and how to do Graphic Design. It was a pleasure for me because I genuinely love doing those things.

As far as the corporate and personal training was concerned, it was very much like the private college, where I had been before. At a community college, things are different, and I'll try to explain it here.

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As far as the classes were concerned, and the software, and the design, it was all the same. But the way that a community college is run takes some getting used to if you've only worked in the private sector. And really, a lot of it is exactly what you've heard, and I tried to take it with a sense of humor.

The first thing that you have to know is that I was an adjunct faculty. Adjunct means "part time", and I guess the original idea of hiring adjunct faculty for them to be, like the term implied, "adjunct", which means "in addition to" the main staff. But I was surprised to find that over eighty percent of the teachers in the Maricopa County Community College District were adjunct. The full-time faculty people had offices, the adjuncts didn't. That didn't bother me, I wasn't interested in being a full-timer at GCC, I was just working there in addition to the other places I worked. And in fact (here's I'm trying to be funny) I would often see full-time faculty that had been there for years looking as if cobwebs should be on them, with a glazed look in their eyes, looking forward to retirement. I was horrified by that, and I swore that would never be me.

So, far from being "in addition to", the adjunct faculty was the college, and it still is. And make no mistake, it's a good gig, and although there are no benefits, and no job security, the pay (which was per class, by contract) wasn't bad. Since I taught classes like web design, it didn't matter that I didn't have an office - I had email, and I could send students to my web site, where I posted the classes and weekly syllabus. I've had my website BradHallArt.com since 1999.

Overall, I'd say my experience doing teaching and training is that it's all the same wherever people get it. Going to a community college is an excellent value, unless of course you're a student who doesn't pay attention, doesn't do the assignments, etc. A piece of paper saying that you passed a class in Photoshop won't get you work, being able to use Photoshop will. Or Illustrator, or Dreamweaver, or InDesign. And especially the ability to do Graphic Design.

I like GCC, and I highly recommend it for your first two years of college, and then to ASU! Go Gauchos! Go Devils!

A fascination with the ordinary places and people in the history of Phoenix, Arizona


I collect old photos of Phoenix, and share them on the web. My collection is digital, which means that there's no paper, and that I can store an unlimited amount of them. And I mean that, I have a website and I literally have unlimited storage space, which is included with what I pay every year for hosting the site.

And that's good, because I have an unlimited interest in the places and people of Phoenix. I place no restrictions. And that seems to puzzle some people, who are used to only seeing places that are important because of their association with rich and famous people. But I disagree, and I'll try to explain here.

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Maybe it's because everything can't be covered in school, or maybe it's because everything can't be reported on in newspapers, that people learn that the ordinary places and people don't matter. After all, what class curriculum could literally include everything that ever happened in the history of Phoenix? That would be a long class, and probably very boring. And no newspaper is going to report that a "Glendale man forgot to feed his dog first thing this morning, and then remembered to after breakfast". That would be me, an ordinary person. Who would read a newspaper like that? Well, maybe I would.

Relaxing at the Arizona Motel in the 1940s.

Yes, I have photos of the Biltmore, and Marilyn Monroe, and famous politicians in the history of Phoenix. But I also have images of ordinary places, like the Arizona Motel which I just found. It was an ordinary place, not the Biltmore. I described it as being "never all that luxurious, it was just a basic place to stay" and I think it upset a few people, who assumed from that that I was saying that it wasn't important. But they aren't seeing what I'm seeing. It was a place where traveling salesmen stayed, and ordinary families on vacation, and people who were just a few steps from the law, and downright criminals, and prostitutes. All part of the history of Phoenix.

My fascination with ordinary places and people in Phoenix doesn't mean that I'm not interested in the rich and famous. I'm interested in it all. And that's the point. These things make up the story of Phoenix which I'm enjoying learning, and they all matter to me.

Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to sit here in the sunshine by the Arizona Motel and relax.


Image at the top of this post: The Arizona Motel in the 1940s, 2625 E. Van Buren, Phoenix, Arizona.

Eating at the Phoenix Restaurant in 1899


It's 1899, I'm hungry, so let's go eat at the Phoenix Restaurant. It's a new place that just opened up on 1st Avenue between Washington and Jefferson. Right across from the Court House.

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I just saw an ad in the paper that says that it's the best and cheapest eating house in the city. They serve meals at all hours, so we don't have to be there at lunch time, or dinner time, we can eat whenever we get there. Yes, I know it's a long dusty ride from the ranch to downtown Phoenix, but let's go. We just got our wages, and I'm tired of the food that they've been serving us here. If you can call that  "food"!

The Phoenix Restaurant in 1899, next door to McKee's Cash Store

Let's see, it's supposed to be right next door to McKee's Cash Store. I don't see it yet, we could ask. Wait, I have an idea, let's go to the top of the Court House and look from there. Say, it's quite a view from here. Now I see it!

1900 ad for the Phoenix Restaurant

You tie off Snowbell and Rapunzel and I'll go on in. And knock some of that dust off yourself, and take your hat off! What? A menu? I have no idea. No, I don't see a menu. I'm sure what they'll be serving will be good. Come on, I'm hungry!

Sadly, the Phoenix Restaurant went out of business in 1901 after a fire.

Image at the top of this post: Looking east from the Court House Building on 1st Avenue between Washington and Jefferson in 1899, Phoenix, Arizona.

How the attitude towards drinking and driving changed in the 1980s, Phoenix, Arizona


As someone who learned to drive in the 1970s, I often consider myself the first generation of people who cared about safety behind the wheel. Not everyone my age did, of course, but my generation got to see movies during Driver's Ed that showed what happened to people when they wrecked their car. It's been a long time since I've seen those images, and I still remember them vividly.

The attitude up to that time had been to hope that you would be lucky. Wearing seat belts was not cool, there were no air bags, and if someone died behind the wheel, or was maimed, it was just considered bad luck. And as the nation's roads got more and more crowded, a lot more people were having bad luck.

Of course drinking and driving was common. The laws really weren't all that stringent, and if someone wrecked while drunk, it was just "bad luck". Seat belts had been in cars since the mid 1960s, and side-impact protection started in the 1970s, but that wasn't enough. A lot of people were dying. And attitudes started to change.

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By the 1980s, businesses that served alcohol and then turned loose a bunch of drunk drivers on the road for the police, and hospitals, to deal with began to be pressured to do something about the death and destruction. It just wasn't funny anymore. Mothers Against Drunk Driving started in the 1980s, and the days of laughing off drunk driving were coming to an end.

The ad at the top of this post, from Minder Binders in Tempe in 1984, represented the attempts that bars were making to try to "sober up" their clientele with coffee and hot cocoa at midnight. It may seem pathetic now, but it was a beginning.

Times have changed.

Buying fresh oranges and grapefruit in Phoenix in 1919


One of the wonderful things about living in the Phoenix area is that you can have fresh oranges and grapefruit that have just been picked right there at the grove. Let's go back to 1919 and get some.

There are plenty of orange groves in Phoenix, but the one I have in mind will take a little bit of a drive. I hope you don't mind driving, I don't have a car. I'll help pay for the gas! And if it breaks down, I'm pretty handy with mechanical stuff.

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OK, I'll navigate. We start on Center (Central Avenue) and go north to McDowell Road. From there we go east to Chicago Avenue (44th Street). It's a good distance, but it's a nice drive. You just put new tires on, right? And you have a least one spare? Great, two is even better. I hope we don't need it, but you never know. Mmmmm! You can smell the orange blossoms already!

OK, here's Chicago Avenue, time to turn north until we get to Indian School Road. We're almost there!

These are delicious! Yes, I'll have another orange. And I'm going to fill up a boxful to take home. Do you have the address of my cousin back east? I'd like to send him a box. I've told him about the wonderful oranges of the Salt River Valley but I don't think that he really believes me.

What a great trip! Thanks for driving!


Image from the Library of Congress

Why California, Arizona, and Minnesota are all the West


I'm a Western man. I've never lived anywhere except the West. And that includes Minnesota, where I was born, Arizona, where I am right now, and California, where I spent my twenties. These places are: the Old West, the West, and the Midwest.

Minnesota is the Old West of Jesse James. Arizona is what most people think of when they picture a geographically Western state. And of course California is on the West Coast. So if you tell someone that you're going out West, you may have to do a bit of clarifying.

Luckily, the name of the Old West to describe places like Minnesota, Iowa, and Kansas is rarely used nowadays and instead the term Midwest is used. Very few people question how a state that's about in the middle of the country could be described as Midwest, but it's just to differentiate that area from the Far West back when most of the population of the United States lived east of the Mississippi River.

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And the West runs deeper as a culture. It's associated with cowboy hats and boots, with people saying "Howdy", with wide open spaces, open prairie and cactus. And so the first thing that really should spring into your mind for that is Arizona. And unless you're a real Western history fan, you probably don't associate places like Minnesota as being "the Old West". So it's fine to call Arizona part of the Old West, or just the West, even though there's a whole 'nother state to the West of it.


Image at the top of this post: sunset in Phoenix, Arizona. That's Encanto Park in the 1950s. You're looking west, from the West.

Being gay in old-time Phoenix


If you're gay, I apologize in advance for my presumption of trying to write this. But gay people are, and always have been, an important part of the story of Phoenix, and in my opinion they deserve recognition, and in this tiny way I want to add a little bit. I'll tell you what I know.

As someone who actually looked a bit like Jerry Seinfeld in the 1990s, slender, well-dressed, I was often taken for a gay man. Not that there's anything wrong with that! And since I came of age in Los Angeles (in my twenties), I absorbed much of the Southern California sensibilities. If you've lived there, you know. So when I moved back to Arizona in 1989, I was kind of puzzled by the attitude towards gay people. They hid.

As you can imagine, this hiding and pretending led to a lot of confusion. I was used to people being more straight-forward about their sexual preferences (and if you lived in Southern California, you really know!). So in Phoenix I learned to play along with people who insisted that their roommates were just roommates. I worked with someone who said that his partner was his butler. Maybe that was a joke? Anyway, you had to pretend that no one was gay. That was the game.

When I started working at the Art Institute of Phoenix, my boss assumed that I was gay. Slender, well-dressed, single, working in the art field. When my gorgeous girlfriend showed up during one of my classes on my birthday, my boss was genuinely shocked. And it had to do with the hiding game that gay people had been playing in Phoenix for so very long.

I've known a lot of gay people in my life. Some have been great, some have been stinkers. And in a long life I've learned that there's no such thing as "gay-dar" (which is the idea that gay people have some sort of magic radar that tells them who is, and isn't gay). Nonsense. In my experience gay people are just like anyone else. They have no ability to read minds, and they're just attracted to what they're attracted to.

The story of Phoenix is made up of the people who live there. And that's everyone, saints and sinners, heroes and vagabonds. In my journey of exploration, I want to see everything, and learn everything. If this worries you, I'm sorry that you feel that way. If you agree with me, then I recommend doing this along with me to enhance your life, and make you feel better about everyone in the world, including yourself.

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Driving a car in old-time Phoenix


As someone who has always loved old cars, and going to car shows, I often wonder what it would have been like to drive a car in old-time Phoenix. What I know of old-time cars comes from movies like "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", so pondering the reality of them makes me cringe a little bit. Because from our modern viewpoint, early cars were just awful in so many ways.

This is about all I know about old cars. From the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

First of all, they were LOUD. Yes, the engines were tiny compared to the cars of today, but you just have to image the sound of a lawn mower going down the street. No muffling of the sound, and very frequent backfiring. If you've never heard a car backfire, it's an extremely loud "bang" (that's where the "Bang" in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang comes from, backfiring). Having just a few vehicles going down the street with engines as loud as lawnmowers and backfiring all along must have been horrendous. Luckily, most of them were driven during the day, but even then the noise must have been terrible.

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And they also belched out a LOT of pollution. Pollution controls on cars really didn't happen until the 1970s. Until then, every car that went by sent out an enormous amount of pollution, even when it was functioning properly. No catalytic converters then! Of course, it was like the smoke from fires, or from steam locomotives, people were used to it. And the assumption that a couple of windy days or some rain would make it all go away. It really didn't start to accumulate enough for people to complain about it in Phoenix until the 1960s. And even after pollution controls were put in place, Phoenix had some of the worst air quality in the country, through the 1980s.

Air pollution in Phoenix, caused mostly by cars before pollution controls.

On the other hand, they must have been wonderful. From the point of view of the era, it must have been amazing to have that much personal freedom, and no need for a horse, or for pedal power.

Speaking for myself, I've always had a love-hate relationship with cars. I've owned a lot of cool cars in my day, and always enjoy going to car shows. Like everyone else, I hate traffic, and since I'm I like blue skies and clean air, I dislike seeing a car pumping pollution into the air I breathe. I also like peace and quiet, and if you've ever been to a car show and heard an old car start up, you know what I mean. The noise and the smell is overwhelming. It's a quiet Saturday morning as I write this, and if someone started up a noisy and smelly car right now in my neighborhood I'd hate it.

It's my belief that future generations will hardly be able to believe how much people of the current era loved their cars. But maybe they won't see the drawbacks, they'll just be looking at old photos, like we do today, and romancing about how great it must have been.


Image at the top of this post: Parked in front of Apache Drugs in the 1920s, northwest corner of 1st Avenue and Adams, Phoenix, Arizona.

Watching a movie at the Columbia in 1921 in Phoenix, Arizona


It's 1921 in Phoenix, Arizona, so let's go watch a movie. You know, a flicker, a moving picture. They'll all the rage. The Columbia is showing Constance Talmadge in "The Perfect Woman".

Yes, I know what you're thinking - that those old movies were pretty tame, and boring. No sex and violence. But waitaminute, this is before the Hays Office and censorship of movies, which won't happen until next year. Now we'll be able to see some pretty outrageous stuff, like people kissing while a woman holds a gun, and, well, the things that next year would be banned in movies and wouldn't return until the "M" for Mature ratings, and and all of that begins in the 1960s. I'm sure that "The Perfect Woman" won't be X-rated, or even R, but it sure won't be G. Probably more like PG. Pretty outrageous for 1921.

The Columbia Theater in 1917, 106 W. Adams, Phoenix, Arizona.

The Columbia Theater is at 106 W. Adams, which is Adams and 1st Avenue. Let's wander over there. There's convenient parking out front - for my bike!

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More pre-Hays Office movies at the Columbia:

1920

1918

Falling in love in old-time Phoenix


Let's time-travel back to old-time Phoenix and fall in love. Birds do it, bees, do it, heck, I've even heard that educated fleas do it. Let's do it, let's fall in love.

It's springtime, we're young, and Phoenix is growing. The population is absolutely exploding! And the old-timers are complaining about it, because they're looking at parking spots. But we're looking at girls. And, wow, look at the girls!

I don't know about you, but I'm partial to blue-eyed blondes. And there are a lot of them around, mostly from places back east like Minnesota, where there are a lot of Scandinavian people. They're pretty, but you don't want to leave them out in the Phoenix sunshine too much, they'll burn.

Waitaminute, look at her! Those dark eyes, that flowing black hair! She really brings out the fire in my spirit. I wonder if she would talk to me, or even look at me. And look over there, she must be from China, or Japan. I feel my heart beating, loud as thunder, as she walks by. Yeah, I know what I said, never mind what I said. Let's keep looking at girls.

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Wait, I think I see one for you. No, never mind, I want her. She must have Indian blood in her. How beautiful she is, and how she walks with such dignity. I think I'm going to go up and talk to her. Never mind, it looks like she's with someone. But maybe that's her brother!

The redhead over there? No, thanks, I stay away from them, I've heard they have terrible tempers. On the other hand, maybe not. She's a dream walking.

Oh my. Look at her! And you told me that there weren't any black people in Phoenix. She's lovely, simply amazing. How do I look? Oh, shut up.

Let's just sit here on the corner of Central and Washington and watch the people go by. Yeah, right, we're people-watching if anyone asks. I just love Phoenix, and I think I'm going to be falling in love just about right away.


Image at the top of this post: Girls in the Salt River in 1915, near the Granite Reef Dam

Watching a baseball game at Arizona State in 1929


Let's go watch a baseball game. We're going to Tempe, in 1929, to Arizona State Teacher's College (now ASU). I hear that they have a pretty good team now, lead by Bob Smith.

What a beautiful day for a game! Let's see, before we time-travel, we need to get all of our stuff together. Maroon and gold? Yes, those have been the school colors since 1885. Peanuts and Cracker Jack? Of course, what's a ball game without Cracker Jack? It's been around since 1896. And yes, we need to bring along penants that say Arizona State. No, not Arizona State University - it won't be a University until 1958.

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A lot of things have changed in the world since 1929, but not baseball. It may not be as popular as it once was, but it's still a joy to watch. Personally, I love the whole experience, even making a mess with the peanuts.

Oh yeah, one more thing that I need to remind you of. They won't be the Sun Devils until 1946, they're the Bulldogs. So don't start shouting "Go Devils" or they'll probably have campus security escort us out of the stadium.

OK, I'm going to practice now: "Batter-batter-batter SWING!" Let's see, what else, maybe something about the umpire being a bum? I'll think of some more by the time we get to the game. And the most important thing to shout is, "Go Bulldogs!"

Riding a bicycle in old-time Phoenix


Let's ride a bicycle in old-time Phoenix. It's a very popular new invention, come on and give it a try!

Of course, you have to watch where you're going! There are still plenty of horses on the streets of Phoenix, and even a few automobiles, although they're rare. Still, Phoenix is a great place to ride a bicycle because there aren't a lot of hills. And it never snows in Phoenix, and it rarely rains.

It's 1904 and we're riding on Washington Avenue. Listen to the hum of those wires! There are telephone wires, and electric wires, and even wires specifically to run the Street Cars. By the way, don't ride your bike right in front of them, it irritates the trolley driver.



In fact, it's a good idea to stay away from the Street Car rails, you don't want to get a tire stuck in there!

OK, here we are at the store. Don't worry, we don't have to carry anything on our bikes, all we have to do is to choose what we want, and it'll be delivered. No, we don't need money, either, we just add it to our tab. The new "Cash and Carry" places won't do that, but that's OK, I don't really go to those places much. I suppose they'll catch on, someday.

Let's go on in, we can leave the bikes here on the sidewalk. Locks? No, why? I've never heard of such a thing! The next thing you know you'll be thinking that automobiles will need a lock for them to start, and you'd have to carry around a key, or something.

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Staying at a boarding house in 1892, Phoenix, Arizona


Let's time-travel back to Phoenix, Arizona in 1892, and stay at a boarding house. According to an ad I just read, Mrs. M.K. Wheeler has the best table board in the city. It's at the corner of Maricopa [2nd Street] and Adams, so let's go.

Of course, we could have just gotten a room down by the livery stable, but we're making good money working in the gold and silver mines, so let's find a place with room and board. That is, a place to hang our hats, and that includes food.

I've been asking around, and I'm told that Mrs. Wheeler lays out a great board. And since we'll be here for the holidays, I'm sure that it be a festive one! It's making me hungry just to think of it.

Here's the place. Yeah, I know it doesn't look like much, but smell that home cooking! That's what I'm talking about. There's no sense us making all that money in the mines and then starving ourselves. A man can't live on whiskey and beef jerky, you know. Well, I've tried.

Wow, is that fresh bread that I smell? It looks like we're just in time, everyone is gathering around the table. Come on in and sit down. That must be Mrs. Wheeler. I wonder if she was expecting us? Hand me a gold coin, will you, I think I want to pay for a year in advance.

I'm going to like it here in Phoenix! Pass the mashed potatoes, please!

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Horseshoeing in 1892, Phoenix, Arizona


Let's go back to Phoenix, Arizona in 1892 and get some horse shoeing done. Rapunzel threw a shoe yesterday, and the rest of her shoes don't look very good, so let's go into town, to W.H. Smith. You know, at Gilmour Brothers old stand, at Adams and Center (Central).

It's going to be another hot day, but the sun hasn't really come up yet, so it feels good this morning. Yes, we'll have to walk there, but we can ride back. Sure, you can ride, Rapunzel may be old, but she's strong. How much do you weigh?

We must be getting closer, I can hear the clang on the anvil. I wonder if that's old W.H. or one of his helpers? Yes, I can see the glow of the coal fire from here. That must be miserable in the heat, being a blacksmith. No wonder he's there before sunup.

Central and Adams in 1908, Phoenix, Arizona.

We're walking along the canal, so it's just a few blocks away. The canal runs just north of Van Buren, and I understand it's supposed to be called the Salt River Valley Canal, but most people just call it Swilling's Ditch, or the town ditch.

Here we are. That didn't take long on a beautiful cool morning. Let's see, he only horseshoes for cash, so I brought along some coins. I really appreciate the work that he does, and I'd like to give him a little extra for the effort, do you have a couple of pennies?

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Crossing the Salt River to and from Tempe before 1913


In 1913, a bridge for cars was built over the Salt River to and from Tempe, Arizona. Before that, you had other choices. You could have crossed at Central after 1911, you could have gone across on the railroad, going back to 1887, or you could have walked across the river when it was low (and many people did), or you could have paid someone, like Charles Hayden to ferry you across in a boat.

Let's time travel back to 1895 and take a ferry across the Salt River. It'll be another eighteen years until the Ash Avenue Bridge will be built, and we're not about to pay freight charges to take a train. It's winter, and the water is high, but it's flowing slowly, so we'll be fine. The horses are a bit nervous, but then again, they always are. I'll just sit here in the buggy and relax. I guess the women folk can stand in back.

1878 ad for Hayden's Ferry, Tempe, Arizona.

I was talking to Charles Hayden, over at his store near the mill, and he's convinced that there's a bright future for Tempe. He tells me that some day the Normal School there will be a University, and it will attract students who will probably enjoy watching that great American game, "foot ball".

Looks like we're almost to the other bank. That didn't didn't take very long! OK, everyone off, and I'll drive the team off the ferry boat. We'll be in Phoenix in no time, all we need to do is to follow the Tempe Road. This will be a whole lot easier once they get that bridge built!

The Ash Avenue Bridge nearing completion in 1913, Tempe, Arizona.

Image at the top of the post: Hayden's Ferry in 1895, on the Salt River, Tempe, Arizona.

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Flies and mosquitos in old-time Phoenix


I enjoy visiting old-time Phoenix in my imagination, but the more I learn about it, the happier I am in modern day. The first thing that springs to my mind, of course, is air conditioning, but this morning I'm thinking of flies and mosquitos.

I live in the suburbs, and at this time of year, after the monsoon rains, there are flies and mosquitos. Just a few, of course, but they're still pests. Like all insects, including butterflies, they're mostly attracted to water, and since I have a garden, and trees, there's water. Not standing water, of course, but there's still water. Water on the pedals of the flowers, moisture on the plants. Enough to attract insects. I also have a dog, and even though I'm clean up her "messes" in the backyard, often several times a day, that kind of thing attracts flies. And today I'm thinking about the number of flies and mosquitos in old-time Phoenix, and how difficult it would have been to get away from them, as opposed to today.

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Like most modern suburban houses, mine is sealed up pretty tight. When I close it up and turn on the air conditioning, there isn't much chance of insects getting in. One or two may fly in as I go in and out of the house, but that's all. But before the days of air conditioning, and sealed-up houses like mine, insects could fly in just about any time they wanted to. And yes, the old houses had screens on the doors and windows, but they weren't sealed up like a modern house. Flies and mosquitos could get in easily.

And then you have to consider how most properties were watered in Phoenix up until just a few decades ago, with flood irrigation. My house has a drip system, which delivers water directly to the roots of the plants, a technique known as "xeriscaping". But flood irrigation (which is still in use in older parts of the valley) did exactly what the name sounds like - it flooded the property, and the water stood there until it soaked in. Very scenic to look at, but also very attractive to insects, especially mosquitos.

Speaking of which, there were open laterals. A lateral is a sort of "mini-canal" that brings water into the neighborhoods from the canals. Most of them have been covered over in the past few decades, but before that, they were always open, with water standing in them, attracting flies and mosquitos.

Going back further in time, there were horses. Lots of horses. Don't get me wrong, I love horses, and they're beautiful, but they attract flies. This isn't a criticism of horses, this is just a horse thing. And even after automobiles (horseless carriages) were invented, there were still a LOT of horses in Phoenix. And no one was obliged to pick up after them, although the city did the best it could. Having a lot of horses around attracts a lot of flies!

Thanks for visiting old-time Phoenix with me. But can we go inside now to get away from the flies? I saw two of them already!


Image at the top of the post: Looking east at the Clark Churchill Mansion in the 1890s, which was at 5th Avenue north of Van Buren, Phoenix, Arizona.

The secret places of Phoenix, and Los Angeles


My two favorite cities in the world are Phoenix, and Los Angeles. I love to talk about them, and all too often I realize that my view of them is vastly different from most people's view. And it has to do mostly with my secret places.

Most people that I talk to live in a world of sitting in their cars in traffic jams, staring at brake lights, and then being inside of buildings, looking at walls, inside of elevators, and their only relief is from that is to watch other people play a game on TV. And since that's all they see, that's all they know. And of course they insist that they have to live in that world because they're not rich. And even rich people do the same thing, it's just that they sit in more expensive cars, and watch other people play games on more expensive TVs.

But that stuff never interested me. I did enough of it to realize that I didn't want to live my life staring at walls, trapped in spaces, watching other people play games. I wanted to get out there, and do stuff, and see stuff. And that led to me to my secret places, which I've been visiting since my twenties.

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I've been talking about my secret places for a long time. In Santa Barbara, it was Hendry's beach, in the San Fernando Valley it was Los Encinos, in Los Angeles it was Rustic Canyon, and in Glendale, Arizona, where I live now, it's the Sahuaro Ranch. I go there, I take pictures there, I talk about these places, and mostly people say, "Huh? Is that near the freeway? Next to the Starbucks? Is there a place nearby where I can watch the game?" And I find that it isn't a question of location, I could give the GPS coordinates, it's just that for most people these places don't exist, just because they can't imagine them.

I understand. There's a world out there of walls, and traffic, and sitting in rooms watching other people play games. And my trying to describe my world just sound mystical to most people. But that's never stopped me from trying. Because secret places are wonderful, and wonderful places are best shared by people who understand.

Thank you for visiting secret places with me today. And there's so much more to see!

Sahuaro Ranch, Glendale, Arizona. In the heart of the city, but millions of miles away. A secret place.

Watching the Heard Building being built in 1919, Phoenix, Arizona


I just love watching construction. I would stop on my way to school whenever I saw a fence and knew that a building was being built, and I've never outgrown the fascination. I have no idea what's involved, to me it's just Tonka Toys and building blocks, guys wearing construction hats, and a chance to see what's inside of the walls of a building. I'm particularly fascinated by high-rise buildings, which are just ordinary places to me, with offices and elevators, which before the windows are put in are way cool places up in the sky. It makes me a little dizzy to see the people working on them, way up there.

Today I'd like to time-travel with you and watch the gigantic "sky scraper" of Phoenix being built in 1919.

1919 article about the construction of the new Heard Building, Phoenix, Arizona. From the Library of Congress.


The Heard Building in the 1920s, Central Avenue between Adams and Monroe, Phoenix, Arizona. The biggest building in Phoenix at the time, it's still there, but doesn't look quite so big anymore.

The building is being built by Dwight Heard, of the Suburban Land and Investment Company. Everyone knows how successful he and his wife Maie have been since they began their company in 1897. Some people disagree with what they have been doing, which has made Phoenix grow in leaps and bounds, from a tiny town in Territorial Days to the suburban city that it is now, in 1919. But I like it. I like the new buildings, and Phoenix has never had anything like this.

1920 article about the Heard Building soon after its completion. From the Library of Congress.


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Wow, it's BIG! I understand that it's going to seven stories tall. As soon as I'm allowed to, I'm gonna go in there and just look at the view. It'll be amazing!

View of Central Avenue looking north from the Heard Building in 1919, Phoenix, Arizona.


The Heard Building is still there, in downtown Phoenix, on Central Avenue north of Adams. It's gone through a series of "face lifts" over the years, but has never been "modernized", "re-skinned", and most importantly, it hasn't been torn down.