This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

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.