Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California.

How Chicanos Por La Causa helped me when I was 19, Phoenix, Arizona

I moved to Phoenix when I was 19 because I wanted to get away from Minneapolis, and I was working for a company that had an office in Phoenix, so they transferred me. So I had a job the day I arrived. I lived cheaply, and although it didn't pay much, and the hours were spotty, it kept me alive. And then the hours got even less, and I was in trouble. I was alone, and I needed to find work.

When I mention that, among other places, I used the job services at Chicanos Por La Causa, it puzzles many people, because I'm just a white guy. Most of the people that I know don't understand how all of this works. If you understand, that's great, if not, I'll see if I can explain, by starting with the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s.

I was a kid in the 1960s, and I was paying attention to the winds of change that were blowing all over the world, including the United States. The music was about the Age of Aquarius, with harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding. I grew up reading Mad Magazine, which helped me to understand the horrors and hypocrisy of the world, and to think for myself, resisting what many people insisted was perfectly normal, the "status quo". I learned about apartheid in school, and still remember the teacher helping us pronounce it as "apart-hate".

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The Civil Rights Movement was about equality. And that meant equality for everyone, whatever their gender, whatever their race. It didn't mean shifting rights from one group to another, it meant that everyone, for the first time in the history of the United States, would begin to be treated equally under the law. If you lived through that time, you know. If you're puzzled about it, it's because so many people have misunderstood what "equal rights" means. Chicanos Por La Causa understood, and they still do.

Maybe it's because the laws were still fairly new that I knew them so well. The new laws prohibited discrimination. That meant that no one could be refused service based on their gender or race. It protected everyone, and that included me. When I went to use the job services at Chicanos Por La Causa, the people there knew, too. They never hesitated to help me. I was a struggling young man who needed help, and they didn't turn me away because of the color of my skin.

Thank you, Chicanos Por La Causa!

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Understanding the theme of Phoenix history

My interest is in Phoenix history, and I tend to treat it as a theme. Since I'm a Graphic Designer, and have spent my whole life around artists and musicians, the idea of a theme comes naturally to me. I have discovered, however, that for some people it seems kinda strange. I'll see if I can explain my theme of Phoenix history.

An artistic, or musical, theme is simply a consistency throughout the piece. It doesn't mean the same thing over and over and over, but it means something that feels recognizable throughout. And so it's important to define what one's theme is. For me, Phoenix history is everything that ever happened, and ever will happen, in Phoenix. It could be something that most people understand as "history" - maybe a photo of bridge collapsing, or a politician giving a speech, or it could be the bowl of Cheerios that I just finished in my backyard this morning in Glendale.

I just love seeing, and hearing, variations on a theme. Of course, it the variation goes too far (the Cheerios thing is too far in my opinion), then the theme seems to get lost. So I vary the theme, because I enjoy that, but I try not to stray too terribly far. I'm interested in photos of Phoenix from 1872, and of the construction on the freeway just west of me. To me, it's all part of the theme of the history of Phoenix. And the people in it are all important players, from Theodore Roosevelt to the kid who just rolled by my house on his skateboard.

So that's the theme. I compose this like a work of art, or a symphony. The colors vary, the sounds swell, but it always refers back to the main theme. If you look for it, and listen, you will find it. If you haven't yet, please stick around. This is my opus, and if you like it, please sing along.

Image at the top of this post: Looking west on Washington from Central in 1872, Phoenix, Arizona.

Holding out for the big $$$$ for land in Phoenix, Arizona

As someone who is interested in the history of the city of Phoenix, Arizona, I'm of course interested in how people invested in Real Estate. Some people got fabulously wealthy simply because the price of a chunk of land got more expensive over time.

Of course, this happens anywhere that there are buildings, and land. Some places, like San Francisco, or Los Angeles, have seen property values rise tremendously. It hasn't been that extreme in Phoenix, but it has happened. I met someone a few years ago whose parents owned some land that he inherited, and it turned out to be worth the big bucks, which he got. It all happened in a generation.

And sometimes it takes longer. I see empty lots all around Phoenix and I wonder what they're waiting for. Well, they're probably waiting for the big $$$$. And every once in a while I hear some say in a sneering way that someone must be "waiting for the big $$$$". And my first thought is "why not?" If you have land in Phoenix it might be worth the big $$$$ some day.

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Of course, land, like anything else that you hold onto to sell someday, is a liability. You have to pay for it. You may be paying for the land itself, or if the land has been paid for, you have to pay the property taxes, and insurance. There's no profit until you sell, and then it's over. And if you sell for a million dollars, and find out the next year that someone sold the same land for two million dollars, you may feel that you did the wrong thing. Land tends to become more valuable over time, and money tends to become less valuable (you know, inflation). So a lot of people look watch this kind of thing, and they wait.

Speaking for myself, I like the empty lots, and the remaining farmland in Phoenix. As an old Californian, I know that when what used to be an empty lot is now 200 luxury condos, it brings just that much more crowding, more traffic, more of the stuff I moved away from California to get away from. I don't want to live way out "in the middle of nowhere", but I've lived in places that are so crowded that there are precious few parking spaces, you have to wait in line for everything, and what I call "waiting for someone to breathe out so you can breathe in", also known as density.

So my take on people who are holding out for the big $$$$ for the land they own in the Phoenix area - I applaud you, keep waiting. I know that if you wait another ten or twenty years you will get a lot more money for your land, I guarantee it. And in the meantime Phoenix has a little bit more open space, and I have a little bit more room to breathe. Hold out for the big $$$$.

The wide-open spaces of Phoenix in the 1960s and early 1970s

Since I collect old photos of Phoenix, and post them on the internet, one of the most common comments that I see is when someone asks what an area looked like back in the day. And when I go looking, often all that I find is empty space, dirt, and billboards. Because Phoenix had a LOT of that in the 1960s and early 1970s.

The photo at the top of this post is typical of what I find a lot of on the Duke University site, which is about advertising, and has a lot of billboards from places like Phoenix. If there's a building that I can identify, or anything at all to help me, I can usually pinpoint exactly where the photo was taken. But a lot of Phoenix, and the surrounding area looked like that - open space, dirt, and a billboard.

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I really have no idea where this location is, and it's just a guess that it's even Phoenix. I've looked through a lot of the photos of billboards of Phoenix on the Duke site, and they tend to look like this. There's a particular "feel" to it, and of course all of the billboards in Phoenix at that time were Eller.

I labelled this image "Billboard somewhere in Phoenix 1960s, early 1970s". And I may never know exactly where this was. There were a million places around Phoenix that looked like that, a scattering of buildings, no sidewalks, just open space. This billboard couldn't have been to close to the metro area, as the ones closer into town usually had telephone poles lying around them, to discourage people from parking in the shade of the billboard. People did that a lot, and why not? There are no sidewalks, no curb, and shade has always been at a premium in Phoenix. In some of the photos I find the cars are parked around billboards like cows sleeping in the shade.

So if you're wondering what Phoenix looked like in the 1960s and early 1970s, here ya go. Wide open spaces, dirt, and billboards, usually advertising whiskey, or cigarettes.

Being the "Where did he come from? guy" in Phoenix, and Los Angeles

I've been the "Where did he come from? guy" several times in my life, in Phoenix, and in Los Angeles. To clarify, it's what people say when someone just sort of shows up out of nowhere, and is able to do stuff. In the Westerns, it's the gunslinger, in spy movies, it's an International Man of Mystery. What I discovered in the work world it was whoever was willing to do the work that needed to be done. And that's me. The "Where did he come from?" guy (or woman) is one of my favorite characters in movies. They're the hero, the person who will make it right, no matter what it takes.

And no, it has nothing to do with Phoenix, or Los Angeles, or even Minneapolis, where I grew up, although for a long time I thought so. I would often talk of my "Midwestern Work Ethic" or the flakiness of Californians, who never seem to be able to get anything done, but who seem to be workaholics compared to what I saw when I first moved to Arizona. If you've jumped to these stereotypical conclusions, step away.

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As I learn more about the history of Phoenix, I find a lot more "Where did he come from?" people. People like Jack Swilling, or Del Webb. People who did stuff, who dreamed big and made their dreams a reality. And I picture them stepping out of a crowd, and stepping up to do what had to be done, with courage, conviction, and what I call "unrealistic optimism". And it doesn't matter where they came from, that's just something that people say. All that matters is what they can do.

Being a "Where did he come from? guy" has it's advantages and disadvantages. For me, literally the greatest thing was to actually hear people ask me where I came from, as if that would answer who I was, and what I was doing. When I looked over my shoulder and saw my little neighborhood in Minneapolis, I wondered if that really could have been the answer. Of course not. The disadvantages, as you who are "Where did he/she come from?" guy/woman know is that your neck is sticking out, often quite a lot. And there are a lot of people who are petty and mean. I wish it wasn't that way, but it is.

When I first started teaching at the Art Institute of Phoenix, I saw a lot of people that I called "superstars". People who did amazing stuff, had a lot of talent, worked hard, made great stuff. And I would often wonder where they came from. But it didn't matter, all that matters is where they were, and where they were going.

Image at the top of the post: On the 31st Floor of the Bank One Building (now Chase) in 1993, Central Avenue and Monroe. I came from Los Angeles. Or was it Minneapolis? It doesn't matter.

The "re-skinning" of the buildings of Phoenix

In addition to tearing down old buildings, Phoenix does something that I call "re-skinning" buildings. That is, it takes old buildings and covers them up with a modern exterior. There are a lot of old buildings like that around Phoenix, and the example that I often point to is on the northwest corner of Central Avenue and Adams, the Gooding Building. Take a look at it if you work or live downtown, or take a look at it on Google Street View, and you'll see what I mean. This building was built in territorial times, and was "re-skinned" in the 1950s. And now it's such a plan box with windows.

Now waitaminute here, this isn't a conspiracy, man. There aren't a bunch of evil people walking around Phoenix laughing maniacally. This was all done with the best of intentions. I'll see if I can explain.

As a designer myself, I cringe when someone makes a mess of something by "fixing it up". It could be a friend who just invested a lot of money to make a mess of the design of his car, it could be someone who re-designed the porch of their house to look like a horror. Invariably these people post photos on Facebook and proudly proclaim what they'd done, and their friends "like" it. I just turn away, sadly. Because they'll never know.

My parents, bless their hearts, were very good at making a mess of things. One of my prized possessions is a cedar oak chest that had once belonged to my great-great-grandmother. In the 1970s my parents covered it with paint, and in the '90s, when I got it, I took the paint off, revealing the beautiful oak underneath that had been "re-skinned" to make it look better (I guess).

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The same thing happens to buildings. With the best intentions, people "fix them up", usually to fit in with the current design fad. Suddenly bricks are considered unsightly, and are covered with stucco. Or maybe stucco is considered unsightly, and is covered with bricks. Either way, the original design integrity is lost. And as a designer, I prefer to see how it was originally, what I call "off the drawing board". I look for this everywhere, even at car shows. I walk past all of the cars from the 1930s that have been chopped up and modified with fiberglass. No, I won't criticize (that's no way to make friends!), but I wish they wouldn't do that. I look for cars that have their design integrity intact, as if they rolled off the assembly lines yesterday - and yesterday was 1935.

So that's where I stand on re-skinning. I understand it, and I understand that most people like it, and that's it's done with best intentions. But I don't like it. And when someone is restored back to look the way it did when it was new, I love it. I time-travel.

Image at the top of this post: the Gooding Building in the 1920s, northwest corner of Central Avenue and Adams, Phoenix, Arizona. The tall building next to it, the Heard Building, is still there, but has been treated with more respect.

Why Phoenix relies on Los Angeles

I love Phoenix, but I often jokingly refer to it as a "suburb of Los Angeles", or as part of the greater Los Angeles metro area (with that small gap in the California desert!). And Phoenix does rely on Los Angeles, the way that it relied on San Francisco in the 1800s. So, at the risk of offending people who think that Phoenix could survive without Los Angeles, let's take a look.

Los Angeles connects Phoenix to the world mostly through the Port of San Pedro and Los Angeles International Airport. If you've seen these places, the gigantic scale is something that dwarfs most cities in the world, including Phoenix. Yes, there are other, busier places on an international scale, such as Tokyo, which makes Los Angeles seem small and "backwater" by comparison.

When Phoenix was first platted, in 1870, there were no railroads to it, and Los Angeles was still just a little town. Everything of major importance had to come from the port of San Francisco, via the Gulf of California, and then up along the Gila River. Take a look at a map, it's mind-boggling, but that's how it was done. After the railroads were built, and Los Angeles grew, it made more sense for goods to be shipped to Phoenix from there. So the lifeline changed from San Francisco to Los Angeles. And that connects Phoenix to the world, literally.

I lived in LA in the eighties, and have driven back and forth between there and Phoenix so many times I've lost count. And if you've never noticed, look more carefully the next time you drive there, you will see a LOT of trucks. Also trains, and airplanes overhead. That's the lifeline.

Today, the day after the Dodgers win to go the World Series, I was wearing my Dodgers hat in Phoenix, and even posted a selfie on my Facebook page. And I was surprised to see that many people in Phoenix see no connection to Los Angeles. And that makes me kinda sad, because Phoenix would never have existed without California, San Francisco at first and later Los Angeles. This more than just a historical connection, this is something that Phoenix relies on, and keeps it strong, to this day.

Thanks, Big Brother Los Angeles! Go Dodgers!

Image at the top of this post: Los Angeles to Phoenix in a Ford Roadster in 1912.

The difference between canals, laterals, and storm drains in Phoenix, Arizona

Although most people use the term "canal" for anything that carries water in the Phoenix area, there is a difference between canals, laterals, and storm drains. Yes, they all carry water, but they have different functions.

The canals of Phoenix can be compared to aqueducts in any major city. That is, how water is brought into the city from nearby lakes, rivers, reservoirs, that sort of thing. Phoenix has several canals, most of which are south of Phoenix, and since I'm mostly interested in the Phoenix metro area, I focus on the main three, which are: Grand Canal, the Arizona Canal, and the Crosscut Canal. The first two start waaay back on the Salt River, on the other side of the Pima/Maricopa Salt River Community, and end west of where I'm writing this, in Peoria west of the 101 Freeway, at the Agua Fria. The water travels from northeast to southwest, along the gentle slope of the Salt River Valley. The Arizona Canal is just north of me (I'm near Glendale Community College) and Grand Canal, which runs parallel to the Arizona Canal, is south of me. You cross over it on Central when you go past Central High School. The third one, the Cross-Cut, which is east of Papago Park, runs north and south connecting the Arizona Canal to Grand Canal (it does a "cross-cut"). There are, of course, other canals, like the Tempe Canal, but I won't get into those right now. Let's take a look now at laterals.

A lateral is kind of like a small canal. It brings water from the canals directly into neighborhoods. Most of them have been covered over since the 1960s, but you can still see an open lateral along Central between Northern and Bethany Home Road (it's on the west side of Central). Sometimes you'll see water in it, sometimes it's dry depending on if water is being delivered from the canal at that particular time. Yeah, old-timers call laterals "canals" and I don't correct them - I know what they mean. The canals always have water in them, unless they're being cleaned or repaired. The laterals have water only when water is being delivered to a neighborhood. Sometimes so much water is being delivered that you'll see it splashing up on street corners!

Another thing that is commonly called a canal is an open storm drain. You don't see too many of them nowadays, but they were fairly common up until just a couple of decades ago. The one that springs to my mind is the storm drain that's under the Crosscut Linear Park along 40th Street between Indian School Road and McDowell. That's where the original Crosscut Canal was, which was replaced in 1913 by the "new" one (which is still in use) and it was left as an open storm drain until the 1990s. Of course water flows in there after a rain, but you could see it back then, and now it's covered up.

27th Avenue and Thomas in 1949, also called Lateral 14 and Oleander Avenue.

And it gets even more interesting. Since the canals mostly ran east and west, and the laterals ran north and south, before street names were used way out in the country, like 27th Avenue, the street was just named after the lateral, in that case Lateral 14. So if you see a map from the 1940s, don't be surprised to see 27th Avenue also called Lateral 14. Of course people didn't actually drive on the lateral, the lateral always had a road next to it.

To me, the canals of Phoenix are pure magic. I've ridden my bike along them so many times I've lost count. I call them the gentle rivers of Phoenix.

Image at the top of this post: the Arizona Canal, which flows just north of me, and has since 1885. The photo is from 1899.

How to talk like a Phoenix local

Something that people take great pride in is talking like a local. That is, speaking with the correct pronunciation of people who grew up somewhere. To outsiders, the difference is too subtle to detect, but locals can tell if you're from there. In some places, locals can tell if you're from the north side of town, or a particular neighborhood, or whatever. Actors often study these accents, and invariably get them wrong from the point of view of people who really know. And this got me thinking about how people in Phoenix talk.

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If you grew up somewhere, and never lived anywhere else, of course you can't hear your accent, it simply doesn't exist for you. To you, that's just the way that people talk. Personally, I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and moved to Phoenix when I was 18. I spent several years in Southern California, and then moved back to Phoenix when I was 31, which was, uh, quite a while ago. But like most people, I carry the accent that I grew up with, which is called a "Twin Cities" (Minneapolis/St Paul) accent.

The Phoenix accent (to give it a name) is mostly midwestern. The influence of Minnesota, Iowa, etc. on Phoenix is very strong. Phoenix is, after all, a fairly young city, and while there are people who have been born there, and their parents, and grandparents, and even great-grandparents, they're rare. If you compare that to, for example, Philadelphia, there could be over a dozen generations who have grown up there, and that's common. So, to be fair, Phoenix really hasn't had enough time to develop a distinct accent. You know, the kind that an actor needs to study for months before taking a role. But there is a sound of a Phoenix local. I'll try to explain.

The first place to start to learn to "speak like a Phoenix local" is with a midwestern accent. Luckily, that's very easy, as it's the standard accent (or lack thereof) of the United States - what I call the "Man on the Six O'clock News". It's mostly a Twin Cities accent (not to be confused with a Minnesota accent). Listen to any newscaster anywhere in the country and you'll hear the Twin Cities accent. Soften it up a bit and you have a midwestern accent. When I first started teaching, in my late 30s, I was so nervous that I was accused of sounding like a radio announcer. My voice will still do that under stress. To be comfortable in Phoenix you have to loosen up a bit.

So you start with a midwestern accent, and then you have to add a bit of Spanish spice. Phoenix locals know how to pronounce words with two ls - like tortilla, or Estrella. No, it's not tor-TILLA, it's tor-TEE-ya. And Es-TREY-ya. But calm down here, you don't have to sound like Antonio Banderas, you just get the Spanish pronunciation just a little bit right. When you get it wrong, a giant cartoon piano falls on your head, and the locals start laughing at you.

Since I've lived in Phoenix so long now, and have friends in California and Minnesota, I can distinctly hear their accent. Which means that I must sound kinda funny to them. I talk mostly like a Phoenix local, but I still carry the accent I learned as a kid, as childhood like accents pop up when you're nervous, as I was when I made the video below.

Here's what I sound like, not a perfect Phoenix accent, but close.

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How Phoenix went from a city of trees to a city of billboards

When I first started collecting old photos of Phoenix, I was amazed by the trees. Up until the late 20th Century, Phoenix was a forest of trees. It was an oasis in the desert. Then suddenly the trees disappeared, and billboards appeared. LOTS of billboards.

Now waitaminute, before you think that this was some big conspiracy, man, think again. Both the trees and the billboards were related to the desire of people to make money. Let's start with the trees.

Trees in Phoenix, Arizona in 1915
Time-travel with me back to the days before there were any trees in Phoenix, which would be the 1860s. When the Phoenix pioneers started building canals they immediately started planting trees. Their goal wasn't just to create a beautiful background to look at, they used trees in combination with agriculture, especially as windbreaks. And of course the trees gave much-needed shade for both humans and livestock.

And the trees did more than that - they transformed the look of Phoenix from a dry, dusty desert to a place that actually looked as if people could live there. Yes, it was all about selling Real Estate. Nowadays Real Estate agents call it "curb appeal", and having trees around made a huge difference to how people saw Phoenix, and it encouraged investment in Real Estate, housing developments, that sort of thing.

If you now fast-forward to the 1950s, Phoenix was booming. The population was exploding, and the main goal was just building housing fast enough for demand, and keeping the streets from getting jammed. The housing shortage after World War II was very acute, and people weren't so picky about what things looked like - they needed houses to raise their families, and roads to drive to work on.

By the time I got to Phoenix, in 1977, the trees were gone. This never surprised me, because I knew that I was moving to the desert. There were a lot of buildings, and very wide roads. I really never gave it a second thought. There were a lot of billboards, but I also never gave them a second thought - they were the "pop-up ads" of the day.

Then things started changing. There were less billboards, and more trees. This makes me optimistic for the future of my beloved city.  Because after all people want to live with shade and beauty, not billboards.

Image at the top of this post: Billboard in Phoenix in the early 1970s, you're looking north on 7th Avenue at Campbell.

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How young people dressed in the 1970s in Phoenix, Arizona

If you were a young person in the 1970s, you probably wince at photos of what you wore then. It was, of course, in fashion then but just seems to scream "weird" now. Let's take a look.

These young people in 1973, standing next to the Bug Bus were traveling between Christown Mall and ASU. Their clothes are typical of average college kids. The men, of course, had long hair. Long hair was practically a requirement at the time to show that independent spirit that most young men like to show. Long hair had become popular for young men in the 1960s, with "hippies" and developed into the norm by the 1970s.

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The pants were bell-bottoms, or "flares". That is, they were very wide at the bottom, and the flare was exaggerated starting at the knee. Stripes were "in", on pants being vertical and on shirts horizontal.

Thanks to the help of my PhDs (Phoenix History Detectives) of the female persuasion, I'm told that the young lady was wearing a "crochet poncho". I don't know enough about ladies fashion to say any more than that, but it looks like she's also wearing tights, and that the skirt is fairly high. My memories of being a kid in the 1970s are vague, but I know that skirts were either very short, or very long (called "mini" or "maxi" skirts).

Speaking for myself, I was too young back then to grow a beard or mustache, but they were very popular then, along with sideburns. Big sideburns! The colors were still very bright in the early 1970s, and started becoming "earth tones" in the mid-1970s. Clothing, and kitchens started becoming orange, green, and brown.

Thanks for time-traveling back to the 1970s with me, man. Far out! Out of sight!

The Bug Bus at Christown Mall in the 1970s, Phoenix, Arizona. Groovy.

Walking along the Tempe Canal in 1982

Walk with me. Today it's 1982 and we're going to walk along the Tempe Canal near Apache and Price. We will go from Tempe to Mesa.

In this blog I usually use my imagination to time-travel, but this time I'm going to use my memory. I walked there often during my last year of going to ASU, living in a converted garage on Wildermuth Road as a "starving student".

The first thing we'll need to do is to get the dogs. I don't have a dog, but I have an agreement with my neighbor that I can borrow his dogs anytime I want to. They're big dogs, and they love to run. There's a huge open field across from Wildermuth, and that's where we go, all of the way to the railroad tracks.

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I suppose, if you want to get picky, that we're breaking a couple of laws. The dogs are off-leash, and we're walking on the railroad tracks. In the 21st Century, this would be unthinkable, but in in 1982 it was common. The two dogs, by the way, both of which are German Shepherds, are named Kona and Kamaya. My neighbor has a fascination for Hawaii.


Kona is an old dog, but does his best to keep up. Kamaya is a young and very strong dog, and loves to chase after the rocks that I throw. She is very fussy about which rocks to run after, they have to be the black ones, never the lighter-colored ones. I'm throwing them along the railroad tracks. We can see for miles in both directions, and there's no train now, although the track is still in regular use.

There's the canal. To give you some idea how empty this area is, there are bee hutches (you know, the kind that farmers use) on the east side of the canal, by the railroad bridge. The photo I found of this area in the 1980s shows apartments, but they weren't there at the time I walked with the dogs, just bees. Let's walk along the west bank of the  canal now, going north.


The dogs are well-behaved, and Kamaya even jumps into the canal and swims. I've never seen that dog tired - even after swimming, she jumps out and runs like a rocket. She must love this, as most of the time she spends in that tiny little yard, locked up with barely room to move.

Look! Horses! The horses at the farm walk up to say hello. The dogs bark, and say "Wow, those are the biggest dogs I've ever seen!" The farm goes from the railroad tracks to Apache, where we turn around and walk home.

Just before we get home the dogs enjoy a nice mud bath in the open lateral along Wildermuth. Mud dogs! It cools them off a bit, and gives them that wonderful aroma that dogs love, mud and whatever has died in the lateral. Then it's time to put the dogs back in their yard and maybe get back to doing my homework.

Thanks for walking along the canal with me, and the dogs!

Image at the top of this post: The Tempe Canal in the 1980s, south of Apache, east of Price. The silos are still there, by the railroad tracks, near Broadway. The bees, and the farm, are gone.

How to invest in your community

I live in Glendale, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, and I invest in it, and I recommend that you do, too.

No, I'm not a wealthy investor, throwing bags of money around, I'm an ordinary citizen who wants the place where I hope to spend the rest of my life to be the best it can be. And my investment takes many forms, including spending my money locally, but it's so much more than that.

I cherish my 'hood. I'm not one of those creepy guys who peeks out of his window suspiciously, but I keep an eye on my neighborhood. I know the difference between bad guys and people who are just doing what they need to do, and aren't perfect. So I'm not going to "freak out" if people put their trash cans out incorrectly. A few months ago there was a dog that barked all day and all night, week after week, and I invested my time to find out how to make it stop. This morning as I type this I'm reminded at how wonderful it is to have the windows open and not hear that. I don't expect my neighborhood to be as silent as the desert, but I also know that certain things begin a slide down, and if caught early can make a difference.

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I invest in my community by caring for my house. I just paid to have my trees trimmed, I pay for water to keep plants growing, a few years ago I paid to have my house painted. I have no plans to ever move out of this house, so it isn't about "equity" - it's about where I live, what I see, my community, my world.

I so often hear people saying that "they" should do something about it. As if there's a "they" out there, with unlimited money to spend, but too evil to do so. Most of these people know nothing about how communities work, they couldn't name their councilperson, don't even know who the mayor is. Just "they".

Well I can tell you who "they" are: they're us. They're you and me. If you care about a place, invest it it, because if you don't, no one else will.

Phoenix, Arizona as seen through the eyes of Edward Irvine in 1870

Time-travel with me to Phoenix, Arizona in 1870. Today I will be Edward Irvine, who made his fortune in Real Estate in Phoenix.

I'm thirty-two years old, I was born in Ireland in 1838, and my family came to America in 1842. I've been kicking around for a while, in places like San Diego, California, but now I'm in Arizona, watching the townsite of Phoenix being laid out. I believe that I will stay here, and seek my fortune.

Here comes William Hancock, walking around the townsite, writing down block numbers. What a mess this area is, which until very recently was a mass of tangled mesquite. People like Jack Swilling are a few miles east, in the Phoenix Settlement, but Hancock figures that this is a better place for the townsite. He seems to know what he's talking about, and certainly drinks less whiskey than Swilling.

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It's October and it's still pretty hot. Hotter than any day that I remember in San Diego! But it should be pretty nice in a month or so. And in the summer I'll wander on back to California until it cools down again. I'll visit some friends there, come back in the fall.

OK, now it's time for me to invest. I want the block next to the Plaza, Block 22. I'll build a substantial building on that block as soon as I can, show people how much I believe in the future of Phoenix, and that they should, too. Someday Phoenix will be a great city, I just know it!

Irvine's Block in 1885, southwest corner of Washington and 1st Street, Phoenix, Arizona.

Image at the top of this post: Edward Irvine in 1890, age 52. A successful and prominent Phoenix businessman.

Going to Cloud Nine in the early 1960s, Phoenix, Arizona

I feel like listening to some Jazz music, and I know a place. That's because we're going to time-travel back to the early 1960s in Phoenix, Arizona and go to Cloud Nine.

Come on, I'll drive, I know where it is - it's up on the top of Shaw Butte, in Sunnyslope. Hop in! My car? Yeah, I love it. I call it a Deuce Coupe - I did the hotrodding myself. It gets me where I wanna go. No, it isn't supposed to have a hood - I like showing off the engine. Here, you have to get in this side, the passenger door is welded shut. Seat belts? What? What do you think this is, the 21st Century?

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Here we are, about 15th Avenue, north of Shangri-La, north of Peoria Avenue. Look, you can see it from here, up on that hill. Yes, we're going up there. Yeah, I agree that the road doesn't look very safe. That's why you park at the bottom of the hill and take a shuttle. Do you have a dollar I can borrow?

Here we are. Wow, what a view! I can see all of the way downtown. Smog? No, that's just exhaust from my Deuce Coupe settling down. It'll go away in an hour or so. Man, dig that crazy beat! That's some coooool jazz! I'm having a lot of fun already, let's get a table. No, I don't have a reservation, but they know me here.

Here. I bought a bottle of whiskey. The waiter will bring glasses and some soda water. Hope that's OK with you. Are you hungry? OK, but don't order anything too expensive - my credit's good here, but not that good. Lobster? What? Well, OK.

Cloud Nine opened in 1961 and closed after a fire just three years later. The remains of it are still there on Shaw Butte, and you can hike up and look at it.

How to find the soul and spirit of Phoenix, Arizona

I collect old photos of Phoenix, and post them on the web, and every once in a while I see a comment that says that Phoenix has lost its soul. Maybe the buildings have lost their soul, or the malls, or whatever. And it makes me sad, because I want to show them that Phoenix has never lost its soul, or spirit. It has what I call "unrealistic optimism", and it's always had it, and still does. Please let me explain.

My research of Phoenix is leading me to discover that the people who have done things there are, well, just a little bit crazy. Sorry, but the pioneers who built the canals in the 1800s, to people who invested in gigantic air conditioned malls in the 1960s have something in common - an optimism that I find amazing.

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If you want to a label on it, it's Progressivism. That's someone staring out at miles and miles of empty desert and imagining an oasis. Imagining a city, with places for people to live, to work, to play, to live.

The city of Phoenix exists because people were crazy enough to build stuff there. They built canals, for a steady supply of water, they built dams to insure water for the future. They built buildings, homes, schools, roads, freeways. From the first time that Jack Swilling set down his whiskey bottle long enough to get his crew working on the canal from the Salt River, people have been building. It's never stopped, and it's never even slowed down.

And that's what's at the heart of Phoenix, Arizona. Moving forward, progressing, building. So to look for the soul and spirit of Phoenix look for construction. Look for buildings being built, for roads being widened, for freeways under construction. Phoenix moves forward, it always has, and hopefully always will.

Image at the top of this post: the Heard Building under construction in 1919, Central Avenue between Adams and Monroe.

Going to Phoenix College in 1978

Although I took my 300 and 400 level classes at ASU, the 100 and 200 level classes I did at Phoenix College, or as everyone called it, PC. Nowadays Phoenix College is called a Community College, but back then it was called a Junior College. Let's go back to 1978.

For me, Phoenix College felt right. I was only a couple of years away from High School, and the campus, pace, and feeling of PC wasn't overwhelming. I understood that to get my degree I would need to take the basic classes, like English, etc., and I couldn't imagine any reason to go to a four-year college and pay a lot more when I could go to PC, and get those classes done and out of the way easier and cheaper. My goal was always to go to ASU, and I knew that the classes at PC would transfer.

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I took a few classes, then learned that it was cheaper to carry a full load, so I did so, and it was about this time that I started doing freelance Graphic Design, so I stayed pretty busy. I don't recall getting involved with any campus life, or going to any games. I drove there, in my MG Midget, took the classes, and drove home. I used the job board there to look for work and to advertise my services, which I called Brad Hall Advertising Art. I had business cards, and letterhead and stationary. I think that it surprised people to find out that the business was just a skinny kid who was going to PC. I'm still using the same logo, which originally was just a BH (for my name), I removed the word "advertising" and added an A (for art). I did just about anything that seemed related to "commercial art" - I painted windows for stores (I was terrible at that), I made signs, and strangely enough most of my work was layout for yellow pages ads. I also did ad layout for clients who were running ads in the Republic and Gazette, and part of my education was to actually see what these places looked like. I was offered full-time jobs, but I didn't take them, I knew that I wanted to stay focused on getting my degree.

I wish I could tell you more about Phoenix College, but other than going there for a couple of years, nothing else comes back to me. It had convenient parking, that I remember! Once I got the basic classes done, I transferred to ASU, where I got my Fine Arts Degree in Graphic Design with a minor in Advertising.

Thank you for visiting 1978 with me!

Image at the top of this post: Phoenix College in 1978, 1202 W. Thomas, Phoenix, Arizona.

How people dressed in the 1940s, Phoenix, Arizona

I collect old photos of Phoenix, and while my interest is mostly in the architecture, I have to admit I'm tickled when I'm able to see the people, and see them really well. In the photo above is a group of people at the Westward Ho Hotel (Central Avenue and Fillmore) in the 1940s. Let's take a look at them.

First of all, I'll tell you right away that this photo wasn't taken in the summer. And the reason I know that is that this group, like everyone with any sense before the common use of modern air conditioning, wouldn't have come anywhere near Phoenix in the summer. I would say that it's somewhere between October and April. Anyway, let's look at their clothing.

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I'll start with the man on the far right, who is wearing a double-breasted suit. I've worn suits in my day, but never one like that, although men still wear them. They're practically a heavy coat, and instead of buttoning low in front, it buttons up high and way over. Not much of the tie shows, and showing a lot of tie didn't start to happen for decades. And, in case you're wondering, yes his suit is cut perfectly, with just the right amount of cuff showing, and a perfect break on the trousers.

Let's talk about hats. Yes, all of these men would have worn hats, but never indoors. A building like this would have hat racks around, and there would have been places to "check" your hat, which meant that someone would look after it (they were expensive!) along with your coat. The women, of course, didn't have to take off their hats in public, but their hats are much smaller than the hats that the previous generation of women wore, which were gigantic. Their hats, by the way, were held in place with hat pins, which were very long sharp pins that went through the hat, and their hair. That had to be dangerous!

Just like today, the women are holding bags. The men's suits, of course, have lots of pockets, but women's clothing really hasn't ever had a lot of pockets. Speaking of pockets, I'd be willing to bet that at least one of those guys has a flask in his suit pocket. I think maybe that guy in the back, who looks suspicious! Nah, there was nothing unusual about carrying a flask back then. Flasks, which are still made that way, have a gentle curve in them to fit in the inside pocket of a suit coat. The next time you're at Bevmo, take a look at them.

Since I'm interested in dating the photos that I find as precisely as possible, I'm glad to see women. Men's dress styles don't change all that much, but women's clothing changes a lot, especially shoes. Of course I know nothing about women's shoes, but I know that the shoes that they're wearing were probably in style and they wouldn't be "caught dead" wearing them just a couple of years later.

They seem a pleasant bunch of people, wouldn't you say?

The two levels of nostalgia at the Minder Binders auction

Yesterday I helped a friend of mine pick up the items that he had purchased at the auction of the Minder Binders memorabilia. If you went to ASU, or lived in Tempe, in the 1970s or '80s, you know about Minder Binders. If not, briefly it was a bar and restaurant on University and McClintock in a gigantic converted old barn that was filled to overflowing with interesting stuff on the walls, hanging on the ceiling, and everywhere. I went there a few times back in '81, ' 82 and I remember being fascinated by the amazing array of things that were everywhere. Nowadays, of course, lots of places have tons of nonsense stuff like that on the walls, but I'd never seen anything like it before, and I've never seen anything like it since.

As someone who is interested in history, I'm fascinated by the two levels of nostalgia represented by these items. For most people like my friend, they are associated with the restaurant, evoking fond memories of college days. And they also have their own history, long before they were randomly hung all over the old barn that became a bar and restaurant. Both histories interest me, and while I can be very precise about one, the other remains a mystery.

Fiberglass sculpture from Minder Binders auction. Maroon and gold are the colors of ASU.

The maroon and gold Zeus is an example that fascinates me. Made of fiberglass, it's about ten feet tall. And while most people do remember it from its place of honor at Minder Binders, I have no idea where it originally came from. "Everyone says" that is was from a movie, or something. My suspicion is that it came from an amusement park. I'll continue to research it. This is the day of the internet, and I may find out!

As I was looking at all of the stuff after the auction yesterday, I was wondering about the first and second levels. The first level was when the items were hauled to a old barn in Tempe in the early 1970s when someone had the idea of creating a crazy-looking bar and restaurant that would appeal to the college kids. I can just picture them enjoying finding things, maybe getting a call from someone who had found something, and the seriously difficult process of getting it all in place. There were some absolutely gigantic things that were suspended from the rafters.

And then I wonder about the people who originally made these things, most of which are fiberglass. Where were they made? When? What were they originally on? Signs for businesses? I'll keep looking around, and I'll tell you if and when I find out more.

Minder Binders memorabilia getting ready to be transported to a place of honor in a home in Los Angeles. The canoe pre-dates the 1970s, the artwork and lettering were done for the restaurant.

By the way, if you got [my friend tells me that word "scored" is more appropriate] something at the Minder Binders auction, and you don't mind telling me, I'd love to hear what you got, what it means to you, and where it is now.

Update: Here is a still from the 1959 movie "Ben Hur" with a similar statue of Zeus. Much larger, and with a slightly different face, but definitely the inspiration!

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