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

Talking to an Australian who lives in Phoenix

If you've lived in Phoenix for a long time (and I've lived there longer than I care to admit), it's fascinating to see it from the viewpoint of someone else. I do this as much as I can, and I call it "looking through someone else's eyes". And it can be quite amazing, and paint a picture of what you hardly see at all as unique, and maybe even a little bit bizarre.

Today I talked to a friend of mine who has lived in Phoenix for many years, but his heart is definitely still down under (Australia). And so I've been thinking about what Phoenix looks like to him.

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First of all, it's in the United States. I know that sounds strange, but it's something that I rarely think about. My Australian friend sees this as the U.S., not just Phoenix, and not just Arizona. And we do a lot of strange things here, like drive on the wrong (right) side of the road. I often wonder how he manages to switch back and forth (he visits back home every year) but he just shrugs it off. To me, it's a super-power. Like most people in the U.S. I can't even imagine trying to drive on the left side of the road. And while he's too polite to ever say this, he probably thinks of us as, uh, well, kinda stupid because we can't do that. He also has no problem with roundabouts, which to me is like suddenly putting up calculous equations in the middle of an intersection - I still really don't understand any of it. I just hope that he's patient with me as I try to figure out which lane I should be in, who has the right-of-way, etc., and he can do it from both sides of the road.

And, as you'd expect, his number one comment about Phoenix is, "It's too bloody hot". If you Google Norfolk Island, where he lived for many years, you can see what he considers average weather. To me, it seems like San Diego, only nicer. And I really don't need to be reminded how ridiculously hot it is in Phoenix, but this really drives it home. What in the world are people doing living in this oven?

And it's gets weirder. Because as I write this, in November, approaching winter here in Phoenix, it's becoming summer in Australia. Of course, where my friend lived the weather was just about perfect all year 'round, so he still grumbles a bit about having to wear even a light jacket (it was in the sixties this morning). Or I suppose the teens to him. Like most Americans, I never learned metric, but he switches easily between kilometers and miles and Celsius and Fahrenheit. What idiots we must seem to him! And don't get him started on explaining how Cricket works!

But of course he's here in Phoenix, and has been for years. As long as I've known him, he's talked about moving back to "Oz", but there must be a reason that he stays in Arizona. I can't tell why yet, but hopefully I'll learn. I like it here, and may be he does, too.

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History adventuring in real life along the Estrella Mountains near Phoenix, Arizona

Although I usually go history adventuring in my imagination and in cyberspace, yesterday I went IRL (In Real Life) and spent some time near the Estrella Mountains, which are southwest of Phoenix.

If you're like most people living in Phoenix, you probably have no idea that these mountains even exist. I live in Glendale, which is due north of the Estrellas, and it wasn't until just a few years ago that I realized that every time I look south I'm seeing them. To me, like to most people, they just seemed to be more of South Mountain. And it makes sense - they're mountains, and they're south. But South Mountain (originally called the Salt River Mountains) ends at 51st Avenue. And while South Mountain is big enough to give a dramatic backdrop to Phoenix, it's nothing compared to the gigantic scale of the Estrellas.

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To get there, go south on 51st Avenue, probably farther south than you've ever been. That's where the pass between the Estrellas and South Mountain is. You will go through Laveen, and then Komatke. When you go past the Vee Quiva Casino, you're on Res land. That's the Gila River Indian Community, where the Pima people have lived for hundreds of years. It's been a reservation since 1859, but when I go there I look at the Estrella Mountains, and time-travel back much further. Walk with me.

This is sacred ground. And I'm not just saying that as a cliche. The Gila River, which runs parallel to the Estrella Mountains, was the lifeblood of the Pima people. And if you go there today, tread lightly.

At the base of the Estrella Mountains, towards the southern tip. Not many people have been there, but evidence can be seen of their visits, scratched into the rock, some marks are ancient, and some are recent.

When 51st Avenue begins to turn east in order to connect with the freeway, keep going south. The roads aren't paved, but 4-wheel drive isn't necessary. Yes, there are roads right through the river. Keep the Estrellas to your right, and hug them. You'll drive down into the river bottom (don't do this after a rain, or if the forecast is rain!) and with some careful driving, you'll find yourself at the base of the Estrella Mountains. Get out of your car. Take a tip from my Indian friends and shut up. Be silent. Stop talking. Listen to the silence. The loudest sound you'll hear will be buzzing of insects going by. Look up.

The face of Montezuma in the Estrella Mountains

I always look for the Face of Montezuma in the Estrella Mountains. If you're familiar with the legend, it's the face that looks up (in profile) along the ridge of the mountain of an ancient Indian god who would would someday return and release the native people from the tyranny of the oppressors, going back to the time of Spanish rule. Yes, going back to the 1700s. And Montezuma still sleeps there. Where exactly the profile is isn't something that everyone agrees on, to me it's where you see it. But it's definitely there. So I'd say that you should put away your GPS, and set aside your ordinary notions of exploration, and let your mind find it. Sorry if I sound kinda mystical, but a place like that does it to you. If you go there, you'll know.

Thank you for walking with me.

Giving away Phoenix history

I collect old photos of Phoenix, and I give them away. I don't have them on paper, so I can give them away without losing anything myself. I can share them with thousands of people, and all it costs me is a small effort. I've been doing it for years, and I really enjoy it. And that's gotta be typical human nature, that a collection is only fun if other people can see it. And on the internet, there's no limit to how many people can share. So I give away stuff every day. And I really do enjoy it when I see other people enjoying what I enjoy. I hope that makes sense?

But this past Thanksgiving I wanted to do a little more, and it struck me that I could actually give something tangible, so I'm giving my favorite book, Phoenix Past and Present. Yes, I'm gonna get myself another copy, don't worry about that!

I think that I was inspired to do this by my Patreon patrons. If that's you, thank you so much! I support a few people on Patreon, and while it's only a few bucks a month, it makes me feel very good, and makes me feel as if I were doing more than just "liking". And as someone who just hates internet advertising, I'd also like to feel that I'm doing my little part to combat that. Please note that there are no ads on this blog - thanks to my patrons!

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So I started the big book giveaway by asking the group that I manage on Facebook what they thought about it. The response was amazing. At first I wondered if it should be some kind of a contest, and finally settled on a random drawing, which people entered by just leaving a brief comment.

As an old Marketing guy, I often get suspicious about stuff. "What's the catch?" is what I often say, and look for. And there often is one. And then sometimes there's no catch - sometimes people enjoy giving. I gotta admit that I do, even though I'd never been known as someone like that in the past. It just feels good.

Living close to the airport in the 1950s, Phoenix, Arizona

In addition to collecting old photos of Phoenix, I collect old maps, and it always surprises people to see that there once were city streets where there is now airport property, at Sky Harbor Airport.

Take a look at the east end of Sky Harbor Airport in 1956, in the map above. Those were city streets there, with houses, and people in them. And if it's hard for you to imagine, I think I can help, since I grew up in Minneapolis, right near by airport, at 48th Street and Bloomington.

South Minneapolis, Minnesota - near the airport

I just took a look at my old neighborhood in Minneapolis on Google maps, and while the houses aren't as close as the ones in the 1956 Phoenix map above, they're still pretty darned close. I have friends who still live in the neighborhood, and when I'm talking on the phone with them they have to wait until the planes go over. From where my house was, you could see the landing gear, and we really never thought of it as a big deal. Of course the planes were landing away from the neighborhood, not towards it, and that's an important safety concern. The noise (which is horrific to this day) hasn't seemed to bother the property values, as this is still a nice neighborhood, with the even more expensive houses actually closer to the airport property, which goes to 58th Street, ten blocks away from the house where I grew up.

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The neighborhoods around Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix are long gone, and like I say it's kinda shocking to see city streets where there are now runways, and airport property. It must have been noisy!

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Teaching the "waiting for the van" generation in the 1990s, Phoenix, Arizona

When I started teaching at the Art Institute of Phoenix in 1996, I quickly realized that there was going to be a lot more that I needed to do in addition to teaching Graphic Design, and software. At my advanced age (I was darned near 40!) I had lost touch with what recent high school grads were like. And I added an aspect to the classes that I called adapting to the "waiting for the van generation" - that is, people who were one generation younger than me.

What really surprised me is how confused so many people would get if I didn't explain everything very precisely, and over and over again. These people weren't rude, or anything, they would just sit there, looking confused, and patiently wait until I came over and explained again, and again, and again. I wanted to sympathize with them, and I just imagined that as kids they had play dates arranged by their parents, and were driven to their sporting events. And that's why I thought of them as "waiting for the van" - that is, their parent's van, or some grownup that would take them somewhere.

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Of course, looking back now I realize that this generation wasn't exceptional, this is just normal human behavior. The school encouraged creative thinking, and I saw a lot of blank looks. Now in my golden years I realize that this is just how it is, and how it's always been. There was nothing exceptional about the generation younger than me, it's just that they hadn't had the additional twenty years of life experience that I had had.

Instead of disliking these people, I learned to love them. I encouraged people who had never had a reason to do anything on their own before. I saw small achievement grow into great things. I saw people who had been told to just sit still and be good (and wait for the van) stick their necks out for the first time. Because I realized that they were just like me, only younger.

If you've forgotten what it's like to be young and scared, teach a college class. At first glance you'll see a lot of confidence, but it's just an illusion. Many of my students had tattoos, and piercings, and I would look into their eyes. Their eyes were young and scared. Their eyes wanted some encouragement, to be told that they could do it.

At the bottom of every syllabus I wrote "You can do this!", and I expect results, not excuses. For the people who had always known exactly how many classes they could miss, or be tardy for, and still not fail a class, I redirected their aim. I'd like to think that in the past twenty years these people have done great things, but I haven't kept track of anyone. I know that the amazing stuff that we see every day is done by them, and they just needed a chance, needed some encouragement.

I still behave this way, because I see the "wait for the van generation" everywhere, even in people who are older than me. Ultimately it means people who had been told to just be invisible, people who had had their knuckles rapped when they spoke up. I want to hear these voices, and see what these people can do.

You can do this!

Living in a Trailer Park in the 2000s, Phoenix, Arizona

I was taught to never say "Trailer Park" by my parents who lived in a Mobile Home Community in the 2000s in Peoria, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. And since I remember it well, it occurs to me that you may have never spent time in a Trailer... oops, I mean Mobile Home Community. Let's go visit.

The Trailer... I mean Mobile Home Community where my parents lived was for people 55 and better. You never said "older", you said "better". Get ready for a LOT of rules!

My parents were "snowbirds" since 1989, when I moved back to Phoenix from Los Angeles. No, they didn't stay with me, they started out staying in an apartment in the same complex where I lived, which was specifically for winter visitors. It rented monthly, and included everything you would need, not just furniture but dishes, pots and pans, that sort of thing. Then they found a rental condo, which was actually pretty darned nice, over on the El Caro golf course. I'm pretty sure the condos are still there, but the golf course itself has been abandoned. It was a nice little course at one time, and I played it often, and would stop at my parent's place, which was near the 7th hole.

But my parents are more thrifty than that - good Midwestern "value for money" people, like I am. And they eventually bought a Mobile Home in a Trailer... I mean Mobile Home Community. What they had was called a "double wide" - you can see the seam in the middle where two trailers were put together, so it wasn't quite as narrow as you might imagine. Not big, but not claustrophobic, either.

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This is how it works: you buy the trailer, but you rent the space. I visited there a lot, and have to admit that it's kinda cool - there's a community of people who all kinda look the same (grey hair and glasses), a swimming pool, community center, and lots and lots of things for the old folks, oops I mean persons of age, to do. Now let's talk about the rules, and why there are so many rules.

A Mobile Home Community, like the one my parents lived in, is very aware of the stigma of "Trailer Parks". In my lifetime, I remember the trailer parks that I used to see over in my neighborhood by Lopers. They were places without any rules, or, as far as I could tell, laws. Great places for people who just want to be left alone, but scary places for law-abiding citizens, if you understand what I mean.

Anyway, one of the rules that I didn't quite understand in my younger years is that you had to wear a shirt to go the pool. The pool was just a few steps from my parent's place so, I would change into my swimming trunks, grab a towel and go. No. I was told to put on a shirt. Now I understand - watching old men shirtless with big old bellies walking around isn't a pretty site. My dad might have been OK, athletic and fit even in his golden years, but most guys really needed to cover up. And that's just the beginning of the rules.

The rules went on and on. And people there obeyed the rules, not because there was anyone in particular to enforce them, but because they wanted to live in a Mobile Home Community, not a Trailer Park. There's a big difference, and I learned that from my parents.

Image at the top of this post: At the Casa del Sol Mobile Home Community in 2000, 91st Avenue south of Grand Avenue, Peoria, Arizona. Not a trailer park.

Successful history adventuring IRL (In Real Life), Phoenix, Arizona

I'm fascinated with the history of Phoenix. Not just the famous stuff in books, or a speech made by a politician, but everything. And although I do most of my history adventuring in cyberspace, sometimes I actually go out and travel around Phoenix. It can be a challenge for me, so I make sure to bring along a responsible party to do things like drive, etc. I've made some mistakes, and have talked to people who've done the right and wrong things, so I'd like to share some observations on how to have a successful history adventure.

The first thing you need to do is to map it out. Just randomly driving around Phoenix is all well and good, but it's better to plan out something of a loop. You don't have to be stuck on the agenda, but it's nice to make a circle of your trip, not a zig-zag. I have found that about three or four places to go see is about right. I don't stay at these places very long, and I don't do guided tours, so I can be flexible about my time. I like start at 9:30-10 (after rush hour) and then be back while the sun is still shining. Seeing sights is best done by sunlight.

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I like to include at least one "then and now" scene, so I find a old photo, put it somewhere on my phone that's easy to find (I like to use the Message app), then I have it right there when I'm at the place. Yesterday I wanted to do a then and now on the ASU campus, and I had figured out as closely as possible where I needed to be. While I was eating a delicious cheeseburger at the Chuckbox I looked at the old photo again very carefully, and did my best to figure out where the original photographer was standing. Then I walked to that place and took several photos. I'm an old Graphic Designer and I know that it's wise to take a photo from farther back than too close because you can always crop, but you can't add to the edges if they aren't there.

Of course taking photos isn't all that I do when I'm out history adventuring. I've known people who are so obsessed with taking photos that they're really just looking at their camera all of the time, and they miss a lot that they would see if they just put the darn thing in their pocket and looked around. I like to do that, I recommend it.

The photo up there, which is a "then and now" on the Arizona State University campus (near Old Main on University east of College, in Tempe - 1915/2017), is an example of a fairly safe place to take a photo. Unfortunately, many historic places that you go to aren't quite as "upscale" as they used to be, so, uh, be careful, and be aware. People in neighborhoods may not understand why you're taking a photo of a particular house, which may belong to a friend of theirs, so don't take photos of houses without permission. And if you just want to park your car exactly where Father Kino walked, you may find yourself blocking a street, so try to stay in the 21st Century, at least enough not to be a nuisance.

Speaking for myself, I find it helpful to bring a bag full of snacks (peanuts, etc.) and bottles of water. No, I'm not crossing the desert, but it's just nice to not have to stop just for a snack. Yes, I'll stop at the Chuckbox, and the Valley Ho, because that's part of the fun. But I'm really too impatient to stand in line at the Circle K for a bag of peanuts.

Thank you for history adventuring with me!

Getting married at Sky Harbor Airport in the 1940s, Phoenix, Arizona

I love you, you love me, it's the 1940s, so let's get married right away. And I know what you're thinking, there's a three-day waiting period here for the blood test. But I know a place that doesn't have that law, Arizona. And I can get us there in one of those aero-planes. Come along with me, we're going to Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Arizona.

Yes, it's a romantic name, but that's really what it's called, and it's been there since the 1920s. Let's jump on a plane, I'll pay for it. Get yourself all dolled up, and I'll put on my best suit, we want to look our best, we'll be flying! Yes, of course, pack your wedding dress. Me? Well, if it's OK with you I'll just wear my best suit. How do I look? Thank you!

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We're flying! What? Of course you can smoke and drink! I can light your cigarette from mine. And here's the stewardess, she'll get us anything we want. What? A Shirley Temple? OK, whatever you want, dear. I'll have whiskey on the rocks. And make that a double!

There's Sky Harbor Airport down below, and we're getting ready to land. We're almost there! And it's got exactly what we need, right there next to the runway - a wedding chapel. We'll be married minutes after landing.

Sky Harbor Airport in the 1940s, Phoenix, Arizona

The chapel at Sky Harbor Airport in the 1940s, Phoenix, Arizona.

What? No, I don't know, I suppose so. I suppose divorces are easy, too. Why do you ask?

How to do history adventuring in Phoenix IRL (In Real Life)

I just love history adventuring in Phoenix, and while I usually do it in my imagination, with the help of old photos that I find, sometimes I like to do it IRL (In Real Life), which is what I'm gonna do today with the help of a fellow adventurer (who calls it "Urban Spelunking").

Of course, just being in the Phoenix area I see a lot of stuff. I know that the moment my feet hit the ground, even in my house in Glendale, I'm walking where the Hohokam people walked - every inch of this valley belonged to them, not just the tiny preserved area around 44th Street and Washington. I also know that I'm looking at the mountains that the Apaches protected, and the routes that the gold miners struggled on, especially north of me here in Glendale. When I pedal over to the Fitness Center at my local community college, I go through the Sahuaro Ranch park, past some impressive history there.

But today will be special, as I will be covering more ground that I usually do. The plan is to do a loop that includes Tempe. My fellow adventurer, whom I'll call Mick (because that's his name) has worked out a map that will allow us to go to places without having to zig-zap back and forth. It's good to have a plan, but of course if we don't get to all of the places marked, that would be OK, too.

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In preparation for this I've created a little snack bag, and have checked to see that I have some cash in my pocket. I've always had the tendency to forget to think about food (which is why I was such a sickly, skinny kid) but I'm older and wiser now and I know that I will need to interrupt my fun every once in a while to refuel my body. Most people plan their adventures around food, I have to stop and think: food. With any luck today there will be a cheeseburger at the Chuckbox, too!

One of things that I just love to do when I'm doing this is to create a "then and now" photo. I have tried doing the search command on my phone, but it's more trouble than it's worth, so now I set aside a photo or two that I'd like to match up. Today in Tempe I'd like to do a "now" photo by one of the original buildings on campus to match up with a "then" photo from 1915. So I've sent the photo to Mick, and we'll both have it on our phones in our message app. Nowadays I don't need to remember to bring a camera, it's already in my pocket, as part of my phone. I just love new technology!

I just love this kind of adventuring, and I'm grateful to have someone to drive. I love looking out the window, and have no real interest in traffic lights, left turn signals, that sort of thing. I like looking at mountains, and have given over the driving to airplane pilots, shuttle drivers, buses, Light Rail, friends, and hopefully in the future, self-driving cars.

I promise to report back on this history adventure IRL! This is too much fun, and I love to share it!

The Hanny name in Phoenix, Arizona

If you've lived in Phoenix anytime after the 1880s, you've seen the Hanny name. If you're a real old-timer, you may remember Christian Hanny, but you probably are more familiar with his son Vic, who started a clothing store in 1912. His original store was on Central Avenue, and the store that most people know about today (which is now a restaurant) was built in 1949, at 1st Street and Adams.

Hanny's Menswear in 1949, when the building was brand new, 1st Street and Adams, Phoenix, Arizona. Now Hanny's Restaurant.

And yes, there are still members of the Hanny family around Phoenix. By the way, it's pronounced like Danny - Hanny. I had the pleasure of meeting some of those people recently (no, their last name isn't Hanny, it's been several generations along the maternal line) and taking a look at some of the interesting documents that have been preserved from all of the way back to the 1880s, just before the family moved to the brand new town of Phoenix.

Anyway, if you live in Phoenix you know that much of its history gets erased. It's not a conspiracy, man, it's just that Phoenix has grown so quickly that it outgrows the tiny buildings that once were big enough, and new buildings get built. If you visit the restaurant that used to be the clothing store, it will probably amaze you that it was once considered a sizable business. Nowadays it's smaller than just one section of your local Walmart.

I don't expect buildings to be preserved in Phoenix, I understand that the city is bigger than it was back in the day, so I'm delighted when I see a building "re-purposed", and it's even cooler to me to see the name retained.

If you go to Hanny's, take a look down at the entrance when you walk in. It's a name that's just about as old as Phoenix, Arizona itself, and it's nice to see it preserved.

Image at the top of this post: Photo of the entrance to Hanny's 1st Street and Adams, 2017.

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Cats in old-time Phoenix

I've lived in the Phoenix, Arizona area for a long time, and I've seen a lot of cats. And not just on the internet, but also in IRL (In Real Life). Where I live now, a few blocks from the Sahuaro Ranch, the feral cats wander around the neighborhood, especially in the wee hours of the morning. When I lived in Tempe, back in my ASU days, I had never seen so many cats wandering around all of the time (I grew up in Minnesota and I guess they can't live outside there in the winter). So, as you can tell, today I'm thinking about cats in old-time Phoenix.

I wish I had a pic of some cats in old-time Phoenix, but the closest I can come to that is this ad for Dr. H.T. Doak, Veterinary Surgeon in 1918. Looks like he took care of domestic animals (he probably didn't treat farm animals, which would have been much more common in those days), and I find it interesting that horses (equine) were considered domestic animals back then. Makes sense, although I don't see a lot of horses in my neighborhood nowadays.

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I see that he had a dog and cat hospital, but if I'm reading the ad correctly, he only boarded dogs, not cats. His place of business was located way out on the edge of town, at 7th Avenue and Grand, at what was then called the Cowboy Corral (northeast corner of 7th Avenue and Van Buren, at Five Points). Actually, since he was north of Van Buren, he was outside of the City Limits.

It looks like he had all the latest up-to-date equipment, include a phone, the number being 1063. I would imagine back then that Dr. Doak would make a house call if you had a very sick cat, because most doctors did, even doctors for humans, back then. In fact, it's only been in the last sixty years or so that doctors have stopped making house calls. I've never seen a doctor do a house call, but they did before my day.

I wish I could tell you more about cats in old-time Phoenix, other than the fact that they were there, and, just like today, were either well cared for, or wandering around doing the best they could.

Finding what's important to you personally in Phoenix history

I like to collect old photos of Phoenix, Arizona. At last count, I've lost count, and my collection continues to grow. And I love to share them, which I do, on the internet. It's a wonderful learning experience, and one of the most fascinating things to me is discovering what's important to each person.

Speaking for myself, I'm fascinated with the architecture. I never could do the math, so I could never have been an architect, but I've always enjoyed looking at buildings, and imagining them being designed and built. I also love looking at classic cars, so a lot of times the photos I find will fascinate me because of the old cars. Of course, it has to be something that I personally know a little bit about - I call that a "reference point". That's why old photos of someone's family are so boring, there's no connection to you, although it's fascinating to them.

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The comments that I see will often tell me what's important to each individual - their reference point. The vast majority of people on my Facebook group are fascinated by the price of gasoline. I could post a photo of rampaging elephants on the streets of Phoenix (not that I have one!) and someone would comment about the price of gas in a sign in the background.

I've seen people struggle with finding any personal connection at all. I've seen people write "I know someone named Omar!" when I post photos of Omar Turney (that's him up there). And there are people who may have heard about something, but couldn't quite place it. And of course there are the names of things, like street names, or the names of schools. That becomes a personal reference point for people many times. There is, of course, a Turney Street in Phoenix, and it's named after him. Once you have someone's reference point, they can become interested in the fact that he mapped out the ancient canals of the Hohokam people

Without a reference point, learning about something can be just about impossible. If you sat me down to learn about a bunch of people living in a city I'd never heard of, I'd be trying to ease out there as quickly as I could. So I look for a reference point. If I can find one, you have my attention, if not, I'm outta here.

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Buying soda pop in Phoenix, Arizona

As someone who grew up in Minnesota, and moved to Phoenix at age 19, the word "soda" sounds very strange to me. Yes, I know it means pop. But it's kinda like hearing someone say "dungarees" (which means bluejeans). And it's a reminder that if you move away from where you grew up, you'll see some strange things, and then after that, you can never really fit in either back home or where you live after that.

So I'm not really sure what native Phoenicians call soda. If you grew up in Phoenix, please let me know what you say. I will tend to use the term "soda-pop" as a compromise, and I also used the term in California. Here in Phoenix I'd be uncomfortable asking someone to go into a store and buy me a pop. Of course in Minneapolis, it wouldn't sound strange at all.

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I've only lived three places in my life: Minneapolis (where I grew up), Phoenix, and Southern California (Santa Barbara and Los Angeles) so I wouldn't consider myself a world traveler. But I've known a lot of locals in all of those places (people who grew up there, and stayed there) and they can become very belligerent about what things are supposed to be called. I learned to listen carefully, and hesitate, and sometimes ask people what something is called where they grew up. I would only do this with close friends, as this can seem as if you're making fun of someone, which I'm not, I'm just curious. I had a girlfriend from the East Coast who called drinking fountains "bubblers". Really. You East Coast people will back me up on that, right? Can you imagine asking someone in Phoenix or Los Angeles where the bubbler is? I'd say that would be like asking someone for a pop - you might get a pop in the nose!

I've lived in Phoenix for so long now that I kind of consider myself a "born again local". But the real locals know that I'm from Minnesota, even if I don't give myself away by saying "Yah, sure, you bet'cha!" And I still can't decide what to call soda pop. I usually just say "Coke or Pepsi, please".

Image at the top of the post: Billboard for the Pop Shoppe in the early 1970s, Phoenix, Arizona. Looks to me like a Midwestern influence. They sold soda pop. Or soft drinks, if you prefer.

Paying a Poll Tax in Phoenix, Arizona in 1891

I've paid a lot of taxes in my day - sales taxes, income taxes, gasoline taxes, but I'd never even heard of a Poll Tax until I saw this receipt for one from 1891.

The person who paid this tax was Christian Hanny, who lived in Phoenix, and he paid it to the County of Maricopa, Territory of Arizona. It cost him two dollars and fifty cents, which doesn't sound like much nowadays, but you have to consider that he could have gotten a shave and a haircut for two bits (25 cents), so it wasn't just pocket change back then.

There haven't been Poll Taxes for a long time, and as near as I can figure, it was just a tax for just being there. As if the government just said, "Hey you, give us some money!" It wasn't tied to income or outgo or anything, it was just a chunk of change that you had to hand over.

By the way, if the name Hanny sounds familiar, yes, it's the same name that you see on the restaurant in downtown Phoenix on 1st Street and Adams. Hanny's used to be a menswear store, going all of the way back in Phoenix to 1912, run by Christian's son Vic. Of course the restaurant has nothing to do with the store, or the family, they just kept the name on the building because it looks great. And there are still plenty of descendants of Christian Hanny living in Arizona. I borrowed this receipt from one of Christian Hanny's descendants to scan it in, and in spite of the fact that it's just a tax receipt, I get a big kick out of touching a piece of Phoenix history like this.

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I'm still researching the names on this receipt and the only one I'm absolutely sure of is the Treasurer, R.L. Rosser. He's on the Maricopa County Treasurers webpage. The other names, H.G. Orme, and J.R. Lane (I think) I'm still working on. When I find out for sure, I'll come back to this post and update it. By the way, using the two initials like that was very common for men in the 1890s . You know, like H.G. Wells, and J.P. Morgan. And as far as I know, they greeted each other with those initials, as in "Hello, H.G.!" "Good morning J.P., how's business?"

I also find it fascinating that much of this official document in written in pencil. Yes, I'm looking at the original document right now, and that's pencil. This may have been because the collector went door to door, and it would have been very inconvenient to use a pen (they didn't have ballpoint pens in those days!). The number of the receipt, and the two signatures in the lower left are in ink, so that part of this was obviously done at a desk. If the collector was indeed walking around Phoenix, at least it was in December so it's wasn't terribly hot. Phoenix was only fourteen blocks wide back then, so he could have covered everyone living within the city limits fairly easily. For people on farms and ranches, I'd imagine that some type of hoofed transportation was used.

This Poll Tax was duly paid to the County of Maricopa. Hopefully it was put to good use!

An Englishman in Phoenix, Arizona in 1989

When I moved back to Phoenix from Los Angeles in 1989, I had developed a taste for learning about a much bigger world than I had been exposed to growing up in Minneapolis, and going to ASU in Arizona. I had met people from all over the world, and for the first time had become fascinated with seeing things from other people's point of view. And one of the point of views that amazed me was a friend from England named Stuart, who lived in my apartment complex in Phoenix.

Yes, I know when you tell a story like this you're supposed to change the names to protect the innocent, but Stuart wasn't innocent. I have no photos of him, only this cartoon that I drew poking fun of the fact that he tended to make long-distance calls to London from his friend's phones. Back in 1989 that was ridiculously expensive, and he ran up my phone bill one month to over $200. Yes, he paid me back.

Stuart was very old (at least 45!), very tall, and had an incredible British accent. Like most Americans, I can't really differentiate between the "Queen's English" and any other accent from Liverpool to London. Not really. And like most Americans, I was fasciated by Stuart's accent, which now I realize would be best described as "Cockney". Girls thought he was wonderful, and thought he sounded like James Bond.

But Stuart was more than just an Englishman, he was a world traveler. He drank a lot, and would talk about the places he'd been, usually waking up in some strange country with a hangover. He was about as opposite of me as it could possibly be. I have always needed to be in familiar surroundings, but to Stuart it was all the same. He would be fine anywhere in the world, as long as he could find a place that served beer. He was an International Man of Mystery, and his favorite beer was "whatever someone else was buying".

I don't know what happened to Stuart, and I hate to say it but I'd imagine by now he's drinking beer with the angels. His flame burned bright, I can't imagine that it's still glowing. But who knows? I got a Facebook request from the wife of a friend I hadn't seen in over thirty years who was kind of that way too, so he could be also alive and well.

Anyway, Stuart worked at an antique shop on 7th Street, just south of Gay Denny's, around the corner from Hanratty's. He really didn't know much about antiques, but that accent of his was very valuable, and somehow when Stuart said something it sounded what we would call now "Antiques Roadshow" talk. He made good money there.

There was a song that was popular in the 1980s that always makes me think of my buddy Stuart, and the lyrics went: "I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm an Englishman in New York". It was all the same to Stuart, he didn't live in Phoenix, he was a resident of the world.

The fascinating dynamics of a Facebook study group

Facebook can be a scary place. And that's because people can be scary. And that's just the way it is. I created a Facebook study group about a year ago for my Phoenix historical images collection and it performs many functions in my life; firstly it keeps me engaged with my favorite hobby (collecting photos of old Phoenix): it helps me to refine the information about those photos (I just love to "step into them" - which is what this blog is all about); and I get to see other people's point of view.

As a teacher, I learned a long time ago that it's nice to get help. I prided myself on always knowing my subject well (which is Graphic Design), but I often got mixed up about what day it is, and when something was due. I rely heavily on my computer for that kind of stuff, and I learned to ask for help in the class, by simply saying "This is due next Thursday, which is the 23rd, right?" and then someone would say, "No, the school is closed on Thanksgiving, so it would be due on the 30th." I loved that kind of help, and I still do.

So my Facebook group runs along similar dynamics. I encourage help, but I'm still in charge. That's something I learned a long time ago, that most people really want to have someone who is in charge, gently steering, and keeping things under control. There are, of course, people who don't want anyone to be in charge, ever, but personally I'm OK, for example, not flying the plane when I go to California. I can leave things to the experts, and follow when I shouldn't be the leader.

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And there are a LOT of experts in my Facebook group. Many of these people are surprised to find how much I appreciate their corrections, and it's a reminder that in many other places, including Facebook, people who correct can get slammed. Maybe it's a question of etiquette, but really, just hearing that everything is perfect and I get "first place" doesn't really help me. Tell me when I'm wrong. Experts can do that. No, don't say "WRONGGGGG!" but do correct, and show why. If, for example, I post a photo that's labeled "1960s" and you see your 1974 car in it, please speak up. Some people comment on the page, some people send me private messages. There's a lot that goes on in the background, and I love my experts.

This is what I do that works for the Facebook dynamic: I post confidently. I write "Looking south on Central at Washington in the 1960s". If it's actually looking north, I really appreciate a polite correction, and I correct both the caption and my file name here on my computer. Most of my superstars respond with corrections like that within minutes of a post, so if you see a bunch of comments that don't seem to make sense, you're seeing the post after the correction. Where were you?

Anyway, I hope this helps if you see my group. This is too much fun, and I make it even more fun by writing in this blog. If you like what I'm doing, go ahead and join the group, maybe "like" or "heart" a post, make a correction, read this blog, and support me on Patreon by becoming a patron.

This is just too much fun! Thank you for coming along with me!

Why the Trolley was never on Central Avenue in Phoenix, Arizona

When most people look at old photos of the trolleys, or Street Cars, of Phoenix, they imagine that they went up and down Central Avenue, but they didn't. And the reason for that is the same reason that wealthy neighborhoods fight against public transportation to this day.

Let's go back to Phoenix soon after the turn of the century. The wealthiest people were building their big mansions on North Central Avenue, from north of Van Buren all of the way up to the canal, which is just north of Northern Avenue. That's where the really respectable "Old Money" was in Phoenix, and the Central Corridor, as it's now called, between Bethany Home Road and Northern, is still a wealthy area, protected by money, lots of it.

If you're wealthy, back at the turn of century and now, you don't use public transportation. You don't stand on street corners waiting for a bus, or a trolley, you used private transportation. And as you go by in your carriage, or SUV, you probably don't even look at the people who are huddled in the rain, or the extreme heat, as you go by. And you hope that those people don't come anywhere near your neighborhood. Yes, this is snobbery.

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So the trolley couldn't bring these "undesirables" into wealthy neighborhoods. People in the wealthy neighborhoods didn't want to see groups of people standing around, waiting for public transportation. Wealthy people didn't want to see people walking through their neighborhoods. And of course public transportation brings young people, whose sense of humor can sometimes lead to vandalism, and property damage. Or at the very least, loitering.

So the trolley didn't go up Central, where the wealthy neighborhoods were, it skirted around it, like on 3rd Street (still a nice neighborhood, don't get me wrong, but not too snooty for public transportation!) and then it cut through the wealthy neighborhood at Orangewood on its way to Glendale.

Image at the top of this post: the trolley crossing Central Avenue at Orangewood in 1915. It never ran on Central, and the wealthy people probably weren't even happy that it even crossed it, briefly.

Why deciduous trees became unpopular in Phoenix, Arizona

Deciduous trees are the opposite of evergreen trees. Evergreen trees keep their leaves all year, whereas deciduous trees drop their leaves in fall, are bare all winter, and then grow their leaves back in the spring. Being deciduous is a response to cold, so unless you're a pine tree, and you want to grow in, say, Minneapolis, you need to drop your leaves for the winter. In warm climates, many more types of trees than pine trees can be evergreen.

Since it never snows in Phoenix, I've always preferred to see leaves on trees in the winter. There are many evergreen trees to choose from, such as mesquite. My logic has been that winter is the best time to be outside, and I really never wanted to look at bare branches during that beautiful weather. It's just a matter of aesthetics. The reality is that it would be better to have a deciduous tree in Phoenix, as it would provide the best shade in summer, and in the cool months allow sunlight to warm you, and your house. Yes, it gets cool (although never cold) in Phoenix in the winter, and sunshine feels good in December and January!

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But aside from the rather unsightly look of a deciduous tree in the winter, being all bare branches, there's the enormous amount of leaves that come dumping down every fall. I had a neighbor who had a beautiful, huge Cottonwood, which would drop its leaves every year and make a big job for this neighbor. And there were a LOT of leaves! On the other hand, evergreen trees drop their leaves continuously, all year. Ask anyone who has a mesquite tree, they'll tell you that there's a continuous drop of litter all of the time. So you really can't get a tree that won't drop it's leaves, even pine trees do it. All trees drop their leaves, it's just that evergreen trees grow them right back, and stay in leaf all winter.

If you drive along Central Avenue, near Orangewood, which is where the 1915 photo at the top of this post was taken, you'll see a lot of deciduous trees. They provide wonderful shade in the summer, and their branches are bare all winter. That's just the kind of trees they are, their leaves will fall in the fall even if it doesn't feel cool at all. Seeing leaves dropping on trees when it's in the 90s in Phoenix is interesting to see. Of course the city has to clean up all of the leaves every fall, which takes money and effort.

If you're reading this in the winter, you can go around Phoenix and see the deciduous trees. There's aren't many, so I recommend driving Central between Glendale Avenue and Northern - you'll see them there, and their branches will be bare of leaves.

Why Phoenix changed Olive to Dunlap

If you've lived in Phoenix in the past 100 years or so, you've seen a lot of name changes of the streets. For example, Pima was changed to 3rd Street, Christy Road was changed to McDowell Road, Mission Drive was changed to 27th Avenue, Chicago was changed to 44th Street, and Olive was changed to Dunlap.

The reason for all of these changes was to try to make the consistent system that we all know today. And the reason that the names weren't consistent is that Phoenix has always grown by "leap-frogging", that is, an area is developed waaaay out there, given names, and by the time the city has grown to there, the street names wouldn't match, and a decision had to be made. For people who need to travel around a big city, it's wonderful, but it probably made for some big fights to make it happen.

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Map of Phoenix, Arizona in 1881 

If you lived in Phoenix in the 1800s, you would have known that the north-south streets were named after after Indian tribes. As the city grew, the decision was made to use numbers instead of names. Streets west of Central Avenue were renamed "Avenues" and east of Central Avenue, "Streets". It's a pretty logical system, and to this day you can easily know that you are, for example, 16 blocks east of the middle of downtown Phoenix when you are on 16th Street, or 16th Avenue. If I know human nature, there was a lot of resistance to that, with fists being pounded on tables, and old-timers refusing to change!

Then the city started to grow with "Additions", which we call "Subdivisions" nowadays. And when a builder built waaayy out there, they named their streets anything they wanted to. So when the city grew out to that particular area, the Common Council stepped in and made the area rename the streets. If they hadn't done that, then a particular street would have a completely different name for just a few blocks. This had to be miserable for the people living there, and the businesses, who had to change their addresses. Again, I can hear a lot of protesting!

This went on all of the way through the 1960s, and by that time the City of Phoenix was imposing its name and numbering system on the surrounding cities. If you look at postcards of Scottsdale before the mid-sixties you will see addresses that number from Scottsdale Road, instead of Central Avenue in Phoenix. So Scottsdale Road wouldn't have been 72nd Street, it would have been zero, with each street east and west of Scottsdale Road 1st, 2nd, etc. It was the same way in Glendale, although the changes there go back to the 1950s. And of course all of the suburbs of Phoenix had to comply. Places like Tempe kept a lot of their original name and numbering system, and if you travel around the valley, you'll see more of that. My favorite is the original names of the streets of Peoria never changed just west of Grand Avenue. Drive over there and you'll see Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.

Olive/Dunlap in the 1950s

But my favorite is when Olive was renamed to Dunlap in Phoenix. Now waitaminute, I don't mean when Dunlap becomes Olive in Glendale, which is still true today, I mean when the City of Phoenix had the same street named Dunlap east of Central and Olive west of Central. And for consistency, they decided on Dunlap. The reason for this might be that Dunlap was named after a former mayor, but I'm really not sure. And it may have been that there were more businesses east of Central on Dunlap in Phoenix than west of Central in the early 1960s. For whatever reason, the City changed the name from Olive to Dunlap. But the City of Glendale refused the change, which is why the exit on the 101 is Olive, and the exit, for the same road, on I-17 is Dunlap (very confusing for my winter visitors!). Looking back, it probably would have been better for the road to have a consistent name, but apparently there wasn't agreement. That doesn't surprise me, and what surprises me is how much agreement was made over the years.

Image at the top of this post: Mayor John T. Dunlap in 1913. He was the mayor of Phoenix from 1904 to 1905.

Buying groceries in 1890 Phoenix, Arizona

One of the most commonplace things in the world is buying groceries. It's not the kind of thing that historians show much interest in, but it fascinates me. That's because I'm interested in the ordinary things of life that people do, and have always done, especially in Phoenix, Arizona. Time-travel with me now to Phoenix in 1890 and let's buy some groceries.

I'm Christian Hanny, and you can be my son, Vic. If the name sounds familiar to you, you may have gone to the clothing store that Vic Hanny had, or you may have gone to the restaurant on 1st Street and Adams, which is the former Hanny's Clothing Store building. The family still lives in Arizona, and I was privileged to see what the latest generation have saved and lovingly preserved, including this receipt from W. F. McNulty, Family Groceries and Provisions, Gents' Furnishing Goods, Etc., Washington Street.

Your first question might be "Where on Washington Street? - That's not much of an address!" But you have to consider that in 1890 Phoenix was only 14 blocks wide, and most of the businesses were right there at Central and Washington. City Hall, which was way over between 1st and 2nd Streets, had only been built two years before. There are, of course, no cars, but there are plenty of horses. No, the streets aren't paved, and wouldn't be for over a decade. Phoenix was never like the "Old West" towns you see in Westerns, but it was still pretty raw. But businesses like McNulty's are doing fine, there's a lot of activity around Phoenix, especially in the gold and silver mines. The railroad had just arrived in '87, although Phoenix had been there since 1870.

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A respectable citizen like Christian Hanny would of course been allowed to run a tab. That is, he would have been able to buy stuff all month without paying for it right then, and McNulty would just write it down, and the total would be settled up at the end of the month, or whenever the customer could pay. So really, you're looking at a Statement (for all of you Business Majors out there). Note that it has been marked Paid, and that's how you know. For practical purposes I'm calling this a receipt.

The left column says "Merchandise" and it looks like the Hanny family got some butter, canned ham, sugar, crackers, a bottle of olives, and so on. As you can see, they ran the tab on the 3rd, the 6th, the 18th, the 29th, and settled up at the end of the month. These amounts of money seem tiny to our modern eyes, but you have to consider that you could get a shave and a haircut for two bits (25 cents) in those days, so five dollars and ten cents was a considerable about of money back then. And the Hanny family had the money to settle up, although many people couldn't, and the merchant would have to "carry" them, until they could. This was very hard on merchants, who were out of pocket until they got paid, and this practice (essentially free credit) went away not long afterwards.

I like looking at these little simple slices of history! This is what makes me feel as if I'm walking back there, in time. Thank you for coming along with me.

What a One Price Cash business was in old-time Phoenix - Hanny's

In 1915, Hanny's Clothing Store described itself as a "One Price Cash Clothier", which to our modern ears sounds very strange. You may wonder if there was just one price for everything in the store, like a dollar store? No, that's not it. And you may wonder if they only accepted cash, not checks? No, that's not it either. Let's take a closer look.

Nowadays there aren't many businesses that have more than one price for their stuff. The only place that springs to my mind is a car dealership, where the price is negotiable. I can't do that at my local Walmart, I pay the price that they ask, or I don't buy it. So a "one price" store would be a store that asks a price, and will not listen to negotiation. Pretty common now, not so common 100 years ago. Vic Hanny put a price on an item, and expected you to pay it, no haggling, no offers, take it over leave it. This may have offended a lot of people, who were used to entering into negotiations anytime they bought something, but as you can tell, it simplified the process, and it caught on. I'm still trying to think of any business that expects the customer to make an offer, and go back and forth, and right now all I can think of is a garage sale. Or maybe if you're buying stolen goods, or anything illegal? Anyway, having one price is what businesses do now. It's considered the respectable way to do business. The price is clearly marked.

The cash part of it has to do with credit, which was a very common practice back then. Instead of paying for something right when you bought it, like when I buy a bag of Apples at Walmart, most businesses at the time would let you pay for it later, usually with no extra charge. Businesses that didn't offer free credit were called "cash stores". Sure, you could pay with a check, but you couldn't just put something on your tab with a promise to pay for it later and walk out of the store. That's what they meant by "cash" - no credit. Grocery stores that asked for you to pay for something right there were often called "Cash and Carry", or even "Pay and Takit" (really, there was a store in Phoenix with that name).

Inside of Hanny's Store in the 1940s, Central Avenue location.

The big idea behind having one price and expecting customers to pay for things then and there was to have lower prices and build a better reputation, and it did that. Businesses no longer had to "carry" customers, by giving them free credit, and customers were more comfortable knowing that everyone paid the same amount for goods. Did that guy over there pay less for his tie than I did? No, we both paid the same price, he went to Hanny's! Sounds like a commercial, doesn't it?

This type of thinking built some strong businesses, and Hanny's was one of them. Vic Hanny's name was so well-respected in Phoenix that it was used long after Vic wasn't even associated with the store, long after it moved to its new location on 1st Street (where that building is now a restaurant). Vic's original store, as you can see on the ad, was on Central Avenue, between Washington and Adams. And he was a One Price Cash Clothier.

What the word "ho" meant in old buildings in Phoenix

You will see the word "Ho" on many old buildings around Phoenix. Examples would be the Westward Ho in Phoenix, the Valley Ho in Scottsdale, and before it was demolished, the Superstition Ho in Apache Junction.

If you're about my age, the word "ho" will remind you of a comedy skit that Eddie Murphy did on Saturday Night Live in the 1980s, which made the word "ho" what most people recognize today, a shortened version of the word "Whore", which is a prostitute. Of course, the name of the Westward Ho, Valley Ho, and Superstition Ho had nothing to do with that. It had to do with an old-time phrase that indicated that there was a good destination ahead, and proceeding there would be a good thing.

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Sailors would shout "Land ho!" when they saw land. Leaders of wagon trains would just shout "Ho" to get everyone moving. If your wagon train were to go west, the leader would shout something like "Westward Ho!". The ho, by the way, would be emphasized and stretched out with a very long o.

Of course, the language changes over the years, and if becomes confusing. So if you're stuck in the world of Eddie Murphy's "ho", I recommend that you find an old western movie, maybe something with wagon trains, and you'll hear the word ho as it used to be used.


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How to enjoy living in Phoenix, Arizona like a tourist

I've lived in some pretty awesome places in my lifetime, including where I live now, Phoenix Arizona. And in all of those places I've been dismayed to see people who live there and have no appreciation of it the way that tourists do.

It's November now, and the beginning of the tourist season in Phoenix. People are escaping the cold from back east, people are coming from all over the world to see the beauty of Arizona, which they would normally only be able to see in magazines, and way too many of the locals are slogging along, ignoring it all.

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I remember my first November in Phoenix, Arizona. I was 19, and had grown up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was amazing. The temperatures were just gorgeous, the skies were bright and blue. I don't recall if I was swimming in November, but I sure had my feet in the pool. By December I was just jumping out of my socks - no cold, no snow, no slush. Wow, what have I found here?

When I lived in Tempe I would watch the sunset just about every night. After a while I got to thinking that maybe the sun wouldn't go down if I didn't.

After I graduated from ASU I moved to Santa Barbara, California, and the wonder continued. Santa Barbara was so beautiful that it looked as if the "backgrounds were just painted on", mountains, the ocean, unbelievable. And in both Southern California and Phoenix I spent a lot of time staring at palm trees, refusing to believe that they could even exist, and that I could walk up and touch one anytime I wanted to.

Now, in my "golden years", I haven't changed. I love the smell of the desert, I love the blue skies of Arizona. I'm fascinated by the long warm shadows in the morning and late afternoon. I'm as fascinated by all of this as if I had never seen it before, like a tourist who wants to take a photo of everything he sees.

So, if you live in Phoenix, this is what I recommend: look at it through the eyes of tourists. Remind yourself that someone is paying the big bucks to stay in a hotel room just a few miles from you. Someone is eating breakfast on their patio and marveling at how beautiful the Sonoran Desert is. Go watch the colors change on the Superstition Mountains, go stare at a saguaro cactus. Take a selfie on the patio at a restaurant. Stare at people walking by, gape at a sunset. Be a tourist, I won't laugh at you. In fact, I'd feel sorry for you if you didn't.

Why parking lots were moved to the front of businesses in Phoenix, Arizona

If you look at old photos of Phoenix, Arizona, you will see signs that direct you to the parking lots, which were behind the buildings. Some of the older parts of Phoenix, and Los Angeles, have parking lots behind buildings, but most parking lots for the last fifty years have been put in front of buildings. And there's a reason for that, it just has to do with human nature, and how people in cars have learned whether a business is open.

The neighborhood where I grew up, back in Minneapolis, was built in the 1920s, in what I called the "Model T era" (actually it was more of the Model A era), but it was a time when there were cars, but everything hadn't started becoming "car scale". The businesses were right up by the street, and the parking lots were in the back of the building. You could walk along a sidewalk, and be just a couple of steps from the door, or you could get off the bus, and walk immediately into the building. You were close enough, as a human, to see signs that said "Open". You might even see people inside, or people walking in and out of the building. You might see that the door is open.

But that changed in about the mid-fifties, with car scale, when people had to determine whether a business was open from a very long distance, and while traveling at fairly high speeds, especially in Phoenix which has such big main streets that they're practically "mini-freeways". So businesses learned to use cars parked in the parking lots to tell people driving by that they were open.

A modern example that I like to point to is the Home Depot. Whether there's an open sign that can be seen from the street, I have no idea. To see if Home Depot is open, I look for cars in the parking lot. The same way with grocery stores, just about everywhere I go to in my suburban neighborhood, which began in the 1980s, and is still growing. Parking lots are out front, and they tell people in cars that the business is open. By the way, if you ever wondered why restaurants and bars give discounted prices (happy hour), it's to put cars in the parking lot. People see the cars, and figure that it's the place to go, and stop there. Just good Marketing.

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Now waitaminute, I'm not criticizing people, and saying that they can't read signs - they just ignore them, we all do, and for good reason. I rolled up to the Fitness Center last Saturday morning and didn't see any cars in the parking lot, so I had to go up to the door and open it to determine that they were open. There's no other way to know - no "open" sign, nothing. And even if they had an "open" sign, if there were no cars in the lot I would have figured that someone just forgot to turn the sign off the previous night. When a car parked in the lot I felt better.

The net effect of this is a very unfriendly scale for humans who are not using cars. As someone who walks, pedals, and takes public transportation, often I find that the distance that I have to go from the street to the building (which at Home Depot is about 100 yards) is a sizable distance, even if there's a sidewalk from the street (and there rarely is). It's a "gauntlet" walking, or pedaling, through a parking lot. Parking lots are great places for cars, terrible places for bicycles and pedestrians. So everything is designed for cars, not little tiny human beings. And businesses did that because most of their business comes from people arriving in cars, and then it's reinforced because the only way to use those businesses is to have a car. People pull up to Home Depot in vehicles, they don't walk there, and they don't pedal there. My local Home Depot, which was build no more than fifteen years ago, has no bike rack. And just the thought of it seems kinda silly - who pedals to Home Depot? Well, I do.

So the next time you look at a business that's not "human scale", and see acres of asphalt in front of it, you'll know why. Just good marketing strategy.

Image at the top of this post: Jim's Steak House in the 1960s, 21st Place and McDowell, Phoenix, Arizona. Even a big sign that said "Free Parking", with neon, isn't as effective as having a parking lot that's viewable from the street.