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

Why people pay so much to live in San Francisco, and what Phoenix is learning from that


As someone who lives in Phoenix, my mind is always boggled by how much people are willing to pay to live in San Francisco. I mean, it's just crazy, right? There must be some kind of "mass hypnosis" or something. But that's not it, and it's something that Phoenix is learning.

The city (as San Francisco is called by the people who live there, as if no other city in the world mattered) is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And at the risk of not sounding romantic about it, it's mostly about the architecture. Even the bridge across the bay is beautiful. And of course there's the ocean, and the mountains. And that beauty that surrounds you in the city gives a feeling. And it's that feeling that people want to live with every day. And yes, they're willing to pay for that. A lot of money!

Like Phoenix, San Francisco started out as a purely utilitarian place. San Francisco was a place where ships docked, where commerce was done, and it still is. But early on it became a place that transcended that, and became a place of beauty. Yes, it's crowded, and dense, but care has always been taken to preserve the beauty. Building just another ugly, bland building just so that people could live in a box, or businesses could be conducted in ugliness, hasn't happened to the City.

It's a lesson that Phoenix is learning. It's that delicate balance between commerce and beauty. And if someone tells you that the two can't be combined, I beg to differ. I present San Francisco, and I rest my case.

Image at the top of this post: Postcard of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Fransisco, California

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How to tour the Rosson House in Phoenix, Arizona


If you're interested in beautiful Victorian mansions, and find yourself in downtown Phoenix, I highly recommend touring the Rosson House, which on Monroe and 6th Street. I've gone there more times than I can count, but I go in an unusual way. I'll describe how I do it, which seems perfectly natural to me, but has gotten a lot of strange looks from people over the years.

My experience is that most people who tour an historic place like this, no matter what their age, immediately revert back into when they were kids in school. They stand in line, then gather together in a group, listening to someone at the front of the group talk. They might read something, whether it's a handout, or a sign somewhere, and quite possibly try to memorize the information, such as the dates and the names of the people, you know, in case there's a test later on. And if that's what you do, relax, it's what I've seen the vast majority of people do. But I don't do that, and it causes many looks of confusion, and many frowns.

I like looking at the building. And most of the building is visible from outside, so I stay outside most of the time. Yes, I'll go inside, but inevitably that leads me to someone who will talk to me, or maybe point me to look at something in an antique cabinet, which I could see at any high end antique store. But when I visit a building, I'm not interested in looking at antiques that may or may not have been there at one time - I'm interested in the building. So I smile and edge away.

If you do that, be prepared to be hassled a bit. I like walking around a building, standing on the porch (only where I'm supposed to go, of course!). I like looking at the architectural details, the moulding around the doors, that sort of thing. I like to time-travel back to when the building was new, to imagine the people who lived there, what they saw. I imagine the kids playing on the porch, the dogs and cats, maybe someone leaving a pie on the windowsill to cool off. I imagine... and then someone says, "Are you looking for the door?" -sigh-

I will have to politely ask people that I don't want to go inside, or go into the gift shop, or listen to tour guide talk, many times when I do this. I just want to go there and sit and dream, and that's been something that I've enjoyed for years. I try to go to these places with friends that I call "my diplomats" - they'll go inside, talk to people, accept brochures, go to the gift shop. If anyone asks about what's wrong with their friend, they'll assure him that "Brad just wanders off."

Of course you should pay for the tour, maybe even donate a couple of extra bucks, when you go the Rosson House. You should thank the volunteers, and be polite. But if you can sneak away from the madding crowd, there's a experience well worth doing, and I recommend it. Chances are you'll see me sitting on one of the benches there. And I'm not bored, I'm not waiting for anyone, I'm history adventuring.

Image at the top of this post: The Rosson House, photo courtesy of Mick Welsh.

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The tallest building in Phoenix in 1973 - Valley Center


Let's time-travel back to 1973 to see the tallest building in Phoenix, Arizona. It's the square block of Van Buren, Monroe, Central, and 1st Street. It's Valley Center, and it's now called the Chase Tower.

Valley Center was built as the headquarters for Valley National Bank, which had grown out of its older building, the Professional Building, which is across Monroe from it, and is the Hilton Garden Inn now.

If you lived in Arizona between the 1890s (no, that's not a typo) and 1992, you knew about Valley National Bank. Their headquarters in Phoenix in the 1890s was on Wall Street, which was the alley between 1st and 2nd Avenues south of Washington, and then they moved to Adams, then to the Professional Building, and finally into Valley Center.

Valley Center under construction in 1972, Central Avenue and Monroe, Phoenix, Arizona.

Contrary to popular belief, the building was never called Valley Bank Center, or Valley National Bank Center. It was simply Valley Center, said in the confident way that VNB always had, tying itself to the success and prosperity of Arizona. And there was never a Valley Bank logo on the building, the building itself was the symbol. The first logo, by the way, was a Bank One logo, which went up in 1994, while I was working there. I remember watching that. Before the actual sign went up on it, a projection was made to see how it would look. It was the Bank One Building until Chase acquired it in 2002.

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In 1973 it must have been amazing to see that building. Downtown Phoenix was starting to fade away, and the fact that the most important bank in Phoenix decided to build the most important building in downtown Phoenix was very symbolic. Unfortunately, Phoenix, and Arizona, would have more troubles over the next couple of decades, but it was all about a progressive attitude, and optimism.

In 1973 that area was a decaying mess, long since abandoned by most people who were shopping at the malls. The people who lived downtown were, uh, well, kinda scary. By the way, take a look at the wall around the street level of Valley Center. That was designed specifically to discourage anyone from sitting on it, or even leaning on it. It's at exactly the right angle to discourage that type of behavior, and in the 1970s, that was a necessity. The number of people who "lounged around" on the sidewalks of downtown Phoenix in the 1970s was very high.

Valley Center is one of my favorite buildings in downtown Phoenix. If it just looks like a modern building, look again, and consider that it's over forty years old. And the design is even older, harking back to how buildings were supposed to look "in the future" in the 1960s. Go inside (yes, it's open to the public) and you'll see. To me, it reminded me of a spaceship, the way that science fiction artists drew space ships in the 1960. You typeface fans will recognize the font as the same one that was in 2001: A Space Odyssey - Microgramma Bold (Eurostyle).

By the way, if you're wonder what building is the tallest in Phoenix now, it's still Valley Center - Chase Tower.

Image at the top of this post: Chase Tower in 2017, Central Avenue and Monroe, Phoenix, Arizona. you're looking northeast, and up 35 stories. Photo by Mick Welsh.

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A faceless historic building in downtown Phoenix - Steinegger's 1889


About a half-block east of Central Avenue, on Monroe, is one of the oldest buildings in Phoenix, Arizona. It was built as Steinegger's Lodge in 1889, and has also gone by the name of the Alamo, the St. Francis Hotel and Apartments, and since 1930 it's been the Golden West Hotel. It's been boarded up and faceless for years, as you can see, but it's still there, which is remarkable for a town like Phoenix which tends to bulldoze historic buildings all of the time.

From the front there's really nothing to see, it's just an absolute blank. But if you look at it from an angle, you can see a little bit of history. See the bricks? See the old-time arch above the window on the side? See the shape of the roofline? It's still there.

I've never been in that building, and my memories of seeing it from a distance in the 1990s are that it was pretty awful. It was a "flophouse" - a place where alcohol was served, and the drunks (there's no reason here for me to be delicate) could sleep it off, or at least try to. I remember the clientele of the Golden West, who enjoyed the alcoholic beverages of Newman's, would often relieve themselves in front of the building, or sleep on the sidewalk. I worked right across the street, at Bank One, in what is now Chase Tower, and it was horrible to see.

As the St. Francis Hotel and Apartments in 1912.

As the Golden West Hotel in the 1930s.

So when I started finding old photos of what it used to be, I was very surprised. Sure, it fell into disrepair, like most of downtown Phoenix did, but I'd like to see it saved. I've found some images that show it with a nice porch out front, and some attractive architectural details. That would be nice to see again.

I never thought that the Golden West Hotel would ever be described as quaint, and worth preserving and restoring, but now I do. I hope it happens.

Description of Steinegger's from the Register of Historic Places nomination form.

Image at the top of this post: The boarded up Golden West Hotel as of December of 2017, just east of the Hilton Garden Inn, on Monroe and Central Avenue. Photo by Mick Welsh, used with permission.

As read by Mick Welsh, Graphic Artist for The Catholic Sun and the Communications Office of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix https://dphx.org/mick-welsh/



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How to walk with the Hohokam people in Phoenix, Arizona.


Walk with me, and let's walk with the Hohokam people. If you're anywhere in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area, it's easier than you may think. No, you won't need your cars keys. You won't even need your hiking boots. You can put away the map, and the GPS. We're just going to walk outside.

If you were ever dragged to a museum, or had to go on a field trip, to learn about the Hohokam people, I'm so sorry. Maybe you were handed a brochure about Pueblo Grande, or had to memorize years and dates. That's too bad, and if that's what you're thinking about, I'm going to ask you to forget about that.

The Hohokam were the people lived in the Salt River Valley hundreds of years ago. The only reason that anyone knows anything about them is that they left behind gigantic canals, and huge adobe buildings, all of which are gone now (except for a tiny amount of preservation here and there). I don't know much about the Hohokam, and really, nobody does. The name was given to them by the Pima people, and it simply meant "those who have gone".

But they were here. And not just in the tiny preserved area by a museum. They were on every inch of the Salt River Valley, and more. The city of Phoenix was built on top of the Hohokam ruins. Where you are right now, in the Phoenix Metro area, is Hohokam land. So let's walk.

I won't be going very far today, but we don't have to go far. My gimpy ankle is sore today, and all I can do is take a few steps outside. But I want to walk with the Hohokam people, and I will.

This was their land. This is the sky they looked at, the mountains. From here I can see the White Tank Mountains, but any mountain you can see from the Phoenix Metro area is what they saw. They felt the heat of the desert sun, and the cold of the desert cold, and they did it with bare feet. Take your shoes off, and walk with the Hohokam people.

Thank you for walking with me.

Image at the top of this post: Artist's rendering of how the Hohokam people might have lived, hundreds of years ago. You're looking southeast towards where Tempe is now from about 44th Street and Washington. South Mountain is along the right, with the Salt River flowing in front of it.

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Phoenix history in the making - Block 23 in December of 2017


I've been watching Block 23 for a long time now. The designation is of the square block between Washington and Jefferson and 1st Street and 2nd Street. It goes back to when Phoenix was originally platted, and laid out with numbered blocks. Actually, there really no Block 23, just the block between 22 and 24, which had been set aside as the Plaza. Whether the city promised that it would always be a public space I really don't know, but became just another business block in Phoenix in 1931 when it was sold off. It's where the old City Hall was, if you remember before 1931, which I sincerely doubt you do. The truth is, most people have no idea that Block 23 was the Plaza for over sixty years, as a place where families gathered for picnics under the trees, and watched parades going by. Memories in Phoenix are short.

Block 23 in 1893. From a Sanborn map.

In my experience, Block 23 has just been an empty space - another parking lot in downtown Phoenix. And it's been that way for so long now that most people have no memory of what used to be there, which was the Fox Theater, and JC Penney's. Even the buildings that erased the old Plaza have long since been erased.

Block 23 in 1932. The Fox Theater.

But Phoenix changes, it grows, and I'm OK with that. A lot of people who know that I'm interested in history think that I want everything to stay the same, and that the old buildings should be frozen in time, with what I call "velvet ropes around them". But that's simply not the way I feel. I like Phoenix to be dynamic. I get a big kick out of seeing new construction, which Phoenix has been doing non-stop since 1870. When I time-travel in my imagination, I can see the canals being built by the Swilling Company, the roads being paved for the first time, the introduction of air conditioning (now THAT must have been nice!).

So this is what I see as of December of 2017 on Block 23. The foundations for some very big buildings are being dug. It's an exciting time, and it's history in the making. In the future you'll be able to say that you were there when the block was nothing but a big hole in the ground.

Image at the top of this post: Block 23 under construction on December 26th, 2017. You're looking west over 2nd Street between Jefferson and Washington from the Collier Building. Photo by Mick Welsh, used with permission.

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The first subdivision in Phoenix, Arizona - 1893


The city of Phoenix sprawls. I've heard it described as just subdivisions looking for a city. And the most common thing I hear from people who've lived in Phoenix is how ridiculous it is for a developer to go way out into the middle of nowhere and build some houses when there is plenty of open land closer in. And it started in 1893, with a Real Estate developer named Clark Churchill.

Clark Churchill

Back in 1893, they were called "additions". That is, a developer would go outside of the city limits and build. And just like today, they're privately funded by people who hope that the commute won't be too far for people to deal with. And just like today, the idea was to get out into the country, where the air was clean. That was the beginning of suburbia (which just means "less than" urban - and urban means the city). So people were rushing out to suburbia in 1893, and continue to do so.

Of course, looking back on what was considered suburbia just seems ridiculous. But in 1893, anything north of Van Buren was outside of the city limits.

As I collect old photos of Phoenix and share them, I hear the same comments over and over. And I'm sure that the 1893 equivalent of Facebook would have seen the comments: "Who would want to live way out there?" or "Why not use the available land in town?"

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It wasn't as if Phoenix was getting too crowded in 1893, but then, like now, people liked to get a bargain, and living "out in the middle of nowhere" was cheaper. And that meant that you could get a much bigger chunk of property for less money. And so the suburban sprawl of Phoenix began.

By the way, it really started to take off in 1897 when a young Real Estate developer named Dwight Heard started creating additions, and selling Real Estate. He became fabulously wealthy, and he and his wife Maie collected art, especially Indian Art, which you can still see at the Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix, in an area that he developed as an Addition.

1949 ad for Dwight B. Heard Investment, Phoenix, Arizona, in the Heard building, which is still there on Central between Adams and Monroe. 

Image at the top of this post: The Churchill Addition in 1893, the first subdivision of Phoenix, Arizona.

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What the history adventuring project is all about


I've been history adventuring all of my life. And really, it just means that I find some kind of excuse to go wander off, and look at stuff. It really took off for me when I lived in Los Angeles, when I just needed to calm my jangled nerves, and didn't want to admit it. So I sought out quiet places, and found historical sites, like Los Encinos, in the San Fernando Valley. I would go there, and walk under old trees. If anyone asked I would say that I was interested in history, but the history was secondary. I just liked walking around and looking at stuff, and I still do.

About fifteen years ago I reached a crisis in my life after a life-threatening accident (please don't ask) which threatened to take away everything in my life. I went through physical therapy to learn to walk, I feared for the loss of my sight (yes, there's physical therapy for that, too), and mostly I felt trapped. So I started adventuring in my imagination, and many years later I started to write about it. That's when I created this blog, which allowed me to walk anywhere, even when I couldn't walk more than from room to room.

In the past couple of years my adventuring has expanded to IRL (which is an internet abbreviation for "In Real Life"). Old friends, and new friends, wanted to go history adventuring with me, and I knew a lot of places that I wanted to go. I write about them all of the time here, and my favorite places are in the Phoenix, Arizona area, and in the San Fernando and Conejo Valleys of Los Angeles.

I like doing this, and would like to continue in spite of whatever limitations I have, and will probably develop as the years go by. I figure that I have at least twenty, if not thirty more years of doing this, and really this is all I want to do. There's so much more for me to so, so much more for me to learn.

So that's the project. And I'm glad you're along with me. I have to admit that I thought that I'd be on this journey alone. Thank you for walking with me.

Image at the top of this post: The Sahuaro Ranch, one of my favorite places in the world. It's between 63rd Avenue and 59th Avenue and Peoria and Olive, in Glendale, Arizona. Just north of Glendale Community College

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Why old buildings aren't saved in Phoenix, Arizona


If you've ever asked asked why old buildings aren't saved in Phoenix, or in any city, you may be misunderstanding how all this works. Because buildings are expensive things, that perform a function. And if for some reason that function goes away, the building has lost its value. That is, its monetary value. And that means that it's no longer valuable to whoever wants to put it to use.

I collect old photos of Phoenix and post them on the web and often people will comment that a particular building "should have been saved". And I agree, but I also know that a building can't be saved just to put velvet ropes around it so we can all sit back and look at it. That would be a pretty expensive piece of public art - and cities have a lot of other demands on the money that they have to spend, such as paying for police, or fire departments, among others.

What I like to see is called "repurposing". The most common repurpose of an old building is to make it into a restaurant. Because there's a lot of money to be made in that, especially if a liquor license is included, it can be worthwhile for investors to put their money into refurbishing an old building. There are a lot of people who like to eat, and drink, in buildings with character, and style. And old buildings can supply that, just take a look at the number of wonderfully repurposed buildings in downtown Phoenix nowadays.

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And, just to keep the record straight, yes there are people who have deep enough pockets that they can save buildings. Yes, whole buildings. I know some of these people, and no, I'm not going to tell you who they are. They're the same kind of people who give to support museums, who endow the arts. Yeah, they're a little kooky, but I love them.

If you yourself are one of those people with a spare million or two sitting around, I encourage you to save a building, or two, or three. If you think I'm kidding here, I'm not. People make a difference based on what they can do. It's all about doing something for the city you love, whether it's volunteering somewhere, or writing a check so big that it takes two people to carry it.

So if you're genuinely puzzled about how all of this works, I hope this has helped a bit. Old buildings can be saved, and so can old cars, it just takes money, and people who believe in their value. Speaking for myself, I'd rather have my tax money go to pay higher wages for teachers, or hire more police officers, I don't see it the responsibility of government to save buildings.

For myself, I invest my time and spread the word about the value of saving old buildings. I collect old photos and share them for free as much as I can on the web. I'd like someone to see an old building in Phoenix which is now in disrepair, looking the way it did back in the day and say, "that would make a cool nightclub, I think I'll invest in it, restore it, and save it". It's happened before, and it'll happen again.

Image at the top of this post: Flying over Phoenix, Arizona in 1976

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Living with, and paying for private streets in Glendale, Arizona


One of the most confusing things that I talk to about my neighbors in Glendale is that I live on a private street. And that simply means that the city doesn't maintain it. It doesn't mean that you can't drive into the neighborhood, or anything like that. A private street like mine is the equivalent of a parking lot. People are allowed there, but the City of Glendale doesn't pay to keep it up. That's the responsibility of the people who live there, like me.

Of course I knew nothing about that when I bought the house. To me, streets were streets. You drove on them, and every once in a while the cracks in them were repaired. And then every once in a while they had to be resurfaced, which costs a lot of money.

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What that means to me as a homeowner is that the ordinary maintenance of my neighborhood streets are paid for out of my Homeowner's Association fees, and every few years there's a special, much bigger, charge that pays for resurfacing. The streets in my neighborhood look great because the homeowners here pay their fees.

Of course, not everyone agrees with having to pay for stuff they use. I've known a lot of people who think that everything they use should be provided to them for free, by which they mean that someone else should pay for it. Because streets aren't free, someone has to pay for it.

In my younger days I would have wanted everything for free, because everything was free to me - my parents paid for everything. When I grew up I came to understand the responsibility of helping to pay for what I use, for pulling my own weight. It made sense to me when I bought this house, 25 years ago.

I do know a lot of people who disagree with me, who think that the government should pay for everything, as if the government wasn't just us, the people. We the people pay for things that we the people use. They taught me that in Civics class, and I learned it when I bought this house.

Image at the top of this post: Paving the streets in Glendale in 1921

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At the City Limits in the 1940s, Phoenix, Arizona


Let's time-travel back to the 1940s and go waaaaay out to the City Limits of Phoenix, Arizona. We're going to 28th Street and Van Buren.

In the old days, Van Buren was called the Tempe Road, because it's the route between Phoenix and Tempe. It's also U.S. 60, 70, 80, and 89. Heck, grandpa still calls it the Apache Trail! It's the main road through the valley, where all the motels are. Let's go, I'll bring along a camera to prove that we went there.

Map of the Phoenix City Limits in 1949, 28th Street and Van Buren.

OK, here we are at 28th Street. The sign that says, "Now Leaving Phoenix, Adios Amigos" marks the City Limits. Go stand next to it. Yes, your friend, too. OK, you can lean on it, that's fine. Yes, I know the sun is in your eyes, because you're looking west and it took us all day to get there. Try not to squint.

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It's amazing that Phoenix has grown out this far, but they say that Phoenix will grow even more now that the war is over. A lot of people are moving here!

I've got the shot. It's a great picture. And someday we'll look back on this as "the good old days".


Note: in the background is the Frontier Lodge, which was at 2823 E. Van Buren. This area has now been so changed that it's unrecognizable, and the city limits are much farther east now, too.


The Frontier Lodge in the 1940s, 2823 E. Van Buren, Phoenix, Arizona.

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Visting the golden arches in Phoenix, Arizona in 1954


Let's time-travel back to 1954 Phoenix, Arizona, visit the golden arches, and get a hamburger, fries, and a Coke.

I understand that Ray Kroc started this place, and most people call it McDonald's, but I like to call it the golden arches, because that's what I see. It's right nearby the Indian School High School, on Central south of Indian School Road. Yes, it's kitty corner from the school.

The idea of "drive-ins" is really catching on, now that so many people have cars. The golden arches doesn't have an interior, you just walk up to the window, order what you want, and eat it in your car. Hamburgers are fifteen cents, and you can also get french fried potatoes, and Coca-Cola. Sounds good. You know, I developed a taste for Cokes in the service. Everywhere we went, Coca-Cola was always a nickel.

At the McDonalds in Phoenix in 1954, Central Avenue and Indian School Road

Yes, they cook everything right there in that little building, and serve it to you through the window. And yes, I know that there are occasionally crickets in the french fries, but who cares? Makes 'em crunchy!

Let's see now, I have a buck, that will be more than enough for both of us - I'll treat. But, uh, I don't have a car, could you drive?

Note: By the time I got to Phoenix, in 1977, this McDonalds was looking pretty sad. Other restaurants which had indoor seating, and air conditioning, were beating it, and soon a new McDonald's had to be built further east. Then an even bigger one was built on Indian School Road between 9th and 10th Street, the one that's still there now that serves the neighborhood.

The Indian School High School closed in 1990, and is now the Steele Indian School Park.

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How Scottsdale, Arizona got its name


Scottsdale, Arizona was named after Winfield Scott in 1894. He had a big ranch out there, in what was then called Orangedale, where downtown Scottsdale is now. Specifically, it was between Scottsdale and Hayden Roads and Chaparral and Indian School Road.

Winfield Scott

I've always had a fascination with names. I live in Glendale, Arizona which really doesn't mean anything (there was no one named Glen!) but the word "dale" was often used to give a nice, peaceful feeling to an area. Dale just means valley, but it's more poetic, I guess. I suppose the towns could have been called Scottsvalley or Glenvalley, but it just sound sound as good, does it?

Anyway, Winfield Scott was an U.S. Army Chaplain in the 1880s, and he and his brother decided to see how well it would go growing oranges out in the middle of the desert. I guess you'd call these guys "unrealistically optimistic" - but those are the kind of slightly kooky people who create places like Phoenix, and Scottsdale. Speaking for myself, I wouldn't have moved to the Salt River Valley decades before air conditioning was invented, but a lot of people did.

And contrary to how Scottsdale has been marketed, as "the West's Most Western Town", it never really was a wild place of shoot-outs, etc. It was a peaceful place of ranches, farms, and businesses. Most of what you see in Old Town Scottsdale was created in the 1950s, to give the illusion of an "Old West" town, mostly based on Western movies and TV shows. It's been very successful that way, as people love to go there, especially in the winter, from back east and see what life was really like in the "Old West". The city of Scottsdale has been very successful, and some of the most valuable Real Estate in the valley is there, so don't knock it 'til you've tried it. Many other towns that were established around that time weren't as successful, such as Weedville.

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And yes, there really was a time when horses had the right-of-way in Scottsdale, but it was before automobiles were invented. Winfield Scott got to see it all happen. He died in 1910, but he still saw amazing growth in the valley, including the invention of electricity, and automobiles. He didn't live long enough to see air conditioning, however, which really only got its start in the 1920s, and didn't become the modern version that we know of until the 1940s.

So yes, there really was a person named Scott, and Scottsdale really is a very nice, and successful, city in the Salt River Valley.

Thank you for going to Scottsdale with me!

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Visiting the Phoenix Swimming Baths in 1885


Let's time-travel back to 1885 Phoenix and go to the Swimming Baths. It's just outside of town, north of Van Buren on the east side of Central, next to the town ditch (the Salt River Valley Canal).

Chlorine? What? I have no idea what that is, it's 1885. But the water is fine - a little salty, but that's how water in the desert gets. The water comes from the Salt River. Fish? Yeah, maybe a few, mostly catfish I'd guess.

Swimming trunks? What? What do you think this is, some kind of fancy swimming pool, or something? I suppose you could keep your union suit on, it might be the first time your underwear has ever been washed. I don't wear underwear, and I sure don't have swimming trunks. Besides, no one's gonna see us. And you're so darned skinny that most people would just think that a dog had dropped an old bone in the water anyway.

1911 article about swimming in the canals, and the request for more modest attire.

OK, there's the schoolhouse, we're almost there. All we have to do now is cross the bridge. And here we are. I told you it was just outside of town, next to the ditch. But dang, it looks like there are already some people there. I don't care, I want to splash around. If they don't like my "swimming suit", they can just leave. No, of course there's no girls - girls wouldn't ever be here.... but waitaminute...

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Exploring the third category of Arizona history


My experience has been that there are two categories of Arizona history 1) Boring stories that require you to memorize dates, and learn about famous people 2) Nonsense stuff that's made up just to be funny. And neither one of these things really interests me. I'm interested in the third type, and that's what I explore here. Please let me explain.

I'm interested in the ordinary day-to-day life of people who lived in Phoenix. I really don't care if they were rich or famous (although I wouldn't hold that against them). I want to know what it felt like to live in Phoenix before the invention of air conditioning, what it was like to see the valley's population explode after War War II, to sit beside a canal when there were thousands of trees lining it, instead of just concrete.

So if you hand me a history book, or hand me a goofy book of "Arizona Tall Tales", I'll hand it back to you, politely. No thank you. I've read the history books, and the goofy books. And I had enough of them a long time ago.

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My exploration of the third category puzzles a lot of people. Many ask me if someone that I just wrote about was rich, or famous. Probably not. But they lived in Phoenix, they may have ridden the trolleys, they may have seen the Heard Building being built. And so there's a foundation in fact in what I'm searching. I have no interest in nonsense goofy stuff that is mostly a joke book. Don't get me wrong, I like joke books, but it doesn't replace my genuine interest in Phoenix history.

So that's my journey, and there's so much more to see, and learn. I've enjoyed learning about George Loring, Jack Swilling, Hattie Mosher, Judge Ruppert, Ichabod the tree, to name a few of my favorites. And each time I discover something, I discover something new. This isn't a process of digging, this is a process of unfolding. And each time I unfold one piece of Phoenix history, a thousand more pieces begin to show.

If that makes sense to you, I'm glad. If not, please stay with me, and hopefully it will. Like any journey, it's best shared. I'm glad you're here.


Image at the top of this post: A group standing on a footbridge over the Arizona Canal in 1902, Phoenix, Arizona. Camelback Mountain is in the background. I imagine that I'm the tough guy on the right, posing confidently.

Visiting the software coders of Hollywood in the 1980s


As a young Graphic Designer in the mid-1980s, I was fortunate to have a boss who was a computer nerd. I was working for what is called an "In House" department, doing basic Graphic Sesign for the corporate headquarters of Blue Cross of California. His enthusiasm for digital stuff was amazing, and he foresaw a future when drawing boards and drafting tables would go away, and be replaced by computers. He was right.

I'm grateful to have gotten such an early start with computer graphics, which in my industry came to be known as "desktop publishing" (originally said sarcastically - as if the functions of creating something to be published could be created on a desktop!). I was fortunate to be sent to training sessions for software that had just been invented - the company paid my way, and I got to travel. But the most interesting thing I ever saw, and the saddest, was the software coders of Hollywood. I went there one day with my boss.

And I really do mean Hollywood. Hollywood was about twenty miles away from Blue Cross, which was in Woodland Hills in the San Fernando Valley. We had been asked to take a look at a software program was was being designed for Graphic Design and publishing. I have no idea what the program was called, or if it even had a name then, but I remember going there. A lot of software was being invented back then.

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It was in a house in the Hollywood Hills. Yes, you can picture a big mansion in the hills, with a swimming pool, and a sweeping views. And inside of that house were young men (younger than me, I was 28) sitting at computers, coding.

To me, I describe it as a sad scene. But I may have looked sad to them. I was a corporate guy, neatly dressed in a shirt and tie. I worked in a building with cubicles, and I showed up to work every day from 8 to 5. They were free to come and go as they pleased, no set hours, and no dress code. And they sat at their computers, looking to me just like the "Revenge of the Nerds" characters, with their cans of Pepsi, and cold slices of pizza. If you haven't seen "Revenge of the Nerds", just picture the guy from Jurassic Park, who could debug a million lines of code, except that these guys were much younger. I'm guessing that they were brilliant, and were probably getting paid a lot more money than I was. They were turning raw lines of code into the kind of computer software that we all use now by pushing buttons. And it all works because of them.

In a long life, I've met a lot of people like this. They love what they do, and get immersed in it. It may take them many hours and sleepless nights to write and debug code, but without them, our computers, including our cell phones, wouldn't work. I'm glad that they do this kinda stuff, but I'm also glad it's not me. I'm not a computer guy, those people are.


Image at the top of this post: with my boss at Blue Cross, Woodland Hills (Los Angeles), California. I'm on the left.

What the name of Mesa, Arizona means


Mesa is the Spanish word for table, which is how Mesa, Arizona got its name. It's a description of a piece of land that sits up a little higher than the surrounding area, and is flat on top. It's often called tableland. It's not really as high as a big plateau, but in a valley as flat as the Salt River Valley, it was noticeable.

Of course, you can't see it now, because of all of the buildings around Mesa, but before that area started to populate, you could. And it was important because the valley flooded, and you really don't want to build something where it floods. So the name Mesa had a strong meaning to people who might have been skeptical about buying land. Yes, the whole Salt River Valley is a giant floodplain, which has only very recently been controlled (and sometimes not so well!).

I've always had a fascination with the names of things. Sometimes they mean nothing, like Glendale, where I live, which just sounded good to the founders, that's all. But I always try to find out. Jumping to conclusions about names is what caused me so much disappointment when I drove up to Snowflake years ago, thinking that it would be a good place to see snow (I saw the name on a map). No, it was named after two guys, one named "Snow" and one named "Flake". I've been very skeptical since then!

Since I speak a little Spanish (VERY little) I've been amused by the people who don't realize the meanings behind names. In Los Angeles, I often visited the La Brea tar pits (la brea is a Spanish word for the tar, which is black, goopy stuff). And then I would visit the La Brea bakery and get a chuckle out of the name. Who would name a bakery after black goopy stuff? Well, the meaning of the name gets lost, and it just becomes a bit of trivia.

So knowing what a mesa is is just a bit of trivia, I know. It doesn't change anything, as a rose by any other name will smell as sweet, of course. But I like finding this stuff out, and it's always made me more comfortable on planet earth. I try not to be the boring one at parties who talks about this kind of stuff, and I sure don't want to be a "corrector" - which is a good way to get a punch in the nose, so I write about it here.

Thanks for visiting Mesa with me today. Wow, we can see a long way from here!

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Alpha Williams, a little girl in old-time Phoenix - 1906


Let's time-travel back to Phoenix in 1906 and see it through the eyes of Alpha Williams, who was six at the time. That's her in the photo up there, sitting on her horse, Blackie.

Alpha Williams (on the right) on Blackie

Alpha wasn't rich or famous, and she's exactly the kind of person who interests me the most in Phoenix history. I myself am not rich or famous, I'm just an ordinary person living in Phoenix, so when I want to imagine what old-time Phoenix was like, I like to try to see things through other people's eyes. Let's do that, let's look at Phoenix through her eyes.

And let's start with her nose. Yes, let's start with what it smells like to her. She's next to the OK Livery Stable (the "parking garage" of its day, for horses, like a corral), so there were a LOT of horses. And that means the smell of, well, you know. As a modern person from the city, I would probably be horrified by the stench. She would say, "What smell?" Because like all people who live around something like that, you get used to it. If she time-traveled to my suburban neighborhood today she would probably be nauseated by the smell of burning gasoline, which is everywhere, and I don't notice.

John and Eulala Williams at the OK Livery in 1906

Let's take a closer look at her parents, John and Eulala. John is wearing a vest, because that's how men carried stuff in their pockets in those days. He looks like he's holding up a horse whip in his right hand, which is something that we often forget about nowadays, and the reigns are in his left hand. My best guess is that he's wearing his fancy "go to meeting hat" for the photo. His wife is wearing a typical "Victorian" style dress, high collar, and with her hair pulled up. The Victorian era technically ended with the death of Queen Victoria, in 1901, but as an era it's usually considered up until World War I.

Alpha Williams at Tempe Normal School (ASU) in 1921. She's towards the bottom of the article.

Alpha Williams graduated from the Tempe Normal School (which is now called ASU) in 1921. It was a teacher's college at the time, and she went on to become a teacher at Creighton School. She is listed as Alpha Rudd (Noel Rudd was her husband).

Alpha Rudd teaching 1st Grade at Creighton School 1926-27. By the way, Noel and Alpha's house is still there, the modern address is 318 N. 18th Drive (near 19th Avenue and Van Buren).

Alpha Rudd died in 1987 and is buried in the Glendale Cemetery, at 63rd Avenue south of Northern, in Glendale, just south of where I'm writing this right now.

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The frustration of renaming streets in the Phoenix, Arizona area


If you've lived in the Phoenix area for a few years, you've seen changes, lots of changes. New buildings appear, freeways, that sort of thing. And while it all takes some getting used to, there's nothing more frustrating that the renaming of streets.

Phoenix has been renaming its streets since it began, in 1870, and up to as recently as the 1960s, the cites around it have been renaming their streets to kinda match up. And sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't.

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Phoenix has always been a patchwork trying to weave itself together. From the time the first additions were added to Phoenix (we call them subdivisions now) there was confusion. The neighborhoods that were built miles away from Phoenix (some as far north as McDowell Road!) didn't pay much attention to making their street names match up with the street names many miles away. So as the city grew together, there had to be renaming. You can still see it to this day, by going to Avondale, where there is still a Central Avenue and Van Buren. I don't know about you, but I don't consider Avondale to be anything except more of the Phoenix metro area. If I plug in Central and Van Buren on my GPS, I still have to be careful to note if I'm going to Phoenix, or Avondale. Go take a look on Google maps if you don't believe me, I'll wait.

And that's the reason for most of the renaming, to get the valley to fit together, and to make it the wonderfully easy grid that it is now (yeah, I know with a few dumb exceptions!). But it was really bad for the nice people of Glendale, Arizona. They had to live through it twice.

In the 1920 article at the top of this post, Glendale is preparing for free mail delivery, something we take for granted now. And all they needed to do was to make it less confusing for the postal carriers, so they made their first effort to clean up the tangle that the naming of the streets had been before that. Personally, I'm OK with Washington being renamed to Glendale Avenue, and Meridian changing to Central. But A, B, C streets must have been something the old-timers protested, and tried not to use. Of course, most of the streets in Glendale changed to match up with Phoenix in the 1960s, which is why Central changed to 59th Avenue. Of course Glendale never did change Olive to Dunlap, which shows civic pride, but is very confusing for people who want to take the exact same exit on the I-17 as on the 101.

1957 map of Glendale, Arizona.

As someone who collects old photos, and maps, of the Phoenix area, I'm fascinated by the many changes of the street names. Mostly I can figure stuff out, but I'm still having difficulty with Scottsdale streets pre-1970s - I'm working on that!

So when I see an old photo and get an old address, I still usually have to do a lot of work to figure out where it was. The names have changed!

My town as seen through other people's eyes - Glendale, Arizona


I live in Glendale, a suburb of Phoenix. I've lived there since 1993, and hopefully I'll never have to leave, until my days are done. I like it here. To me, it's what I always wanted, a house in suburbia. And more specifically, I wanted a garage. I've owned a lot of nice cars and I always hated the thought of them having to sleep outside. So that's what my house looks like, mostly a garage, and a place for me in a couple of rooms behind it. It's a wonderfully safe, and slightly-boring piece of the endless suburbia that surrounds Phoenix. I love it here, and it's what I worked hard to get, and keep. I have a mortgage, and pay a Home Owner's Association, which will leave a note on your house if you have weeds in your yard getting out of control.

Every once in a while, however, I get to see my town through the eyes of other people, and I get a big kick out of that. As a city, Glendale ranges from some very expensive real estate (further north of me) to the sketchy parts of Grand Avenue and the "less than fashionable" parts of downtown Glendale. There are malls, and there are also farms. What you see can often be determined by who you're with.

If you hang around with me, I'll take you to the Sahuaro Ranch, or to Glendale Community College, which is my immediate neighborhood. I may take you to Parson's Restaurant, or Manuel's. Heck, we might even get crazy and go to the McDonald's! My Glendale is suburbia, with what I've found of historic interest. But mostly it's suburbia. Look! Another Starbucks! Hey! Another Starbucks!

For me, the most dramatic change in how things looked was when I went on a ride-along with a Glendale police officer in the 1990s, the husband of one of my co-workers at the time. His Glendale was a darned scary-looking place, and he loved it. His "beat" (or whatever they call it) didn't include my dull neighborhood, it was mostly along Grand Avenue, where there are a lot of petty criminals - mostly related to drugs and people who are trying to figure out how to get money to get more drugs. And that meant a lot of stealing was going on.

Now waitaminute, I'm not saying that stuff isn't stolen in "nicer" neighborhoods. The first year that I moved into this house, my neighbor got his Lexus stolen from his driveway. I noticed that after that, he emptied out his garage of junk and put his new car in the garage. Of course if the bad guys really want your car, they'll break into your garage, but chances are they'll just go for something easier. I liked having my car in a locked garage, as I mentioned before.

Of course, I have friends who are more upscale than me. Their Glendale is about the Arrowhead Mall, and the restaurants on Bell Road. If I'm lucky I'll be invited to have lunch with them, and I'll watch them tip more money than I pay for most meals. Most of my north Glendale neighbors drive gigantic SUVs that get, I guess, about ten miles to the gallon. They don't have the flashy wealth of Scottsdale, but there's money there, make no mistake. If you're a Real Estate agent, you know that. And I often wonder what Glendale looks like to you?

Thanks for looking at Glendale with me! Welcome to Glendale!

Image at the top of this post: ad for Glendale, Arizona in 1910

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Being alone at Christmastime in Phoenix, Arizona


As someone who grew up in the snow and cold of Minneapolis, I am soooooo happy to be in Phoenix at Christmastime. With all due respect to that beautiful city, and the wonderful outdoor winter sports there, I just couldn't wait to leave Minneapolis. I bought a car when I was eighteen, learned to read a map not long after that, and soon figured out which way was west, and I went to Phoenix.

Many people have marveled at that, as if it were some big achievement. But really, you hold onto the steering wheel, put gas in the car a few times along the way, and you're there. I'm not saying I arrived in style, or even smelling good, but all that matters is that I had left the snow and cold for the glory of the warmth of Phoenix, Arizona. Yes, I lived where the "po' folk" lived, learned to feed myself by stretching a dollar until it screamed, and all the usual things that old-timers say that the young people don't have the discipline to do anymore. But I know that there are young people out there right now who are doing what they can, and there will always be. And I'm proud of those people, the way I can look back and say I'm proud of myself. I glad I did what I did. Most of the time it was just uncomfortable, but there was one time of the year when it hurt like crazy - Christmastime.

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Now waitaminute, I'm not saying that I had any regrets finding myself alone in Phoenix at Christmastime, but that didn't make it hurt any less. Being alone stinks, and being alone at Christmastime is just about the hardest thing that anyone with a heart can bear.

In a long life, I've come to realize that I'm not the only one who has ever been alone at Christmas, and hurting. It's so common that I'm sure it's part of the reason of the spike in liquor sales at that time of the year. I did fly back to Minneapolis once after I graduated from ASU, to experience the blizzard of the century, and that made it easier for me to not feel so sad back home in Phoenix, and later in Los Angeles.

Coming to Phoenix alone was an important decision in my life, and one that I'm glad I made. If you grew up in Phoenix, it's impossible for me to describe just how good it feels to go for a walk in December, in a tee shirt. So I won't try to describe it, you'll just see me with such a grin on my face you'd think everything is perfect. And it really is.

I wish people a merry little Christmas. If you've never heard the original lyrics to the song, it may surprise you. The version that plays on the radio isn't the same sad and lonely one that was originally written. When I was alone at Christmastime in Phoenix, I would listen for it on the radio, sung by Judy Garland. It still hurts a little.

Some day soon, 
We all will be together,
If the fates allow.
Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.



Turning your life around at Glendale Community College, Arizona


Even though I haven't taught at GCC for years, I have great affection for the school. I taught computer software from 2001 to 2009, and what I got to see was much more than that. I saw people who were turning their life around at a Community College.

I apologize for how cliche it sounds - as if taking some classes at a Community College could "change your life", but I saw it happen. And no, I take no credit for it, I was just talking about Photoshop, or Web Design. And I'm convinced that many people were turning their life around in my tiny corner of Arizona, at GCC.

Glendale Community College in 1965. Yes, it still looks like that, the buildings are the same in the center of the campus, and the historic palm trees (that originally led to Sahuaro Ranch) are there.

Glendale Community College, which has been there since 1965, is on Olive and 59th Avenue in Glendale, Arizona. It began as what was then called a Junior College, as a way for students to make a simpler step from high school to college. I myself availed myself of this, by going to Phoenix College for my first two years before I went to ASU. And believe me, it make a big difference, and I'm grateful to have taken that route. I still recommend it: first two years at a Community College (which is what they're called now) then finish up at a University. It's not only less expensive, it's less overwhelming for young people.

But something happened to "Junior" colleges over the years. They expanded from their original intention into places that served the community, not just people making the transition from high school to college. And that's why a Community College is so cool, and why I recommend it to people, even if they're well-striken in years (30s, 40s, and beyond). No, it's not a miracle, but it's a place to turn your life around.

I saw a lot of elderly students, well beyond 19. And their situations were as individual as they were. Some were tired of dead-end jobs, some had gone through a divorce, some just wanted to enrich their lives. And they one thing they all had in common is that they didn't realize that they would see so many other people like themselves on campus.

I like GCC, and I go there often, although now I just use the Fitness Center. And yes, it's open to anyone, you pay for it as if it were a class. If you're disabled, like I am, or over 65, and your medical insurance has "Silver Sneakers", you can use it for free.

If you don't know anything about your local community college, I have an assignment for you: Go there. If you go to GCC, the visitor's parking is up close to campus and you can walk around there as much as you want. I recommend visiting the Student Union, maybe grabbing a burger while you're there, or a cup of coffee. I like the hot chocolate! Yes, you'll see a lot of young people, fresh from high school, walking around looking as if they knew what they were doing. But don't be fooled, everyone is dazed and confused, and trying to figure it all out. And a community college is a wonderful place for that, at any age.

See you on campus!

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