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

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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