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Watching the end of the Plaza in old-time Phoenix

As someone who majored in Graphic Design, and minored in Business, I understand the importance of progress. I know that quality of life depends on a growing economy, and that money talks. I consider myself an old Marketing guy, and I often defend things that are newer, faster, better, such as computers, and many other types of technology.

Drawing of the Plaza in 1885 by C.J. Dyer

But I know that I would have had trouble watching the end of the Plaza in Phoenix in the 1920s. Yes, I understand that the city had long since outgrown the old City Hall Building, and that it made sense to move it to a new location and sell the block commercially, as it had become very valuable real estate. And that's all that happened. It really made sense for the growing city.

The Plaza, also called Block 23, was set aside for the use of the public when the City of Phoenix was platted in 1870. It's the square block of Washington, Jefferson, 1st Street and 2nd Street. Originally it was just an empty space, with a few trees planted. Over the years, more trees were planted and a bandshell was built there, and a public fountain, along with the Phoenix City Hall. It was a place where generation after generation of the people in Phoenix went to watch parades, listen to band concerts, or just do what people in parks do, relax.

In the photo at the top of this post you can see the sidewalks of the Plaza, and the stumps of the trees in the late 1920s. This was just before construction of a gigantic theater took over this block, which stood there for over forty years.

Construction of the Fox Theater over what had been the Plaza, 1930s Phoenix, Arizona.

The theater, the Fox, did quite well up until the 1960s, when the population of Phoenix moved their shopping habits away from downtown. It was demolished in the 1970s, and most of the people that I talk to who grew up in those days remember the Fox. But of course no one is old enough to remember the Plaza. And I've never met anyone whose parents, or grandparents, ever told them about the Plaza. So I don't know what the reaction was from the people in the city.

Maybe everyone in town was happy about the progress, the new theater, and the new City Hall which was being built a few blocks away. I don't know. But if it were me, I know that I would have just stood there and cried. If I'd grown up with the Plaza, I'd have remembered the trees, and the band concerts, and the parades. I may have been too stubborn to even go into the "new fangled" theater. Part of my childhood would have died.

Memories in Phoenix are short. I wouldn't have known anything about the Plaza unless I stumbled onto some old photos. And today people are stumbling onto photos of the Fox Theater, wondering why everyone just let it all be destroyed.

Hopefully there are lessons to be learned here. Maybe progress doesn't mean destroying everything that generations of people have treasured. I hope so.

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