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

Looking at the backgrounds of images on the Duke University site


I'm a background watcher, and I always have been. When I lived in LA, I started recognizing backgrounds of places where movies and TV shows were shot. I got a big kick out of this, although I'm sure that the filmmakers would have preferred that I just watched the story.

I'm still a background watcher, and with my interest in old-time Phoenix, one of my favorite places to background watch is the Duke University Libraries Digital Collection of Outdoor Advertising. Yes, billboards. Duke collects them, scans them, and shares them online. And the point of course is to study that part of the history of advertising. And there are thousands of images there, from all over the United States.

Look in the background of that pic up there. Look real close. See the Papago Buttes? If you've lived in Phoenix, or Scottsdale, you should recognize them. Yes, I know the billboard is offering a free Mustang, but look at the background. This intersection fascinates me. You're on McDowell looking west towards Scottsdale Road.


Here's another view, more zoomed in. See the Bashas? That's what really interests me in these old photos. See the Papago Buttes? Yep, you're looking west. See how I cropped out the billboard?

Every once in a while people ask me why the Duke site has so many pictures of Phoenix. Well, it's just a coincidence - they have a lot of billboards, that's all. The site indexes by what's on the billboard, so I just go and look at the backgrounds. After a while I begin to recognize areas, as the billboards change, but they don't move. I especially like the car wash on McDowell near Scottsdale Road.

The car wash near Scottsdale Road on McDowell in the early 1970s, Scottsdale, Arizona.

Looking east on McDowell Road towards Scottsdale Road in the 1960s, Scottsdale, Arizona.

And it's visible on the right in the wider shot. All of these pics are from the 1960s and early 1970s. Of course the original photos were shot of the billboards, and the reason that the Duke site has them is that they're part of the history of advertising. But I'm looking at the backgrounds!

Looking west on McDowell Road from Scottsdale Road in the 1960s, Scottsdale, Arizona.
Images from the Duke University Libraries Digital Collections.
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