In the late 1950s, my uncle bought a house from John F. Long in Maryvale — and I mean he bought it from John Long himself sitting in a trailer on land that would become Phoenix's first major post-war suburb. My uncle was pretty much Long's target demographic: A veteran of World War II and Korea, young with a family and a good job. Tens of thousands more did the same thing. His house was a sparkling new ranch with an "all electric kitchen" and a pool. Every time we visited, I felt inferior, us living in a down-on-its-heels Spanish period-revival house, built in the 1920s with a gas range, just north of downtown. My mother sniffed that his commute faced the sun coming and going. But how I wanted to live in Maryvale. It was the future. Except it wasn't. Now our old house is restored and valuable in one of the state's most desirable historic districts. Maryvale is a linear slum.
It wasn't supposed to turn out that way. Long named the district after his wife and loved it until he died. He was unapologetic about building affordable starter homes for ex-GIs and his company tried to support Maryvale even as it began an inexorable decline. He took the model of Levittown, the "planned communities" built by William Levitt in the northeast in the last 1940s and 1950s. But Long added his own twists, such as the distinct Phoenix ranch house and abundant pools. Like its model, Maryvale was defined by curvilinear streets with cul-de-sacs and walls, providing a sense of privacy. Sometimes the newness could be jarring: I remember walking with my uncle through cabbage fields — across the street (until these were obliterated by more houses).