If this photo shows a busy little city from the Roaring Twenties, that's exactly what you found in Phoenix during this transformative decade. Town to city, horses to cars, less Wild West and more sophistication — Phoenix had been moving this way for years. But in the 1920s, they became solidly entrenched — even Town Ditch was covered. The first "skyscraper," the seven-story Heard Building, right, opened in 1920. By the end of the decade, it had several taller and more impressive siblings that remain some of the city's most treasured and beautiful buildings. Central Methodist Church (ME South) on the near right would move to a handsome new structure at Central and Pierce.
The nation entered the decade with Woodrow Wilson as president. But he was incapacitated by a stroke and his wife, Edith, was protecting him from most visitors and essentially carrying out most of his executive duties. America was disillusioned by the outcome of the Great War, the Palmer Raids and the "Red Scare," what was seen as Wilson's overreaching, and two decades of the Progressive Era. Voters (including women, for the first time) eagerly embraced Ohio's Warren G. Harding as the next president. He promised a "return to normalcy," forever wrecking the correct word "normality." Harding freed the Socialist Eugene Debs, who Wilson had imprisoned for opposing American involvement in the war.
The Great War had brought changes to the Salt River Valley, especially with the booming demand for cotton. By 1920, it had turned into a bust and Phoenix was suffering through the national recession. Things would soon turn around as the economy expanded and America embarked on, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, "the greatest, gaudiest spree in history." It was the Jazz Age, with the experiment of Prohibition sidestepped with speakeasies. Prohibition was hardly observed at all in the non-Mormon towns of the West. In Phoenix, bars, borthels, and gambling dens operated in the open, sometimes making payoffs to the city. This wide-open environment soon attracted the Mafia, including Al Capone.
The Phoenix of the 1920s was expanding out of the half-mile footprint of the original township. In the previous decade, the city had surpassed Tucson to become the most populous place in Arizona. With more than 29,000 people in 1920, Phoenix would grow nearly 66 percent over the next 10 years. Residential neighborhoods expanded a half mile north of McDowell, west of the Santa Fe tracks at 19th Avenue, and east as far as 16th Street. These were gradually incorporated into the city limits, which expanded from five square miles in 1920 to 6.5 square miles a decade later.
The mansions of "Millionaire's Row" still graced Monroe Street, but the central business district was moving north. Elegant bungalows lined the streets north of Van Buren into the fancy new Kenilworth District north of Roosevelt Street and eventually the Period Revival neighborhoods just beyond McDowell, including Palmcroft. Many of these were reachable by the streetcars.