I'm gradually going back through Phoenix 101 columns and fleshing them out with more serious scholarship. This is a crazy week, so I may or may not get to a new column. In the meantime, enjoy this expanded column that first appeared in 2009:
I'm gradually going back through Phoenix 101 columns and fleshing them out with more serious scholarship. This is a crazy week, so I may or may not get to a new column. In the meantime, enjoy this expanded column that first appeared in 2009:
On the night in 1968 after President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill authorizing construction of the Central Arizona Project., my mother took me on a long drive. We went through the citrus groves, the empty farmlands between the towns, the enchanting oasis that was Phoenix. Like many who had dedicated a good part of their lives to win the CAP, she had deep misgivings. She wanted me to see the place, burn it in my brain, and remember. "It will be gone," she said. She didn't live to see her prediction come true. But the ferocious transformation of Phoenix from my beloved old city to the nearly unrecognizable concrete desert of today largely happened during the last two decades of the twentieth century. The big changes began in the 1980s.
In 1980, Phoenix's population was nearly 790,000, up 36 percent from 1970. The city would grow slower in the 1980s — up 25 percent. But Maricopa County grew almost 41 percent. Yesterday's small communities began to become today's mega-suburbs as sprawl took off as never before. For example, Glendale, which had grown by 168 percent in the 1970s, added another 52 percent in the eighties. It would hold nearly 148,000 people by 1990. Arrowhead Ranch, the citrus groves owned by the Goldwater and Martori families, was being developed into subdivisions, one of the largest new "master planned communities" in the state. Phoenix remained the power center of the state and county through the decade, but its hold began to slip.
In 1980, Phoenix still enjoyed a robust base of major headquarters. By most measures it was never stronger and almost all were located in the Central Corridor. Among them were the three big banks, Valley National, First National, and the Arizona Bank; Greyhound; Arizona Public Service; American Fence; Central Newspapers; Western Savings, and Del Webb Co. Karl Eller's Combined Communications had been purchased by Gannett in 1978 but Eller remained active, taking control of Circle K in 1983 and making it the nation's second-largest convenience store chain.
APS formed a holding company, Pinnacle West Capital, that was not regulated like the utility by the Corporation Commission. Among its ventures was the S&L Merabank. Taking advantage of airline deregulation, America West Airlines was formed by local investors in 1983 — it would go on to merge with USAirways and take over American Airlines. And Phelps-Dodge, which for a century controlled much of Arizona's destiny as the world's leading copper company, moved its headquarters from New York City to a new tower in Midtown Phoenix.
On June 2, 1976, a bomb detonated under the car of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles in Midtown Phoenix. He survived an agonizing 11 days before he died. A recent article by Bolles' colleague John Winters lays out the basics. I've written about the case before here, as well as the Phoenix underworld. The closest assassins went to prison. Yet full justice was never served. The real puppetmasters got away with it. Many in high positions wanted it to go away.
But what exactly was it? The case has been extensively covered over the years, from the Arizona Project of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) and contemporary, dogged reporting, by Republic and Phoenix Gazette reporters, including Al Sitter, Paul Dean, and Charles Kelly. New Times ran the IRE series and kept digging over the following decades, especially with Jana Bommersbach, John Dougherty, Tom Fitzpatrick and Paul Rubin. The Republic continues with retrospectives. Don Devereux, who worked for the Scottsdale Progress, still writes a blog about the case. A fascinating new book by Dave Wagner, an R&G city editor, The Politics of Murder: Organized Crime in Barry Goldwater's Arizona, makes an important contribution.
With so much having been written, so many characters and theories, one danger is becoming lost in a house of mirrors. The Bolles case would be the ultimate test of a mystery writer, were he foolish enough to try to make it into popular crime fiction. That's because in real life, the case was complex and shaded. It involved journalism and supposition, not all of the latter ultimately true. Carl Bernstein said that good journalism is the best available truth at that moment. But journalists write on history's leading edge and history is an argument without end. Law enforcement continues to debate the case, too. Files were lost or misplaced, perhaps deliberately. Among them, Phoenix Police file No. 851. In addition to the missing file, index cards for the files were also removed from the records room. Did it contain inconvenient information about Adamson, Emprise and Kemper Marley? Or more? Self-serving narratives, hidden agendas, and bad memories further blur the trail. Many questions remain.
So my modest attempt for the 40th anniversary of the bombing is a list of the actual major players and their connection with the most notorious assassination of a reporter on American soil:
John Adamson: Don Bolles left his post covering the state Legislature to meet Adamson at the Clarendon House Hotel on June 2nd. Adamson promised a juicy tip on a land fraud involving Barry Goldwater, Harry Rosenzweig, Sam Steiger, and Kemper Marley. In reality, while Bolles waited for him in the lobby, Adamson planted the dynamite device under the driver's side of Bolles' new Datsun 710. After giving up on the meeting, Bolles returned to the parking lot, started his car, and pulled out when the bomb went off.
Usually portrayed as a small-time but menacing hood, Adamson hung out on the Central Avenue bars and the dog track. But he actually had worked his way up to being chief enforcer for land-fraud kingpin Ned Warren and had been retained by associates of Barry Goldwater for dirty business in a Navajo power struggle. He also worked as a confidential informant for someone in the Phoenix Police. Bolles identified Adamson in his famous last words. In exchange for cooperation, Adamson was given a 20-year sentence. When convictions from his testimony were thrown out, prosecutors charged him with first-degree murder. This conviction didn't stick. So after serving 20 years, Adamson entered federal witness protection, then voluntarily left it, dying in 2002. Some retired cops and journalists suspect that Adamson protected the true source of the death warrant on Bolles. In a jailhouse interview with Bommersbach and Rubin, Adamson said chillingly, "I didn't kill him for a story he'd written. I killed him for a story he was going to write."
In 1941, Arthur Horton, a professor at Arizona State Teachers College, the precursor of ASU, published a remarkable Survey of Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun. What makes it still valuable is that it provides us with the most authoritative examination of Phoenix in that decade, or at any time until perhaps the 1960s.
The exhaustive report is also helpful in understanding a decade that meant far more than American involvement in World War II and its effects on Phoenix (which I wrote about here). That lasted less than four years out of 10. Much more was going on.
The decade began with a strong local economy, almost entirely thanks to the New Deal’s enormous largesse toward Phoenix and Arizona. The stimulus spending worked and helped pull Phoenix out of the Great Depression. By 1940, Americans were doing better and traveling, including visiting the mostly new resorts including the Arizona Biltmore, Camelback Inn, Jokake Inn, Adobe House, Ingleside Inn, Wigwam Guest Ranch and San Marcos at Chandler, as well as Phoenix’s premier hotels. The “Valley of the Sun” tourist promotion launched by the Chamber of Commerce and the railroads was paying off. To be sure, not everyone was doing better: 10,000 in the county (population 186,000) were on relief.
Agriculture remained the mainstay of the Salt River Valley’s economy. According to Horton, Arizona had 1.1 million grapefruit trees, 625,000 orange trees; 17,000 lemon trees; 5,000 tangerine trees, and 2,675 lime trees. Most of these were in the American Eden in and around Phoenix.
With Arizona ending live greyhound racing, it's the end of an era long coming. Where the state once had five tracks, the only one left was in poor Tucson, which couldn't even keep a slice of Spring Training. The track in Phoenix closed to live racing in 2009. Changing tastes, animal activists and, especially, the proliferation of tribal casinos did in the pastime.
But once upon a time, it was a big deal. Before Phoenix Greyhound Park became a swap meet and was painted, like so much of the town, brown, it was one of the city's premier entertainment attractions. The golden age was from the 1950s through the 1970s. Opening in 1954, Phoenix Greyhound Park at 40th Street and Washington was a neon-lit palace where middle-class couples and compulsive gamblers mixed with the city's elite — and members of its extensive population of mobsters. Betting was legal. And a pre-video-device audience thrilled to dogs racing chasing a mechanical "lure" around the track. The park promised glamor, excitement, and was highly advertised ("there goes the rabbit, rabbit, rabbit!").
The extent of organized crime's penetration of dog racing in Phoenix remains an important, and controversial, element of the mystery of the 1976 assassination of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles. After the blast and before he passed out, first responders heard Bolles say (a version of) "they finally got me...Adamson, Emprise, Mafia...find John Adamson..." Emprise was a sports conglomerate headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y. and controlled by the Jacobs family. It held a controlling interest in Arizona dog tracks.
Emprise was found to be associated with organized crime figures and convicted in Los Angeles of racketeering in 1972. The allegations involved taking a hidden interest in a Las Vegas casino to skim the profits. In Phoenix, Emprise had been a target of Bolles' investigative reporting and focus of a crackdown by the state Racing Commission in the early 1970s. Even so, the state allowed the company to keep its concessions, including at Phoenix Greyhound Park. Emprise's Phoenix partner was the Funk family And it had friendly ties to Kemper Marley, the powerful land-and-booze baron always lurking at the edge of the Bolles murder.
He was a towering figure among the giants assembled by Eugene Hanson at the Fine Arts Department of Coronado High School in Scottsdale, including Robert Frazier and Joseph Gatti. In those days, Scottsdale taxpayers happily funded public education. Coronado built one of the most respected fine arts programs in the nation. While other schools had a "senior play," we had seven or eight productions a year in the glory days of the 1970s, when I was blessed to be a student. These included a major musical and spring repertory, with productions at a level of sophistication and skill that could match university or professional theater. This was in no small part because of Jim Newcomer.
He drove a little red Beetle — one always knew he was on the job when it was parked behind the big roll-up door at the rear of the auditorium, even on weekends. He kept company with an enormous St. Bernard named Hildegard.
As the senior theater arts teacher, he taught acting as well as technical theater (lighting, set design and construction, props, costuming, makeup, etc.) Working in the stunning performance space designed by famed Phoenix architect Ralph Haver, we were repeatedly told by Newcomer that we might never again work in such an excellent facility. He was right. Most Broadway theaters were dumps. Plays at ASU were performed in the former college boiler room, the Lyceum Theater.
Newcomer was charismatic and striking, a tall man with a booming voice and laugh, a beard and long legs that splayed out whenever he sat down. Even the shyest student could find a place in Coronado theater, be it in property management or costuming. Yet all were a part of an enterprise that was demanding and professional. Excellence was Newcomer's true north and he got it.
The most notorious gangster of mid-century Phoenix was Gus Greenbaum, but most people only know the end of the story. Where, in 1958, he and his wife were cooking steaks at their Palmcroft home on Monte Vista Drive when hitmen killed both.
Greenbaum's body was found in a bedroom, nearly decapitated in having his throat slit. His wife Bess' throat was cut, too. She was on a sofa facing the fireplace in the living room, trussed from behind and badly beaten in the face with a heavy bottle. Police discovered her propped face-down on pillows, which prevented blood from dripping on the carpet. They also found evidence that the assassins stayed on that December evening and ate the steaks.
Phoenix as a back office to Las Vegas and second home for Chicago Outfit mobsters (Willie Bioff, the notorious movie-industry hustler and Mafia turncoat for example), is often traced to Greenbaum. But he was actually sent to Phoenix in 1928 to run illegal liquor and betting; the latter eventually became southwest hub of the Outfit's gambling wire service, the Trans-America Publishing and News Service (Western Union would have frowned on accepting illegal telegraphs). This proprietary circuit also gave the Outfit an edge in national bookmaking rackets over rivals in New York and Detroit.
Gambling wouldn't be legalized in Nevada until 1931. Las Vegas was a village on the Union Pacific's main line from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles, population little more than 5,000. Legalization came because Nevada, whose population was centered around Reno and Carson City, was losing people and economic power as its mines played out and were destroyed by falling demand from the Great Depression.
Gus Greenbaum, a protege of the infamous Meyer Lansky, was 34. In Phoenix, he found a city of almost 48,000 and wide open. Gambling and prostitution flourished, with city commissioners and detectives taking a cut. The police department was deeply corrupt. Rail connections to Chicago were plentiful on the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific. Before the end of Prohibition, liquor was plentiful, too, thanks to Al Capone. Rising local leaders such as the Goldwater and Rosenzweig brothers and contractor Del Webb befriended Greenbaum. No wonder the Outfit thought it was the ideal home for Trans-America.
"Superblocks," with one project, be it an office, apartment, or parking garage, taking up an entire block, are one of the biggest enemies of a vibrant downtown. Think of old Civic Plaza (right) or the Chase Tower and its parking hulk. Even CityScape, which has many shops, offices, and restaurants (unfortunately facing inward), consists of superblocks that once held dozens of individual buildings, each with distinctive architecture and attitude to the street.
This is not a problem confined to central Phoenix — superblocks are profitable for developers. But this is a Phoenix-centric blog and no other major city lost more of its good urban bones to teardowns and, in many cases after decades, rebuilding into massive projects that are nearly dead at street level.
It's important to recall what Phoenix had. Not for nostalgia, but for lessons in how good cities really work (which is usually the opposite of what urban planners want) and because so few Phoenicians even know what once existed.
So thanks to the new digital archive of the McCulloch Brothers collection at ASU and other shots archived by Brad Hall, let's examine the energetic, walkable, full-of-life-and-commerce Phoenix:
Before the neon gateways of motels and auto courts, before the resorts, Phoenix welcomed visitors at a handful of elegant hotels. They succeeded the one-, two- and three-story hostelries mostly built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which gradually became single-room occupancy properties catering to those with few means.
All were located downtown, easily walkable for shopping, entertainment, and restaurants. They were convenient to travelers arriving by train at the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe depots, and after 1923 at Union Station. Once the town was easily accessible by rail, it attracted everyone from "health seekers" to Hollywood movie stars.
Let's take a tour.
The Hotel Adams, at Center (Central) and Adams Street, was completed in 1896, the largest and grandest hotel in the territory. Phoenix's population was only 5,000. Owner John Adams came from Chicago and twice served as Phoenix's mayor.
Here's a glamour shot of the hotel soon after its completion. Without air conditioning, its awnings, balconies, and sleeping porches helped keep guests cool in the summer. Unfortunately, the original mostly wooden building was completely destroyed by a fire in 1910. The blaze was so intense that it was fortunate — and thanks to the efforts of the young Phoenix Fire Department, that it didn't spread through downtown, becoming a Great Phoenix Fire.
After the blaze was extinguished, only rubble remained. Adams immediately began rebuilding.
The 1944 murder of Phoenix Police Officer David "Star" Johnson by Detective "Frenchy" Navarre is well-known to regular readers here (if you're new, you can read this real-life-pulp-fiction tale here). For years, the police department and city tried to forget the incident — and subsequent retribution by Johnson's partner in killing Navarre — not least because of its racial component. Johnson and his partner, Joe Davis, were black. Navarre was white.
Now that it's more in the open, Johnson deserves to be recognized by the department as an in-the-line-of-duty death.
But mysteries continue to linger about the shooting on May 2, 1944 in the Deuce, and the cascade effect it had, resulting in two trials, Navarre's acquittal, and Davis taking revenge inside police headquarters. For example, how did Navarre post bail of $10,000 after his arrest on a city detective's modest pay?
A big part of the answer is that Navarre was friends with Gus Greenbaum, the high-ranking member of the Chicago Outfit who had been posted to Phoenix in 1928 and later became infamous at Las Vegas casinos and the victim of a high-profile assassination in Palmcroft in 1958.
Railroad tracks running to Crystal Ice at Fourth Avenue and Jackson in the heart of the district. The plant not only provided ice deliveries to businesses and homes, but produced blocks to fill the bunkers of railroad refrigerator cars. The blocks were dragged and placed through roof doors in the railcars by workers on catwalks using hooks. McCulloch Bros./ASU Archives.
Phoenix's Warehouse District is finally seeing a payoff after years of destruction and false starts. How big a renaissance remains to be seen; coverage I've seen such as this doesn't quantify the new businesses. But something is happening. Most important, it involves creative firms and tech startups, not only restaurants.
The area saw an effervescence before, when artists discovered the historic buildings in the 1980s. But they were driven out by the arena, ballpark, Joe Arpaio's relentless jail expansions, Phoenix's ethos of tear-downs, and the city's lack of an effective preservation policy. The Jobs Corp moved into several buildings.
Some of the best buildings were lost. This helped fuel the successful fight in the mid-2000s to save the Sun Mercantile building, part of the city's old Chinatown. A few developers with stamina and perseverance, notably Michael Levine, refurbished some buildings. Another comeback attempt came with the opening of the unfortunately named Bentley Projects (the old Bell Laundry) in the 2000s, which included a restaurant, galleries, and a Poisoned Pen Bookstore. Too far from the core, that didn't take, either.
Phoenix never boasted a warehouse district with the size and great bones of, say, Denver, which has become a tremendous asset for an area anchored by the restored and expanded Denver Union Station. Phoenix was too small and limited in its economic heft. Still, what remains of the area is one of the city's treasures. It's one of the few places in Phoenix where you can find that coveted urban authenticity, with a variety of old buildings, narrow streets and density, that talented creatives seek.
In the conventional telling of Phoenix history, World War II marks the pivot between the "old" and "new" city. The reality is not quite so neat. But the war does deserve its own niche, separate from the more expansive decade of the 1940s.
As with the Great War, the most immediate local beneficiaries of the outbreak of hostilities in Europe in 1939 (China had been fighting for its life against Japan since 1937) were the cotton farmers of the Salt River Valley. Even with America nominally neutral, Washington tilted policy toward Britain and France, and our extra-long staple cotton was critical to making tires.
But unlike World War I, the Second World War would touch Phoenix much more profoundly. It would bring military bases and new industries. Population increases would strain the city. Simmering racial hostilities would break through. One of the great injustices of American history would literally run through the heart of town.
The valley's destiny lay not merely with the land but in the sky. It, along with Tucson, was identified as an ideal place to train military pilots thanks to the abundant clear days. Even before America entered the war — and in spite of a large isolationist sentiment in the Congress and the country — FDR's War Department began seeking locations for air bases in the Southwest. They were meant to enhance "preparedness," Roosevelt's armed neutrality, but also train British, Canadian and Chinese pilots.
• Phoenix should leave the Greater Phoenix Economic Council: "GPEC can't serve the special needs of Phoenix and the appetite of the sprawl boyz. Maybe a few projects to far north Phoenix. But what has GPEC done for downtown, the Central Corridor or to fill abundant empty land along the light-rail line in the city? Not much if anything."
• The evolution of the press, radio, and television in Phoenix: "It is an open question of how much power "the Pulliam press" actually had in post-war Phoenix. The city was attracting large numbers of middle-class Anglos from the Midwest that already shared his larger political philosophy. Pulliam was a civic leader, but hardly the only one, and most shared a common vision of a "business friendly" low-rise city with minimal restrictions on individuals. At least on white people."
• Still got Dick Nixon to kick around: "For decades, Richard Nixon has been the devil to the left. But the left isn't politically relevant anymore (Jerry Ford Republicanism is what passes for "the left" in today's broken political spectrum). What's more consequential is that Nixon is now the devil to the right, which is more powerful than ever. So in the public square today, we are relitigating not Watergate but the domestic achievements of Tricky Dick."
Nothing has done more to wreck American cities than cars. Jane Jacobs was more precise: Planners and road builders "do not know what to do with automobiles in cities because they do not know how to plan for workable and vital cities anyhow — with or without automobiles."
In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, she continued: "The simple needs of automobiles are more easily understood and satisfied than the complex needs of cities... Cities have more intricate economic and social concerns than automobile traffic. How can you know what to try with traffic until you know how the city itself works, and what else it needs to do with its streets? You can't."
This 1961 warning did not stop the ongoing civic vandalism, which was particularly visited on Phoenix with catastrophic consequences.
Old Phoenix, with its 17 square miles and 105,000 people in 1950, was convenient and walkable. Streets were of modest widths — you can still see it on Third and Fifth avenues today. Cars easily co-existed with pedestrians. One fine example was the shady City Beautiful Movement parkways on Moreland and Portland streets. North of McDowell, Central was a two-lane street lined with lush palms.
But the planner elite, with their superstitions about how cities should work, were already undermining it.
Of all the areas that became part of today's 516-square-mile Phoenix, Sunnyslope had the best chance of being its own separate town.
At the foot of North Mountain, Sunnyslope was very different from Phoenix proper (the name came from the Sunny Slope subdivision laid out by William Norton in 1911). It was a desert town, north of the Arizona Canal which marked the beginning of the oasis.
It was higher than the historic Phoenix townsite, something you still can see today if you drive south from Hatcher on Central Avenue, and framed by rugged terrain. My grandmother sold real estate in Sunnyslope and any time I, an oasis kid, would go with her, it seemed very exotic. And unlike Phoenix, its history was not based on agriculture.
Instead, Sunnyslope attracted "health seekers" and usually poor ones. In the Great Depression, it hosted a Hooverville. And Phoenix leaders not only looked down on it, they didn't want it to be part of the city. It received virtually none of the massive New Deal aid that saved Phoenix in the 1930s.
The oldest human activity in the Salt River Valley is agriculture. But the second oldest, in the era since American settlement began in the late 1860s, is land: platting, subdividing, buying, selling, flipping. It's an old-fashioned extraction industry. The remarkable thing is that it remains Phoenix's economic foundation.
With the 1851 Salt and Gila River Meridian, or "baseline," located near today's Phoenix International Raceway, the Americans set in place the point from which land would be surveyed and divided. This is a historic method of American empire, going back to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. It laid down a template that organized and regularized land to make it fungible.
Initially, the land was divided into farms, the square-mile layout that remains the bones of Phoenix until one gets into the mountains. But as the towns of Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, Glendale and others grew, increasing amounts were subdivided for houses and businesses. Phoenix's unique location in one of the world's richest river valleys made agriculture a natural source of wealth. But so was the land itself. The 1877 Desert Lands Act expanded the Homestead Act, not only attracting settlers but also speculators.
My new book, a concise history of Phoenix, comes out Nov. 9. Some initial signings are set for early December (see the "news" page of my author site) with more to come early next year.
I didn't intend to see two books published this year. High Country Nocturne, the eighth David Mapstone Mystery, would have done fine. But I was approached by an editor at the History Press who liked my Phoenix history columns on this site.
Initially, I thought it would entail a fairly easy compilation of that work. Instead, they wanted an almost entirely new book — and fast. So I set out to write the dissertation I never did.
I received a great deal of help in assembling the 60-plus photos that grace the book. That was still some of the most time consuming work. So was drilling down into primary sources. Then I had to make it my own, my concise interpretative history that can stand apart from fine work already done by Phil VanderMeer, Brad Luckingham and William Collins.
All my young life, Wickenburg was the most enchanting desert town closest to Phoenix. Even into the 2000s, it retained its main street charm.
Prospector Henry Wickenburg, an Austrian native, was the namesake of the town along the Hassayampa River. He discovered gold nearby in 1863. It became the famous Vulture Mine, based on claims Wickenburg sold to Behtchuel Phelps of New York. "The Comstock of Arizona" and "largest and richest gold mine" in the territory yielded about $2.5 million before it played out. Wickenburg himself scraped a living farming before committing suicide in 1905.
The young town was also contested by the Yavapai, who didn't appreciate the Anglo and Mexican settlers taking their land. In the Civil War, federal troops were withdrawn and the Yavapai attacked. Confederate cavalry responded but soon withdrew. Hundreds were killed on both sides before an uneasy peace settled.
Wickenburg the town played a major role in the rise of Phoenix. Jack Swilling, who also made some inportant gold finds there, saw an even richer possibility in the prehistoric Hohokam canals of the Salt River Valley. In the late 1860s, Swilling dragooned a crew of workers from Wickenburg to help excavate one, which became today's Grand Canal, and build Swilling's Ditch.
Later, Wickenburg became a stop on the Santa Fe Railway between the northern Arizona mainline and Phoenix; another line was built west to connect more directly with California. Until 1968, Wickenburg had daily passenger train service (and the depot still stands). The town was also an important stop on U.S. Highway 60 between Phoenix — on Grand Avenue — and Los Angeles.
Even as Phoenix grew into a soulless blob and once-magical places such as Prescott were subsumed by sprawl, Wickenburg retained its uniqueness with local businesses, an intact and walkable central business district and even a working movie theater. Celerity rehab centers had replaced the dude ranches of the 1930s but Wickenburg circa 2005 seemed remarkably authentic. So close to plastic suburbia of "the Valley" and yet wonderfully apart. Now it is in the fight for its life, at least as the town we knew and loved.
The interior courtyard of the Tovrea Mansion in happier days. (Steve Weiss photo).
A reader from Michigan wrote, "My wife and I were married at the Tovrea Mansion in 2000 (on today in fact — 6 Oct.). Not the Castle, but the mansion on 46th Street and Van Buren. We went back to see the building last week and found it abandoned, looted, and partially destroyed."
Almost everyone in Phoenix who pays attention knows about the Tovrea Castle and its storied past. The unique building was saved thanks to the city and a preservation effort led by former Mayor John Driggs. Amazingly, a number of loud voices opposed this and wanted the building demolished, the saguaros bladed.
The Tovrea Mansion was not so fortunate. A large ranch house surrounded by tall oleanders and palm trees, it was unknown by most Phoenicians. The pioneer Tovrea family lived there for decades. By the 2000s, it had been turned into an events center.
When Carl Hayden stood for his last U.S. Senate term in 1962, he faced a state that had been radically changed by population growth in the late 1950s and early '60s. He was also confronted by a radical Republican challenger in car dealer Evan Mecham who found purchase with many of these newcomers.
Hayden's crafty aide Roy Elson came up with a "re-introduce Carl Hayden" campaign — even though Hayden had served Arizona in Congress since statehood and was the indispensable man on water, especially the Central Arizona Project. For the showpiece, he angled a Carl Hayden Day featuring President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson.
The location was never in question: the Hotel Westward Ho at Central and Fillmore, the premier hostelry of Phoenix since it opened in 1928. The event was a huge success and Hayden won the election.
Within little more than 13 years, with downtown dying, the Westward Ho was a target for demolition. The iconic Luhrs Hotel and others had already met the wrecking ball. The beautiful Hotel Adams had been torn down, replaced by a box containing all the charm of 1970s brutalism. The Ho was saved by making the building into subsidized housing for seniors and the disabled. After falling out of family ownership, the property was repeatedly flipped and eventually sold at a sheriff's auction. Now the owner is using $44 million in a "multifaceted refinancing project" to upgrade the building. And it will continue as elderly housing.
Is this really the best Phoenix can do?
Led by Donald Trump, Republican presidential candidates are embracing the policy of deporting some 11 million Hispanics in the country illegally.
If implemented, it would be a humanitarian calamity and a stain on the nation. But it wouldn't be the first time "American exceptionalism" took such a cruel turn.
During the Great Depression, some 1 million Mexicans were deported from the United States to Mexico. An estimated 60 percent were American citizens. In 1930, the U.S. population was only 123 million.
The overt intention was to free up more jobs for "Americans" (read Anglos) when unemployment was 25 percent or higher. But it was invariably twined with racism, score settling and ethnic cleansing.
The most definitive scholarly account is found in the book Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s, by Francisco Balderrama and the late Raymond Rodriguez. They focus heavily on Los Angeles County, where the deportation was active and records were kept.
The degree to which it was carried out in Arizona and Phoenix is less documented. The late historian Bradford Luckingham writes of the intense anti-Mexican sentiment in Phoenix in the 1930s. In a six-month period during 1933, 130 Mexican families were "repatriated" from Phoenix. They received food and clothing from Friendly House, the city's oldest immigrant-assistance charity.
They still meet at the scene of the crime. The breakfasts at the Hotel Clarendon are informal reunions of the lead investigators of the murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles. The hotel itself, redone in the 2000s, has created a shrine of sorts to Bolles, photographs of the event along a hallway. No longer young men, they still have sharp, vivid memories. If one is fortunate enough to snag an invitation, bringing a reporter's notebook is impossible. It would shut down the conversation.
As difficult as it is for some of us to believe, next June will mark 40 years since the bombing. It remains the most enduring mystery and troubling crime in modern Phoenix history.
I have two minor personal connections. I was on duty that day on the ambulance and, as it turned out, one call rotation away from being there. My partner and I caught an auto accident with injuries, or 962 by the radio codes, at 16th Street and Southern. Next up was an explosion in Midtown. One of my friends took that call and was holding the mortally injured Bolles when he said, "They finally got me... Mafia, Emprise, Adamson... Find Adamson..." That's what she told me later in the squad room. (The excellent Paul Rubin of New Times has slightly different wording in this recollection of the event).
Also, in those days I was living in an apartment at 36th Street and Campbell, one of those classic Phoenix buildings surrounded by citrus trees with a grassy, shady courtyard. My neighbor was a young man named John. I noticed that whenever he came home at night, he would repeatedly circle the block. Over time, he told my mother that he and his mother had been relocated to Phoenix by the FBI after his father had died in a mob bombing in Chicago. The Bolles killing unnerved him. "He had been warned," he said. "They always warn you." Followed by, "I've said too much." He was even more reluctant to come home at night.
When Metrocenter opened in 1973, it was the first "super-regional" mall in the metropolitan area. Unlike the typical mall of the era with two anchor stores, Metrocenter had five: Goldwater's, Rhodes, The Broadway, Sears and Diamond's. With two levels, its sleek interior looked like a starship. The showpiece was a ice-skating rink with a bar-restaurant on the second level overlooking it.
As the photo above shows, it was built in the middle of nowhere, on the edge of the city along Black Canyon Freeway between Dunlap and Peoria avenues. Westcor, the developer of this and so many other Phoenix malls, assumed the growth of single-family subdivisions and office parks would follow. And so they did.
It gave the lie to "retail follows rooftops." Rather, Metrocenter was built on spec, and one underlying reality was that it would badly wound or kill older malls, especially Chris-Town and Park Central. And so it did.
I thought this would be a compilation of Phoenix 101, but it turned out they wanted an entirely new book. Foolishly I signed up anyway. That's why I've been gone.
The final product may never see a bookshelf. It is certainly not an attempt to compete with the fine academic histories of Philip VanderMeer, William S. Collins or Bradford Luckingham. There are no doubt more qualified people who could have undertaken this project. Instead, at 32,000 words, it is an interpretive history of a fascinating city and one of great importance to America (whether America or even Phoenicians realize it). Think of it as the dissertation I never wrote.
Mindful of Harry Truman's admonishment that "the only thing new in the world is the history you don't know," I dug deep into primary and secondary sources. I'm glad I did it. Here is some of what I learned:
President William Howard Taft signs the bill admitting Arizona as the 48th state in 1912.
If our advanced high-speed rail system backward dependence on overcrowded airliners works, I'll be on a panel next Friday at the national convention of Netroots Nation in Phoenix. The topic: How Progressive Arizona Became Tea Party Arizona.
Because panelists never get to say as much as they'd like, I'll set the table here.
Arizona indeed began as a capital-P Progressive state. This included a weak, almost figurehead of a governor and a strong Legislature, as well as the initiative and referendum where the people could essentially legislate on their own. Statewide officials were required to stand for re-election every two years. They could also be recalled.
Importantly for a state where mining interests and railroads exercised enormous power, the state constitution created a Corporation Commission with wide-ranging regulatory power over the capitalists.
All these were hallmarks of the Progressive Era, which developed as a response to the robber barons and inequality of the Gilded Age of the 1880s and 1890s.
Theodore Roosevelt busted the trusts and more vigorously applied tools that had been passed by Congress earlier, such as the Sherman Antitrust Act and Interstate Commerce Commission. He signed the Pure Food and Drug Act, which, like many Progressive measures, was a result of horrors exposed by muckraking journalists
Had TR won in 1912, he would have gone much further, enacting reforms that had to wait for his cousin, Franklin.
When Margaret Hance was elected mayor of Phoenix in November 1975, she was not, as is often claimed, the first woman to lead a major city. That marker goes to Bertha Knight Landes, elected mayor of Seattle in 1926. Hance was second.
Hance's tenure was far more consequential, as we shall see. Still, the pair are twined in dissonances.
Landes, who ran advocating "municipal housecleaning," has been "honored" by Seattle naming its misbegotten tunnel boring machine after her. Hance is memorialized by a park in the heart of the city, a place she did little to help and much to harm.
Margaret Taylor Hance was almost a native, being brought from Iowa to Mesa at age three, in 1926. Her father went to work for Valley Bank, where became an executive vice president. Despite the onset of the Depression, the family moved to what is now Willo. (I am told they lived in the same house on Cypress Street in the 1930s where I grew up in the 1960s. In the '30s, unlike the '60s, it was a high-end neighborhood on the streetcar.)
Although she attended the University of Arizona, she transferred to the elite Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., from whence she graduated. In 1945, she married Robert Hance, who had trained as an Army Air Forces pilot in the Valley during World War II. Her brother, Glen Taylor, went on to become news editor at the Phoenix Gazette, retiring as assistant managing editor in 1983.
She settled into the comfortable and predictable life of an upper-middle-class Republican Phoenix woman. Robert went to work for Valley National Insurance and rose. The couple had three children. Margaret — known as Marge or Margie — volunteered for numerous organizations and joined the Junior League.
For Throwback Thursday we travel to 1971, when the TurboTrain visited Phoenix Union Station on a demonstration tour.
I rode it up from Tucson with two buddies — but we almost didn't get on. Amtrak promised free tickets and drastically underestimated the demand. Americans loved trains then and love them now.
Made by United Aircraft, the Turbo was supposed to be a leap forward for passenger trains. The young me imagined them zipping along at 100 miles-per-hour or more and restoring more rail passenger service to Phoenix. In fact, the trainsets served only a few years in the Northeast and Canada, although some of their concepts today inform the low-center-of-gravity and other features on trains such as the Amtrak Cascades that operate out of Seattle.
Note that Union Station is still a working railroad depot (baggage wagon, multiple tracks). Amtrak's Sunset, a shadow of Southern Pacific's crack Sunset Limited, came through every other day. As recently as 1967, Phoenix had been served by as many as eight passenger trains a day from two railroads.
When the state refused to partner with SP on upkeep of the line to Yuma, passenger train service to Phoenix ceased in 1996. Phoenix is by far the largest American city with no Amtrak service.
Read more Phoenix history on Rogue's Phoenix 101 archive.
With a proposal being floated for a new arena plus a mall in downtown Phoenix, here are some photos that show retail in downtown's heyday, when it was the largest retail center in Arizona:
Note the features: Stores right up on the sidewalk facing the street; shade awnings; a mix of local and national retailers; life on the street, and every few steps a new doorway beckons to shoppers. This is what downtown Phoenix once had and let get away.
It represents a totally different experience from a suburban mall, and that's what draws shoppers to the downtowns such as Seattle and San Francisco that kept their retail.
Arizona Center, built facing in and away from the street, is the cautionary tale. Too suburban. People will choose to stay in the real suburbs.
Cities that lost their downtown retail almost never get it back. One example is Charlotte, for all its prosperity and workers and residents downtown. San Diego is the exception and it involved a mall. But Horton Plaza was wedged into the edge of the dense Gaslamp Quarter and became an organic part of a walking downtown, where more retail was added in refurbished buildings.
This week's Throwback Thursday shows the Pix Theater on Dunlap in 'downtown' Sunnyslope in 1948.
Of all the 518 square miles annexed to create today's City of Phoenix, Sunnyslope was the closest thing to a real town that could have incorporated and become its own municipal entity.
It had (and has) a distinct identity from old Phoenix: desert vs. oasis, foothills vs. alluvial valley, north of the Arizona Canal vs. south of it, and many of the trappings of community. These included a business district, public pool and high school. The proud 'Slopers' on this blog enrich it with their perspective.
Sunnyslope had its origins with "health-seekers" — often suffering from tuberculosis and poor. John C. Lincoln established the Desert Mission clinic there, which grew into the major hospital that bears his name.
But after World War II, Sunnyslope began to attract developers of good housing and the middle class. From 1948 to 1955, voters rejected incorporation four times, swayed by fears of higher taxes.
In 1958, Phoenix Mayor Jack Williams pushed to include Sunnyslope in the city. 'Slope voters were given one last chance to separately incorporate and refused. Phoenix finally annexed Sunnyslope in 1959 as part of a 43-square-mile northern expansion.
Sunnyslope today. (Cal Lash photo)
In retrospect, it was foolhardy of me to promise on Facebook that I would write about Phoenix's worst architectural disasters and ... could they be fixed? Then to ask for nominations by Facebook friends.
There's just too much bad architecture out there (and no, not only in Phoenix). Now it's too late, a promise is a promise, so here are my top (or bottom) three worst buildings in Phoenix.
1. Phoenix Police Headquarters. Check out the seamless intertwining of Brutalist architecture, 1960s fortress mentality, and everything from the sides of the building to the abundant, heat-radiating concrete surrounding the structure screaming "bleak!"
It is an almost perfect example of sterile, dehumanizing, soul-killing, boring hack-work. It even lacks the authority projected by the 1929 City Hall/County Courthouse. Instead, the taxpayers financed a block of ugly that has stood through some 45(!) years of indifference and civic malpractice.
2. The Arizona Executive Office Tower. Yes, this is Gov. Roscoe's aerie.
Built in 1974, only about four years after the building above, this mishap has the same dreary "pour boiling oil on the invaders" upper-story rampart as its cousin.
Yet its transgression goes further because it is attached to the charming territorial capitol building and addition. The top of the tower overpowers the modest copper dome of the capitol. The two buildings clash like a Chevy Vega front on a Rolls Royce.
For Throwback Thursday, this photo shows the Sperry Flight Systems plant at 19th Avenue and Rose Garden Lane in far north Phoenix, 1966.
This was an era when the density of Phoenix's technology economy reached its apogee. City leaders, starting in the 1940s, had attracted such companies as AiResearch, Goodyear Aircraft, Kaiser, General Electric, Honeywell, Digital, GTE, Western Electric, and Motorola.
Lawyer Frank Snell was especially effective as a recruiter; his goal was "clean industry" that provided well-paying jobs for the growing population. The effort was helped by immense defense spending in the Cold War. Motorola was the most important — even in the 1990s, it employed 20,000.
Although Intel arrived in 1979 and Phoenix sold itself as a semiconductor hub, it never again reached this level of intensity. Motorola largely withered. The metro area was not even a finalist for the coveted Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corp. in 1983, or for Sematech — both went to Austin. Most of the "legacy" companies closed or slimmed down, and Phoenix never again competed as a major center for tech companies.
Not surprisingly, Phoenix's income levels began trailing competing cities after 1980.
Read more of Phoenix's surprising, inspiring, and mad history on Rogue's Phoenix 101 archive.
This photograph was likely taken looking south from Del Webb's Phoenix Towers in the early 1960s. In the immediate foreground is Central Methodist Church at Palm Lane and Central Avenue. The coral/pink complex at left is the Phoenix Civic Center, with the large windows looking into the main library.
Click on the photo for a larger view.
The brick building on the northwest corner of McDowell was AT&T/Mountain Bell. After it was torn down (in the 1980s?), the lot stood empty for decades as project after project fell through. Now it is apparently going to be Lennar apartments. To show you how banking and flipping of empty, blighted land in the central city works, Lennar bought the parcel from Africa Israel Investments Ltd., based in Tel Aviv.
Back to circa 1961.... The taller buildings on the east side of Central include a hotel (Ramada Inn?), the First National Bank building (now occupied by ASU), and the Valley Bank/Professional Building with the famous rotating sign. On the west side, the Westward Ho, Security Building, and the Luhrs Building.
The 'Ho had already lost its title as tallest building in the state to the Guaranty Bank tower, located farther north in Midtown. But at 16 stories, not counting the radio tower, it is the tallest building in this photo.
To the right of the hotel tower is the skeleton of what would become downtown's first international-style box. It has mostly housed law-firms since.
The photo also shows a pre-Papago Freeway view (note straight, wide First Street running to the front of the Civic Center. The city's 1960 population was 439,170.
For Throwback Thursday, we have the Professional Building circa 1970, in its last years as headquarters of Valley National Bank, the state's most important financial institution. To the left, the new Valley Center tower is being built and the bank will move its headquarters to the glass prism skyscraper within a couple of years.
Completed in 1932, the Professional Building is one of Phoenix's few examples of the magnificent Art Deco style in a skyscraper. The iconic Valley National revolving sign was added to the roof around 1960. Before that, the bank's name was on a rooftop neon sign. But the one you see was said to be the largest moving neon sign in the world. The top story with the large windows was added in 1958 for the executive dining room.
One of my early memories was when my grandmother and I parked in the alley between the building and the Hotel Adams (far right in the photo), around 1962, to wait for my mother who worked across the street. A man ran past our car followed by several Phoenix Police officers. A bank robber. He was soon led back past us in handcuffs.
After a stint as Merabank in the S&L hustles, the building has sat empty for a shamefully long period. Perhaps it may finally be revived as a boutique hotel. An earlier effort collapsed in the recession. Maybe this time...
The revolving sign was dismantled in 1972 and hauled away to a junk yard.
The Phoenix Civic Center, built with the support of Councilman Barry Goldwater, was seen as an example of profligacy by hardcore right-wingers. This side of the center faces Central. Today most of the site is the Phoenix Art Museum.
It is tempting to see the likes of Diane Douglas, John Huppenthal, Tom Horne-y, "Better Call Sal" DiCiccio and the entire Kookocracy as a recent phenomenon in Arizona. It's certainly comforting to us natives.
Barry Goldwater wasn't raving mad, we will tell you (the "lobbing one into the men's room of the Kremlin" was a joke). He came to regret his early opposition to federal civil rights laws, and was instrumental in helping desegregate Phoenix's schools. He desegregated Goldwater's Department Store, as well as promoting minority managers. As a city councilman, Goldwater supported public improvements, including bonds for the 1950 Civic Center (and he backed every Phoenix bond measure thereafter). In the 1980s and 1990s, Arizona's new conservatives repudiated him.
The truth is that Arizona was always a conservative state, in a narrow definition of the term. But for decades most citizens understood it wouldn't have existed without enormous federal largesse. No wonder majorities voted for FDR all four times he stood for the presidency. Sen. Carl Hayden was a progressive and New Deal Democrat. His fellow Democratic Senator, Ernest McFarland was the father of the GI Bill.
But the Kookocracy has roots that reach back more than half a century in Phoenix, to a forgotten City Council election.
For hundreds of years this sustained the Hohokam, who created the most advanced irrigation civilization in the New World. They built hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles of canals to bring water from the Salt River to their fields. After the Hohokam left in circumstances that are still debated, the valley lay empty for 400 years. Waiting.
Jack Swilling may get too much credit among the founders of Phoenix. But one thing that's certain is this soldier of fortune immediately grasped the valley's agricultural potential when he arrived after the Civil War to help John Y.T. Smith farm hay for the Army at Fort McDowell.
He saw the Hohokam canals, the seemingly flat ground and rich earth, and knew it was farming country. In some cases, old Hohokam canals were simply cleaned out by the Swilling Irrigating Canal Co. His passion in selling what "Lord" Duppa would aptly name Phoenix attracted men from Wickenburg and Prescott. Swilling's Ditch was built in 1868 from today's 40th Street and ran west beside Van Buren Street.
No other place in the West between the 100th meridian and California and the Pacific Northwest was so hospitable to farming. Three rivers met here and the soil was alluvial and priceless. Unlike the future Dustbowl, with its shallow topsoil and dependency on fickle rainfall, the Salt River Valley alone had almost all the makings of a major agricultural empire.
By 1870, 200 Anglo settlers had arrived and laid out the townsite, land was platted from the Gila and Salt River Baseline and Meridian, and more ditches were dug. Wheat and grains were the early crops. Former Union officer William John Murphy led building of the 41-mile Arizona Canal between 1883 and 1885. In the late part of that decade, the Rev. Winfield Scott, an Army chaplain, acquired 640 acres. With his brother George, he planted the first citrus trees, along with growing dates and figs and other tree crops.
Yes, tony Scottsdale is named after this chaplain-farmer. (So is Winfield, Kan.). But other farm villages preceded it: Mesa (1878), Tempe (1879), Glendale (1887) and Peoria (1897).
By Jack August Jr., Guest Rogue
In 2007, then-91 year-old Raul Castro addressed a packed auditorium at the Arizona Historical Foundation’s annual Goldwater Lecture Series at Arizona State University. At the time, I served as Executive Director of the foundation, which, among other things, maintained the personal and political papers of Sen. Barry Goldwater.
Two hundred mostly conservative and arguably skeptical supporters of the legendary Arizona senator were curious to see what the former Democratic governor, judge, and ambassador had to say.
After introducing him, I sat down and watched Castro stride to the podium; he had no notes. He launched into a one-hour presentation that seemed like ten minutes, telling his life story, touching upon the role that education played in his life, his years as a “hobo” riding the rails, his undefeated professional boxing career, and his countless experiences of prejudice and adversity.
But the overarching theme in his talk was the promise that America held for all its citizens. When he finished the audience exploded in applause and stood on their feet clapping for several minutes. It was a stunning performance.
The distinguished professional career of Castro, who died last week, stood in stark contrast to the adversity inherent in his humble beginnings, which only hardened his resolve and strengthened his determination.
I first met Kit Danley in 2001 when she asked me to visit Neighborhood Ministries at its new home, hard against the railroad yards on Fillmore Street west of 19th Avenue.
It was a place that held fond memories for me. As a child, I had spent many hours train watching at the nearby Mobest Yard of the Santa Fe Railway. In those days, Fillmore ran through to 19th Avenue, and this end of the yard featured a cleaning facility for passenger cars (when Phoenix had passenger trains) and the locomotive turntable. South was the busy and (to my young eyes) imposing Valley Feed and Seed, where railcars were switched against the warehouse for loading and unloading.
Valley Feed and Seed looked very different in 2001: abandoned, decomposing, the grounds full of debris, silos that once provided seeds for this great agricultural valley now empty, eight acres of sadness. It was a graveyard that extended to Van Buren Street. Fillmore had been closed to a cul-de-sac when the yard was moved south (to lessen the train delays on McDowell). The surrounding area was known for crime now, not commerce.
But this was the site that Neighborhood Ministries had purchased in 1998 for an ambitious campus that would increase its outreach to the poor. By the time of my first visit, the organization had raised $2.2 million to begin renovations.
I liked Danley immediately. She was a near-native, went to Scottsdale High (I went to Coronado), and had chosen to make a stand in the wounded heart of Phoenix, founding Neighborhood Ministries in 1982. She was the polar opposite of the city of the short hustle, the state where hate was peddled for political profit.
And she would be frustrated that I appear to be making this column about her (it's not; read on). Like her spiritual forebear in Phoenix, Father Emmett McLoughlin, she felt called by Christ to minister here to the least and the lost, to the stranger and the wanderer, and find Christ in them.
Even with light rail (WBIYB), most Phoenicians spend vast amounts of time in their cars. But you can't avoid history, if you're paying attention.
Most people know the east-west grid of the original city has streets named after presidents, from Grant to the south to Roosevelt at the north (named after Theodore). The least deserving president is James Buchanan but there he is, right by the railroad tracks.
With so many streets in 1,500-square-miles of urban space, there's also plenty of asphalt to give faux Spanish names, or the names of developer's wives and daughters (Cheryl, Susan, Linda, Pamela, Sharon, Cindy, etc.). But the next time you're racing along in your SUV, consider:
McDowell Road, which was the wagon road to Fort McDowell, the supplying of hay to the cavalry being one of early Phoenix's raisons d'etre. Irwin McDowell was in command of union forced defeated at First Bull Run in the Civil War.
Thomas Road was named after William Thomas, a rancher and Maricopa County recorder at the turn of the 20th century.
Earll Drive takes its name from E.A. Earll, who platted the Earll Place homes. The origin of nearby Cheery Lynn is unknown (at least to me).
Osborn Road does not honor the state's seventh governor, Sidney Preston Osborn, who served from 1941 to 1948. Instead, it was named after homesteader John Preston Osborn, Sidney Osborn's grandfather.
You know the Arizona Legislature. It's the bunch that reduces education funding for some of the worst-funded schools in the nation, savagely cuts money to universities, has its hands in the hustles of the Charter School Racket and Private Prison Racket. The worthy solons who sold off pieces of the Capitol.
It is the birthplace of SB 1070, the Jim Crow anti-immigrant (really voter suppression) law. This is only one of its creations that helped make Arizona seem one of the craziest and most bigoted states. Anything forward looking, the majority opposes. Tax cuts? You bet. It is the Kookocracy.
But there was a time when Arizona had one of the most respected legislatures in the nation. Yes.
In fact, there were at least two sustained periods in the state's history when the Legislature worked.
This is no small thing because the Legislature is by far the most powerful branch of government in the state. Constitutionally, the governor was barely more than a figurehead — a status that has improved in recent years, but not by much. In other words, Arizona moves ahead, or backwards, depending on the Legislature.
It's an old con going back a century or more — although it was typically the subject of advertising (as seen in the above promotion from the 1950s) rather than of "news" stories.
How can I be so cynical as to call it a con? Two reasons.
First, America had a long tradition of the West being misrepresented as the land of milk and honey by railroads and land barons. In most cases, the reality was disappointing, sometimes disastrously so. In reality, the land was unforgiving, "civilization" was primitive, fraud and lawlessness were common, and many immigrants were ruined.
Second, Phoenix historically had about seven decent-to-nice months and five hellish ones. I say "historically" because that ratio is starting to invert, about which more later. But many snowy places have five rough months and seven that range from livable to quite pleasant. Summer in Minnesota is lovely. So it the Phoenix braggadocio about its "superior" weather has always baffled me.
It is true that many people seek the sun almost pathologically, like the doomed space crew in the 2007 film Sunshine. "You don't have to shovel sunshine!" is a motto that resonates, at least with the 4 million people who seem to be willing to put up with almost anything in Phoenix as long as they get hot weather. I admit my blind spot: As a Phoenician, nothing makes me more depressed than endless sunny days.
As a young paramedic, I learned early on that we all hang by the slenderest thread. That thread snapped suddenly Wednesday for Sue Clark-Johnson, publisher of the Arizona Republic from 2000 through 2005.
She was 67, and although I had heard she had been hospitalized, the news came as a shock. The fifties and sixties are not the new thirties.
As a business editor and columnist, I have always had close relationships with publishers. Unlike other people in the newsroom, a business editor supervises the coverage of the publisher's peers and sometimes friends.
I have been blessed with good publishers such as Tom Missett at the Blade-Tribune, Brad Tillson at the Dayton Daily News, Larry Strutton at the Rocky Mountain News, Harry Whipple at the Cincinnati Enquirer and the legendary Rolfe Neill at the Charlotte Observer. They supported the tough, high-impact, sophisticated journalism that we practiced. Frank Blethen has been a consistent supporter of my columns at the Seattle Times.
Sue was my friend and protector during my years as a columnist in Phoenix. Some of the most powerful people in Arizona came to her demanding that I be fired or silenced. She turned them away. Not only that, she provided me with a larger platform as an op-ed columnist on Sunday.
A crowd "watches" the World Series covered by the Arizona Republican outside the Heard Building in 1921. In these pre-radio days, news wire services transmitted each at-bat and inning, which were placed on the scoreboard.
If you grew up in Phoenix in the 1960s and 1970s, the media landscape looked like this:
The Arizona Republic was the morning newspaper. The afternoon paper was The Phoenix Gazette. Although both were owned by the Pulliam family, their newsrooms competed fiercely. The Republic was the statewide newspaper while the Gazette focused on the city. Publisher Eugene C. Pulliam was known for his conservative views and occasional front-page editorials. Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Reg Manning's signature included a cactus. Well into the 1960s, news hawkers in green aprons shouted headlines from downtown sidewalks, ready to sell you a paper.
Surrounding towns had their newspapers, too. Among them, The Mesa Tribune, Tempe Daily News, Chandler Arizonan, and Scottsdale Daily Progress. The city gained an alternative weekly with New Times, founded in 1970 by a group of ASU students. Phoenix Magazine was started in the 1966 by the Welch family.
Television meant the local affiliates of the three networks: KOOL (CBS), KTAR (NBC) and KTVK (ABC). Phoenix had one independent station, KPHO, which was the home of Wallace and Ladmo. Radio ran from easy listening to top 40 (KRIZ, KRUX and KUPD). By the 1970s, newcomer KDKB played album-oriented rock with a hippie laid-back style (The staff is shown at the Mesa Southern Pacific depot in 1973, above right). Broadcast towers topped the Hotel Westward Ho and Greater Arizona Savings Building (Heard Building) downtown.
You knew personalities such as bola-tie-wearing Bill Close, the Walter Cronkite of Phoenix, on KOOL (promoted on the billboard, right). Mary Jo West became one of Phoenix's first female anchors in 1976, joining Close (a crusty guy who was not happy to work with a woman at first). In 1982, Close would be at the center of a famous hostage situation, where a gunman took over the studio and demanded to read a statement on the air. On KOY radio, Bill Heywood presided over the morning drive time, while Alan Chilcoat did afternoons and "sang the weather." Johnny McKinney at KUPD was one of the many popular rock DJs.
Overall, what would come to be called "media" was pretty bland in Phoenix of this era. There were exceptions, and not merely when New Times started to shake things up. The Republic and Gazette was capable of excellent investigative reporting and exposed land fraud and crooked pols, along with plenty of boosterism. Glendale Pontiac dealer, and future governor, Evan Mecham published a short-lived Evening American because he thought Pulliam was too liberal. But most Phoenicians felt a deep connection to these publishers and broadcasters.
I am slowly going through some 101 columns to give them greater depth and update them with more recent scholarship and reflections. Today I'm kicking this off with a completely revised version of the 2009 Phoenix 101: Minorities. It should be open for comments. Like some of these historical columns it is a longread, but I hope you find it worthwhile.
On the one hand, you felt terribly disconnected from the world depicted by television and the movies. As a child, I had no idea what snow really looked or felt like. My one experience, when I was four, was seeing flakes coming down. I was so excited that I ran to the side of the house to tell my mother. By that time, they were gone. Not until my thirties would I experience a snowy Christmas.
Growing up, I wasn't fleeing snow or staying in a resort. Christmas in this preternaturally green oasis surrounded by the Sonoran Desert was all I knew. And yet it seemed right and possessed no little sense of enchantment and meaning. After all, Jesus had been born in a desert. In the Phoenix of my youth, going to the Christmas Eve service at Central United Methodist Church and exiting into the chill, dry air and canopy of stars, I felt very close to those shepherds abiding in the field. Every valley shall be exalted.
In the 1960s the luminaria on the sidewalks of Willo were decades away. Willo wasn't even a name. The fancy light shows were to be found in Palmcroft and Alvarado, where the rich people lived. Even so, most houses in the contiguous neighborhoods that ran from Roosevelt to Thomas and Seventh Avenue to Seventh Street had some sort of lights. We always had a tree in the picture window of our house. My grandmother had her favorite tamale vendor.
No series of events better epitomized the 1970s and the turning point they marked in Phoenix than the fight over freeways, specifically the "inner loop" of the Papago Freeway.
Most Phoenicians had a vague idea that freeways were a possibility since the Wilber Smith & Associates plan was adopted in 1960. Interstate 10 had been completed to Tucson and was abuilding from the west. By mid-decade it had reached Tonopah, requiring a long drive over largely country roads to reach. Real-estate values plummeted along the path of the inner loop. But by 1970, Phoenix's freeway "system" consisted of only the Black Canyon (Interstate 17) which curved at Durango to become the Maricopa (I-10).
All this changed as the new decade opened and the plan's stark reality became clear. Specifically, the Papago would vault into the air, reaching 100 feet as it crossed Central Avenue. Traffic would enter and exit via massive "helicoils" at Third Avenue and Third Street. The freeway was promoted as being Phoenix's defining piece of architecture.
It didn't take Eugene Pulliam and the anti-freeway advocacy of the Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette to make most Phoenicians horrified. In 1973, voters vehemently rejected the inner loop. They only had to look 372 miles west to see the destruction wrought by freeways. They didn't want Phoenix to "become another Los Angeles."
National readers of this blog will have to indulge me in writing again on sorrowful "news from home." Baker Nursery will be closing after 46 years in operation. Businesses come and go, we grow to love some of them, the verities of the marketplace don't care.
But this is a punch in the gut.
Baker's is a remnant of old Phoenix, the magical oasis, a garden city where people took special pride in bringing the bounty out of this timeless alluvial soil, where even the simplest apartments were lovingly landscaped. It is a remnant of the distinctive eastern part of the city that includes Arcadia but so much more. A remnant of when Phoenix was a very middle-class city, before the stark division of rich and poor, before the miles of linear slums.
What could have been more important for the garden city that once flourished here than nurseries? Phoenix once supported many, but Baker's was the best.
My mother was a Baker's customer from the start. Later, as a young man, I would take her to the nursery. She would select plants while I, well, admired the attractive Baker daughters.
Phoenix-born air ace Frank Luke Jr., Arizona's most famous hero from World War I, with his thirteenth official kill.
Arizona had been a state for little more than two years when the cataclysm broke out in Europe a century ago. When the United States finally entered the conflict in 1917, doughboys and sailors fought under the new flag bearing the perfectly symmetrical 48 stars created with the entry of the "Baby State." While the Great War was not as transformative here as its continuation in World War II, it still brought big changes to Phoenix.
When the guns of August 1914 commenced, Phoenix's population had clocked in at 11,314 in the Census four years before. By 1920, it would be more than 29,000. Although it was the state capital (and home of the "lunatic asylym," which in those days was separate from the Legislature), it was still smaller than Tucson. But downtown had become a thriving commercial center with multistory buildings.
The streetcar "suburb" of craftsman bungalows was taking shape in what are now the Roosevelt and F.Q. Story historic districts and the southeast corner of Willo. The city was tightly bound to the old township, with additions running out to the capitol, north above McDowell, south of Grant and east to around 16th Street. By 1917, bungalows were being built in the Bella Vista addition northeast of Osborn and Central. The Santa Fe and Southern Pacific had completed branch lines to the town, but civic leaders were lobbying hard for a mainline railroad.
In 1914, Phoenix adopted the reformist commissioner-manager form of government. It was meant to tame the corruption of the wide-open Western town. Soon, it was back to business as usual with compromised commissioners. It would be after World War II that meaningful reform would come to City Hall.
Arizona, with 204,354 in the 1910 Census, was still a wild place. It had been only 28 years since the surrender of Geronimo. The state's economy was based on mining, ranching and, in the Salt River Valley, a farming cornucopia.
Today's downpour in Phoenix has flooded social media. The combination of so many new residents because of the metropolitan area's extreme population churn, sprawl built out in flood plains and the on-the-cheap engineering of freeways makes many believe this is a shocking and rare event. In fact, flooding is commonplace in Phoenix.
As a child in 1965, my mother took me to see the Salt River running wild over its banks. The snowpack was especially heavy that year and as it melted it filled the lakes northwest of the city, causing the Salt River Project to release water from its dams. My grandmother told stories about the floods in the early 1900s, including two that destroyed the Southern Pacific bridge just north of downtown Tempe. In one case, a passenger car was hanging over the edge. "You might not see this again in your lifetime," my mother said.
In high school in south Scottsdale, Indian Bend Wash flooded regularly, dividing the town in half and disrupting classes. The city built bridges but neglected to raise the approaches, so the wash merely went around them. It took years to engineer decent bridges and create the green belt along the Indian Bend.
The 1980 flood (one of ten that hit between 1967 and that year) cut off Tempe, Mesa and Chandler. Amtrak ran a special train (the Hattie B., named after first lady Hattie Babbitt) from those cities to Union Station. Ominously, officials worried Stewart Mountain Dam might fail. And when I returned in the 2000s, the Salt ran rampant again.
Whether through absent-mindedness or a Kookish desire to obliterate the memory of FDR, the state came very close to tearing down the 1938 administration building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds built by the WPA. The loose-knit community of preservationists — the preservation police, as one called it — went into action and the building was saved.
It's exhausting work done by average people. Phoenix lacks a wealthy steward such as Paul Allen, who saved and restored Seattle's magnificent Union Station and Cinerama. Phoenix lacks a widespread preservation ethic, too. There have been successes, such as saving the Frank Lloyd Wright house. And crushing failures, such as Robert Sarver's demolition of two territorial-era hotels to make...a surface parking lot.
Precisely because of these things, because Phoenix does have a fascinating history worth protecting even if it lacked the abundant good bones of older big cities — this makes the battle so important. Cities with enchanting old buildings and streetscapes also attract the creative class and urban-oriented tech workers and startups.
Our losses are profound. Here are a few of the ones most worth mourning:
1. The Japanese flower gardens along Baseline Road.
This is downtown (pre CityScape):
This isn't downtown, either (it's 24th Street and Camelback):
I wouldn't dare move to Chicago and claim that Hyde Park is the Loop. Nor could I say Hawthorne is downtown Minneapolis. Cincinnatians would quickly set me straight if I said Over the Rhine is downtown — downtown begins at Central Parkway. The natives in all these cities wouldn't let me get away with it. Nor would the transplants who felt a convert's zeal to protect the geographical integrity of their cities.
Yet people in "the Valley" (Silicon? Red River — of the north or of the south? San Joaquin? San Fernando? Of the Jolly Ho Ho Ho Green Giant?), many of them from these very cities, get away with this transgression every day in Phoenix.
Downtown Phoenix runs from Seventh Avenue to Seventh Street, and from the railroad tracks to Fillmore, or perhaps Roosevelt. It includes the original townsite and some additions. City Hall's definition taking the northern boundary to McDowell is ahistorical.