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October 16, 2014


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I've read this blog for years and thoroughly enjoy the commentary. The commenters are great, too! intelligent and thoughtful. I turn to this blog because it's a dose of reality- one I can't discuss with a lot of locals. Some here are very defensive about any critique of Phoenix, especially in respects to downtown. There's an attitude that goes something like " we've got Roosevelt Row" and that seems to be enough. I lived here in the late 90's and downtown was empty- not forbidden-just empty, and its vastly improved. But like many on this site- I've lived in other cities- San Diego (north park) and toured in a rock band and have seen my fair share of thriving cities- and Phoenix just hasn't arrived yet. After moving back in 2010, yes it's changed, but the amount of downtown that's been destroyed (i'm an artist and have done some projects involving downtown history, Luhrs hotel and fox theatre destruction blow my mind) or empty or vacant is staggering for a major city. In my travels I don't have much to compare it too. Sure most cities have neglected parts- but dear god-how is a structure like the westward ho or national bank building empty or in decay? It feels fragmented. Like little cantons or islands between empty lots or haunted houses. But we fight on.
Again- thanks for this blog. It helps me keep my sanity.

Jon, U brought us back to downtown lost,
just when I was "getting all steamed up" about same sex marriage.
Downtown Phoenix is lost Jon. No more shopping at the five and dime and getting shocked until your arms are numb to the elbows at the Penney Arcade. Downtown is a deep dark canyon that closes at sunset and opens up at about 8 AM.
No more Tootise roles in Paris Alley on the Duece. Wilbur Tootsie the famous American Indian cop that of whom the Armed Robbery set up was named after was with me to day in
Boulder NV burying a former Phoenix undercover cop and helicopter pilot and Vietnam Marine, Gordon Hunsaker. Gordon and I bought a lot of Smack on Buckeye road. Talk about a loss of historic places, it makes me weep when I drive from where Memorial Hospital was at 7th Avenue and Buckeye road to 15th and Buckeye. Gone is the Hospital, the projects, Big Georges gambling Parlor, Tops Bar and Dixons lounge, a place always good for several homicides a year. And King Fongs grocery store where some of the cities finest judges and cops drank on their days off. I walked Buckeye Road in the seventies and I loved the place. I was called Mr.Calvin or the Red Dude and was always welcome in the above places. Tops had a 6 foot, 300 pound female bouncer with a big Opal sticking out of her nose. Brings tears to my eyes today that we have lost this microcosm of hot life to the sterility of Buckeye Road today.
Got to sleep now, been on the road for a few days. Mas Tarde

Cheer up, Mr. Talton: Phoenix might not have a Blue Moon Tavern like Seattle, but some things about it, like the Arizona Republic's unwillingness to explore its Republican politician's mob ties, are still just like the good old days!

I lived near the Mary Coyle's on 7th Ave for 12 years. I went there once. I recall my surprise that a scoop of ice cream was nearly five dollars. Just down the street from that artifact a deli opened last year, The French Grocery. I went there every chance I got despite its considerable birthing pains. I check on it regularly from my Portland outpost - it's still open and I'm pleased. About a half mile away, a new venue, The Newton just opened a few days ago (yes, I'm that obsessive about things like this). It has something Phoenix really needs - a bookstore coupled with a wine bar/pub and a restaurant. Please, God of Such Things, preserve and protect it.

I'm not so much playing the contrarian here as advocating for the other side of change. Authenticity is a wonderful quality but tastes do evolve. I was talking to a Portland native about NW 23rd Avenue, Portland's chi-chi retail district. It used to be sleazy with all-night diners, old delis and bars, and the detritus of decades that all together spelled authentic. I sighed in pleasure listening to him. Today, it boasts a Williams-Sonoma, a Restoration Hardware, a Pottery Barn, and the city's best French restaurant. I don't particularly care for the corporate retail elements or the upscale vibe. But it means its larger neighborhood is now so valued that it's pulling Portland up rather than down.

Portland still has a lot of authenticity but it's vanishing like everywhere else. North Mississippi Avenue, once the heart of Portland's historic black district, is now a marvel of great clubs, venues, and brew pubs. It's a matter of great concern to some that the black culture is giving way to something else entirely. But the city here has improved dramatically in its built environment and prosperity. The market is often vile in the other direction. In this case, it's beneficial. This is not genocide anymore than America is Nazi Germany.

This discussion is essentially a follow-up to last week's one about Bones. Portland is blessed, as are Seattle, Denver, and all the other older and - pre-1940 - larger cities than Phoenix. Phoenix's authenticity was sweet but the post-war boom swallowed it whole. That's the tragedy. Phoenix was this lovely little city that became this rather unlovely suburban blob. Shit happens. I wish we could unring that bell just like I wish I young again. But here we are dealing with forces beyond our control. The only constant is change. I want people to value the manifest history of their cities, to tell stories how wonderful things used to be (Sunnyslope's golden-hued past blurs a lot of misery in pursuit of that goal but it was nothing if not authentic). Still, we're not going to change anything. We are witnesses to a larger mystery about time itself. We who are free-falling from a rich past to a moldy grave are part of that story. When you are falling, dive.

I have seen lots of things come and go in my 77 years of Phoenix. The beginning of it's downfall was in the 40s. That is when "Uncle" Carl Hayden and Ernie McFarland began to bring us the Central Arizona Project We would be much like Cal's beloved Sonora Desert without it. I still love Phoenix, but I do miss a lot of the iconic places of my youth. eg The Polar Bar, Three Palms Drive in etc.

Something else to consider: Saint Joseph's Hospital (at least the name) is going away in favor of Dignity Health.

I do think, though, that this is a nationwide thing that's more acute here in Phoenix. I think of the historic regional department stores that dotted major downtowns at the turn of the 20th century (e.g., Dayton's of Minneapolis, J.L. Hudson's of Detroit, Wanamaker's of Philadelphia, Marshall Fields of Chicago, to name a few) and how those have all gone away in favor of some supposedly more recognizable national name (whatever that means)... Macy's. It's a small yet very real part of community heritage that's gone away.

In additional to the loss of a lot of historic buildings, Phoenix has lost the great agricultural green belt that used to surround us. The produce fields of Litchfield and Martori's Arrowhead Ranch Farms. All the citrus groves that were literally in the city.There were produce vendors selling fresh picked fruits and vegetables at 7th ave. and Camelback and lots of other locations. Every neighborhood had its own little grocery store.It was a cool place to grow up in the 50's and 60's. I lived in the green belt neighborhood near 7th ave and Glendale for many years. Loved that old neighborhood that was 8 degrees cooler than downtown. Unfortunately moved on.

the theme of the phoenix of today is the short hustle, really always has been. buy square miles, sell square feet.

i remember going to monti's la casa vieja w a russian pal who sniffed they got dust bunnies in the corners of the kremlin older than this joint.

it's musical chairs but it is not the sound of the music but the flow from the water taps and when the last drip stops.....

Vince and Dave got it right.
Soleri you know anyone that buys things in the stores you mentioned. Mostly overpriced junk.
I once bought an expensive tea Kettle at Williams and Sonoma. It burnt up. Still using a cheap 50 year old model.
Regarding Mary Coyle I believe the 7th Avenue store was never in the family. Just the two shops at 15th and Thomas and the one at 19th and Bethany. I went once into 7th Avenue and left empty handed due to prices.
Saint Joes and Dignity Health, any suspicions that might have to do with the recent legal flap between the sisters and the fathers.

Ramjet, you are accurate in your post but it started earlier, First there was the Spanish Queen and God invasion, then more destructive hordes from Europe. Then Teddy made a mistake and commissioned a Dam. Then Hayden added the final blow to the Great Sonoran Desert.
But keep in mind the desert always wins.
Some day in the future camel shit will be littered around a very small oasis in a place once called the Valley of the Sun. And the coyotes will philosophize about the possible existence of MAN.

I had to check the date of this article, just to make sure it was current. Talking about the sign on the Valley National Bank Building and the Clown's Den might be nostalgic and romantic, but it's ancient history. I think the point of nostalgia being a sliding scale is well pointed out by Ramjet's post above, where he says things started going downhill in the 40s!

We each have our personal Phoenix nostalgia. When people are surprised I was born in Phoenix, saying there aren't many of us, I reply there's Phoenicians born every day, they are just not as old as I am.

Some kid has grown up on what I could call an inauthentic Kiddieland at Encanto Park, but is their experience less memorable than mine? A millennial will never experience Warsaw Wally's but can spend the night partying at Chopper Johns...same place, different vibe.

I used to think it was rough that Mesa turned their citrus orchards into housing tracts embedded with citrus,until I realized that's just wha they did when they built my parent's neighborhood in 1958.

There are cool authentic things that are missing from the Valley, some of them whose results created an unhealthy lifestyle and a segregated society.

I say champion the best buildings, the best experiences left. Hike up Camelback or Piestewa Peak. Ride a horse through South Mountain. Take a tour to the Tovrea Castle and then grab a beer at the Stockyards Bar. Have a meal in the Compass Room at the Hyatt.

Don't cry for what's gone. Each generation will be able to find some way to say it was better until.....

I get your point. It's not nostalgia but whether the authentic has value in a city and its civilization.

Yes, it does.

Steve, thanks for your positive outlook but as an old curmudgeon:
Hiking in Phoenix Parks was good in the fifties but today it is like shopping at Costco on Saturday. And I get rather furious when I see "hikers" with kids and animals with no environmental protective things like water, hats and sunglasses.

Compass Room, I quit going as it just got depressing looking at the polluted squalor.

Tovera Castle, what a waste of money for poor and ill conceived piece of crap. Better bladed and left to the Saujaros.

Sorry, Stockyards I dont drink beer or eat dead animals. And I miss the smell of real cow shit.

Maybe the coming generations will give thought to going off the grid.
Maybe this is the coming generations future.

Pat is Y a Vowel?

Arizona Republic's unwillingness to explore its Republican politician's mob ties, are still just like the good old days!

I follow this blog faithfully, and tell friends about it. Thank you, Jon. Although I live in Wisconsin, I have spent the last 20 years of my life commuting to Arizona and New Mexico to care for aging family members and friends who refused to come home to the deep freeze. I love and care about the southwest.
One of the most important books I have ever read in my life is THE LIFE AND DEATH OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES by Jane Jacobs. Jon, I believe you are her successor, carrying on the tradition of understanding and valuing the qualities that make our urban centers great. To all those who are not familiar with this book, you might want to give it a try. And to Jon, know that you are appreciated!

@ D. War: “but dear god-how is a structure like the westward ho or national bank building empty or in decay? ”In two words it’s “codes” and “courts”.

When dealing with older buildings there is a constant steam of code issues. Touch something (e.g. an elevator) and you have to bring to whole thing up to code.

Regard to “courts” the biggest problem is asbestos. Older buildings are drenched in the stuff. On the other hand it is a minuscule. It’s really only a problem if you’re grinding the stuff or working it in some way. In buildings it is inert and largely sealed. There’s also a lesser problem with leaded paint.

Additional problems include antiquated plumbing and wiring systems.

Most old buildings that are in use have been in continuous use since they were built. Upgrades and modernization happened in small steps.

A partial solution would be to have a separate code for buildings built before 1950. Let the owners and their insurance companies figure the appropriate health and safety issues – many of which are questionable.

...or employ it as a stool-sample lab experiment for right-wing ideology.

Holy crap, this is poetry.

Petro har U go:

"When I touch the steel towers of the Sunbelt,they feel like cobwebs soon to be dispersed by an angry wind. When I touch the Earth I feel the rock hard face of eternity."
From The Blue Desert by Charles Bowden

On a positive note. Had late lunch at Phoenix Market Cafe across street from Westward HO. I frequent the cafe on a regular basis as Food is good, if you drink thats good and the coffee is strong and hot. If loud music bothers you the patio is a nice place. 5th and 6th streets south of Roosevelt has Hippiefied into a colorful rainbow place. But just a matter of time before it succumbs to high rise.

"Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire; your land strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers."
Isaiah 1:7

RE: Charles Bowden. There is excellent coverage about him in the October 13th edition of "High Country News. HCN is an excellent publication about the Southwest. Should be required reading for us all.

Petro and I are going for coffee at 3PM Tuesday if you are interested email me at

Here's the American Planning Association's list of the "Greatest Places in America." Not one is in Phoenix:

Don't know if you all noted but Phxsunfan commented on previous blog

The Great Public spaces look great
but I would rather skip the cities and towns and
try these
Organ Pipe Monument in Sonoran Desert.
Utah Canyons

When I was in Hot Springs Arkansas in 2008 it was pretty run down?

It doesn't have to be either/or, Cal. The best way to protect natural spaces is with dense, livable cities.

Jon, I agree. Hopefully we can move 7 million folks from Arizona and New Mexico to Seattle. Soon!

You begin with the demise of Baker's Nursery. This loss will be felt far and wide in the Phoenix Metro area. It was a destination nursery dispensing plants suitable for the hot climate and advice freely given. There is no other place like it to take our business. It's loss will be dotted all over the area in things not seen and done in the landscape. It was also a pleasure to go there to take in all the possibilities and get the endorphins pumping.
A beloved restaurant closing or the loss of a funky old bar is sad but the loss of Baker's is a staggering blow to this place and a measure of what this town values.

I cannot mourn the closing of Rustlers Rooste, the Big Apple, or The Landmark. These were mediocre restaurants, inauthentic representations of cowboy fare or steamed green bean family fare. They were faux tourist bait. No reason to lament the loss.

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