« Wealth and cities | Main | The desperate hours »

December 13, 2018


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Cossa gron day is the proper enunciation.

68 arrested a burglar on a bicycle in an alley about 900 East Butler.

I like alleyways. My house has one and several of my rental properties have them. They, like the fronts of home, need to be cared for: keep them clean, neat and tidy and put up lighting and more than likely all will be good. From what I see, most owners dismiss their responsibility to take care of that part of their property. Most owners with alleys don't know or don't care that it is their responsibility to take care of their portion of the alley. If a street stops caring for the front's of homes, the same will happen - crime and vandalism.

Great post Jon!

Growing up, our alleys were much the same; mock "wars" between the neighborhood kids, strategic shortcuts to and from school or friends, and, of course, a long straightaway where we would line up those steel trash cans, build a makeshift ramp, and pedal like hell to emulate Evel Knievel (I made it over 8 cans, but always hit the 9th - a 10 year-old just doesn't have that much muscle I guess).

No safety equipment either - this was long before helmets and elbow/knee pads became the norm.

Thanks for the memories!

You can still see some enchanting alleys in Tucson with small houses fronting them. They're mostly west of the university near 4th Avenue. The growth pressures downtown, which I would applaud on most days, is sadly eating away the charm of these old neighborhoods. Everything has a sell-by date and Old Tucson's has already expired.

The superblocks in downtown Phoenix took out most of its alleys, and there isn't much left to look at. If you like clean and sterile, downtown is a winner. As with so much of Phoenix's ongoing reinvention, the siren song of the new amounts to a death knell for the heart's reasons (of which reason itself knows nothing). If you find a ghost anywhere, call the Downtown Phoenix Partnership. They'll make sure it's neutralized before it stirs an untoward feeling.

Looking for alley art? Walk "Oak street" from 1400 to 1500 east. Although officialy a street it is realisticaly an alley. Many alleys in that area and south to Van Buren are fences covered in guerrilla street art.

We had endless fun scavenging alleys and along the Grand Canal in the Sunnyslope area--before it was fixed up with nice trails. Something my own kids will never get to do. We had so much fun adventuring.

Did you mean the Arizona Canal in Sunnyslope. The grand Canal is famous for Nelsons Pool at 19th Avenue North of Indian School about a half mile.

Ah, Phoenix alleys! Our subdivision was Cavalier Campus, sandwiched between 24th Street and Camelback High, built 1954-58 in Superlite block, with those steel swingout casement windows that I so identify with 1950s Phoenix. We had alleys, and scavenging them was a major source of interest and fun.

Another alley activity: A longstanding war with an immense red-ant colony in the alley just one house up from mine. We poured kerosene down the hole and ignited it, flooded it with water... tried other things but the ants always persisted and rebuilt. We gave up, and when in school we encountered the short story "Leiningen Versus the Ants," it had special resonance for us.

One neighborhood pal's dad worked for APS, and one afternoon he came home and presented us with a mason jar full of mercury he had gotten at work. We met in the alley and tried some of it on the ants, floated quarters on it, and finally divided it up so we'd each have some mercury to play with. In not too long a time all of that mercury disappeared, probably much of it in the alley. Several years ago half a million dollars was spent at Agua Fria High School to clean up a small amount of mercury students had taken out of a chem lab and spilled. Mercury, they say, is persistent in the environment, and I wonder about that mason-jarful of mercury in the alley between Minnezona and Meadowbrook Avenues just north of Campbell. Superfund site?

A hazard of Phoenix alleys: Bullhead stickers. Phoenix kids built up good calluses on the bottoms of their feet from walking on hot sidewalks (though at the beginning of summer you ran from grass patch to grass patch until inured), but bullheads could punch right through any callus. You could wear your flip-flops to go down the alley, but the rubber souls would collect the bullheads and then when you went back on the sidewalk it was scritch-scratch down the street as you walked on the embedded layer of bullheads.

Going north, 24th Street crossed Camelback, and the pavement ended just past the entrance to the Biltmore, and then the street terminated entirely at the Arizona Canal. (The bridge over the canal and the connection to Lincoln Boulevard came later in the 60s.) We could ride our bikes up 24th to mess around on that other source of allure -- the canal system! Our moms used dire language to warn us to stay away from the canal (falling in and being sucked through a headgate and drowning!!), but such warnings only made the canal that much more attractive. After all, we might spot one of the alligators that the big rainstorm had washed out of Jack Adams' Alligator Farm in east Mesa, or see the teenagers waterskiing the canal, towed by a souped-up Ford on the SRP maintenance road.

Irrigation laterals were also tempting, especially on a hot summer day. A ditch ran along the west side of 24th Street from the Arizona Canal all the way down to Campbell, where it finally went underground at a big SRP head gate. We were warned, again in dire language, about the dangers of sloshing in the laterals in bare feet: vicious teenagers broke pop bottles in the laterals so that kids would cut their feet; dead cats and a host of pathogens floated in the laterals. We sloshed anyway.

(We played with asbestos and lead, too, but that is another story.)

We also had free run of the neighborhood without parental helicoptering other than an informal phone network among the moms: "Mrs. Schallan? Your Joe, and Ed and Bill and Greg just went down the alley over here. Think they're headed for Camelback High." (There was a hole in the chain link fence along 26th Street through which we could access Camelback High's ball fields.)

Another scavenging opportunity available to our neighborhood's boys was the bleachers at Camelback's football field. On a Saturday morning after a game we'd go through the hole and comb the ground under the bleachers for coins, keys, or whatever else had fallen out of spectators' pockets or been dropped by them. Sometimes we did surprisingly well.

Somehow we survived the dangers of the alleys and irrigation laterals.

Give me a shout if you knew Brutus, the mysterious basset hound who ranged the alleys and streets between 7th and 28th Streets and Indian School and Camelback. No one knew his owner, but he was great with kids and affectionately greeted whenever he turned up.

Give me a shout, too, if your neighborhood sported the street navigation signs, using cryptic codes painted on old paint-can lids and placed on strategic chain-link fences by one Denny Gleason. If you know these, then I know you were a bona fide Phoenix kid in the 50s and early 60s.

And for a time-travel trip be sure to get hold of the January 2019 issue of Arizona Highways. Theme: Arizona in the 50s.

"Rubber soles," above. No doubt I have a certain mid-60s Beatles album lodged in a memory cell!

Not all of us were born with a silver spoon. Living in high rent districts and going to elitist schools with the likes of Dennis Dariman and chasing Judson girls.

In the 50's,( I have a copy of the AZ Highways 50's issue) Alleys in the slope were not a part of my life. I was busy getting tossed out of school and catching desert Denizens for sale and selling doughnuts to the tubercular folks in the Wabash trailer court.

Then in Alta Vista subdivision I was too busy with my paper routes and working the John Jacobs fields. I did cross the alley on Saturdays to help the Enriquez family make about 300 floor tortillas for the 12 kids. Their dad died while working on Glenn Canyon dam.

But I did marry a Camelback High School Genius. She was not into alleys and refused in 62 to jump the fence at the state fair grounds.

Cal.... Wasn't aware that the Cavalier tract homes around Camelback High constituted a high-rent district. My dad was a cabinet maker and our next-door neighbor a carpenter. The dad directly across the street drove road graders for Tanner Bros. construction. The guy across the alley was an APS lineman. Nary a doctor, lawyer, or business executive around.

The high-rent districts were to the north (Biltmore) and east (Arcadia) of us.

Same here. Except for Palmcroft, my neighborhood was middle class — and going down thanks to plans for the Papago Freeway Inner Loop. We were hanging on by our fingernails and broke all the time. But in that Phoenix, we didn’t see the extreme geographic separation between rich and middle class.

My dad became a Zanjero. Best job he ever had. There was no middle class where i lived in the slope. Just poor dying tuberculars and broke drunks at the bar across 7th street from the Wabash trailer park. The Lincolns and the Halls were the only rich folks i was aware of.
Anyhoo i never had time for alley prowling or rock throwing. Although while capturing chuckawallas for sale my brother started an avalance on North mountain that broke my ribs and punctured my lung. I woke up in an oxygen tent at Memorial Hospital.
And in 58 when i started dating a Camelback High student i thought i had broken into the rich and famous. But I'm happy for you badass rock throwing alley scavangers. Every kid should be so lucky

That would be the Gold Bug bar.


I like that down to earth (poor) life style. I sold that big house on South Mountain the Catholics paid for. And now I live in 320 square feet of tin can on the edge of the Great Sonoran desert. What’s left of it!

Arizona is the only state that the four deserts reside in.

I didn’t look at your asset’s but they are probably closer to Jon’s than mine.
When I retired the city agreed to pay me $28000 a year.

Since I turned 66 (I am now 78) the feds kindly have been paying me $270 bucks a month for social security. That’s why when I got back from back packing from Arizona to DC in 95 and 96 I started an investigative service. Like Sisyphus, I gotta keep that rock rolling.

My PI license will expire December of 2020. So in 2021, I hope to have my home on wheels parked someplace near Organ Pipe. Don’t get me wrong, best I missed out on the rock throwing. The mothers probably would have called the cops on me.

I still love living in the Southwest desert (not in the big city) even though Donald and folks claiming to be Republicans (but really are just bigoted kooks) are turning America into a shithole country.

Thanks Jon.

zanjero -- pronounced sahn-HAIR-o -- Spanish for overseer of the mother ditch.

Jon good column in the Seattle times as posted here in your front pages.


"But in that Phoenix, we didn’t see the extreme geographic separation between rich and middle class."

Jon -- I was quite aware, as a kid, of a geographic separation, at least in my part of Phoenix.

The doctors, lawyers, and business owners and executives lived up (yes, literally higher ground) in places like Clearwater Hills, the foothills of Camelback Mountain, and Arcadia). The middle- and lower middle-class folks were down in the tract homes on the flatlands. My neighborhood was a vast Hallcraft and Cavalier build-out of the mid 1950s.

But whereas there did exist a geographical separation in those days, what was lacking was social separation, and again that may have been unique to my situation.

My family belonged to St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Parish at 24th Street and Campbell, and I attended and graduated from the parish school. The parish boundaries encompassed the tract homes on the flats as well as Clearwater Hills, the foothills around Camelback and Mummy Mountains, and the western fringe of Arcadia. Thus, my grade-school classmates were a mixture of the kids of the doctors and business professionals and kids of the tradesmen and industrial workers. One of my best grade-school friends was the son of a prominent surgeon and I would bike up to his house in PV (next-door neighbor of Barry Goldwater) and hang out there and think nothing of it. My mom and his mom would bump into each other while shopping -- because they shopped at the same places -- and chat. We, the kids of both white- and blue-collar dads, were all thrown together in the same parish Scout troop.

Which is not to say the kids were not aware of class differences -- they very much were, and sometimes the kids of the swells would use their awareness of the difference for their cruelties. But nevertheless the white- and blue-collar kids did socially mix with one another in my corner of postwar Phoenix, probably as a result of their shared Catholicism.

I wonder if such mixed-class social institutions still exist.

Note to Cal -- Camelback High School's attendance boundaries, like those of St. Thomas Parish, encompassed both the tract-home flatlands plus the fringes of Paradise Valley and Arcadia, so it too probably included students whose backgrounds ranged from lower-middle-class to professional-class.

Which is all to say, in my long-winded way, that although I was aware of class differences in my 1950s Phoenix, in the context of my parish and school, they just didn't seem to matter all that much: We all believed that with a good education, class differences could be transcended.

After all, the kids of the swells were with us in the classroom, on the playing field, and in the Scout troop. How hard could the step up be?

Now how did we get here from alleys??

Thanks Joe.
In 59 or 60 i blew the Red plaster coating on St. Thomas the Apostle church while working for plaster contractor Coty Reberger.


Joe, it's this intelligent conversation is exactly what I hoped to provoke.

Grady Gammage has said that because I grew up in the city rather than in suburbia that gives me my unusual perspective on Phoenix. He's right.

We were very aware of class, but it was geographically concentrated. The poor kids lived south of Roosevelt. The rich ones (Harveys, Rehnquists, etc.) in Palmcroft, and families in between in the other areas served by Kenilworth. Largely Hispanic Franklin School only went through sixth grade, so those children came to Kenilworth for seventh and eighth grades.

It was the kind of wonderful socializing experience that's impossible today where classes and socio-economic groups are so widely dispersed in the metropolitan area.

Poor kids in the Slope? Only!
But we did have the Desert Mission library and the Pix Theatre. I think fire destroyed the Misson and the film Blue Moon closed down the Pix, forever all over one exposed nipple.

And what about the "Spaniards" that lived from 9st to 16th street from Polk to Van Buren and owned bars and grocery stores and the whites you refer to above dismissed them as "Mexicans." I know a number of Spaiards that still carry the results of slurs and insults from there youth in their conciousness.
Regardless of the Spanish Queens
intentions the Spaniards were here before the Harvey's, Gammage's and Rehnquist's.
And while im here how about the Yaquis that inhabited Buckeye Road from 16th street to 35 Avenue in early Phoenix?
And segregated schools!

Charter schools.
The big financial scam
To keep Arizona White and MAGA.

If you like alley street art try the Alleys from Oak to Van buren, 14th to 16th stree.

Jon said “Grady Gammage has said that because I grew up in the city rather than in suburbia that gives me my unusual perspective on Phoenix. He's right."

I feel sorry for Grady that he didn’t get to grow up on a farm where your nearest neighbor was miles away. And going to town was on Saturday.

An ad on the NY subway sums up:
"Raising a baby in an NYC apartment is like growing an oak tree in a thimble." In the city, you live on top of each other.

And is this Grady “supporting” suburbia?
"In The Future of the Suburban City, Phoenix native Grady Gammage, Jr. looks at the promise of the suburban city as well as the challenges."

“Small population makes the tranquility of a suburban town.

Small populations bring people closer to one another. Most people in small towns have been in the community all their lives, and this familiarity elevates neighbor relationships into a more intimate sentiment that comes closer to kinship.

Quite oppose to this amiable bond among rural resident community members, city residents find establishing friendship with their neighbors very difficult. They either are sheltered inside one of the small blocks in skyscrapers or fasten their pace on the street, keep their heads down to avoid eye-contact with strangers. The sense of indifference is pervaded into every corner of the city. Some people appreciate this indifference as a “polite, appropriate distance for respecting personal space;” others might criticize it for “the city has corrupted the benign essence of human beings” because people raise their vigilance out of distrust to one another.
“In a small town you leave your key to your neighbors and let them watch your dog, while in a big city you check your door lock all the time,” people say.
You never fail to find sweatpants and sneakers, or even PJs around a rural neighborhood. People don't care much about dressing, for they've known everyone in the town since they were born”
From, https://www.theodysseyonline.com/8-differences-life-big-cities-small-towns

Can the Southwest survive climate change: Interesting is that Grady’s report is listed but not available here: https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2012/01/05/southwest-climate-change

And you can see off your back porch for miles.
From: https://newyorkessays.com/essay-small-towns-vs-big-cities/

Mega cities: Swarmy swarming masses of humanity looking
for the next Facebook hook up.

The road to:

CCCP: Cal a Card Carrying Pessimist

Because no one else is picking up the gauntlet Cal threw down (Soleri? ExPhx Planner?), I'll take a break from the day job and try.

Anyone who's read even one of the great novels of American literature — or sociological studies — knows that every sin can exist in farm country or small towns as easily as in a big city.

Small towns are rare in today's America, anyway. Thanks to Walmart and sprawl, they've lost their charm and soul. Prescott was once a wonderful small town. Look at it now.

Suburbia has none of the connectivity, energy, dynamism or convenience of cities. It has helped drive us apart by its spatial destruction. Suburbia is another rich muse of dystopia. Exurbia destroys the environment and sets up targets for wildfires, landslides, floods, and other costly disasters.

And of course all this Green Acres living is totally car dependent, helping make the planet into a nightmare from a science-fiction movie.

Every city in which I've lived is full of small towns. Phoenix is still a small town.

And if we're going to save the natural world, we're going to need most people in cities, served by transit and high-speed trains. The trick is to make them quality cities. The economics make this inevitable whether the city is good or bad. Rural America has been dying since the 1920s.

Very True Jon.
Breeding is destroying us

And speaking of sins
I seem to recall cousin romps in the hay

Jon, I've had the pleasure of extended stays in Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Bologna, Milan, and Nancy, France -- typical dense European cities with effective public transit.

They were all quite wonderful. I simply did not need a car in any of them.

It is a testament to what has happened to Phoenix that, when my family moved into the Cavalier Homes subdivision near Camelback High in 1958, we thought of it as the edge of the city but, as it is now referenced in the media, it is the "central city."

All of the historic core of Vienna fits into about 700 acres -- a little over a square mile. There is now sprawl there, too, but nothing approaching the scale of American cities.

Vienna public transit -- the U-Bahn (subways), Straßenbahn (streetcars), and S-Bahn (suburban rail transit), plus the OBB (Austrian State Railways) all seem to work together seamlessly to provide you a way to get to your destination without a car and without much hassle.

Some further thoughts after posting the above ... when it comes to public transit our problem isn't one of sprawl or finances, it is one of culture.

I don't ride the Phoenix light rail anymore. I had one too many bad experiences and I am too old (a senior citizen by a healthy margin) for the verbal abuse of drunken hipsters and for dodging vomit and human excrement.

Too bad. It was a nifty and thrifty way to get downtown for events there.

Riding the subways of Stockholm, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Milan have been completely different experiences for me. I am sure there are bad experiences to be had on those systems, but I just bet that the stats would bear out that they are much, much rarer in Europe. I felt safe.

We can build light rail in the face of opposition from the bastards, but without a sense of community and of communal ownership, and common courtesy, all the money spent on transit will not avail. Our civic culture stinks, which is why our light-rail cars do, too.

The problem with the viability of public transit isn't money; it is the attitudes and behavior of Americans.

Mega city, Alley-Subway RAT dodging.

Because I checked off all the boxes marked "urban progressive", I relished using Phoenix light rail every chance I got. That is, until I realized I didn't anymore. After that sad epiphany, there wasn't much reason for me to stay in Phoenix.

Like Joe Schallen, I'm a senior citizen although I occasionally need a mirror to remind me of that reality. What I increasingly started feeling on light rail was that I was a "mark" for every tough who wanted to shake me down for my cell phone or a couple of bucks. It wasn't terrible all the time but it got worse over time until I no longer looked forward to "doing the right thing". The final straw was the time a tweeking maniac told me she was going to beat me up and I believed her.

I live in a city now that has a major issue with the severely mentally ill. 18 months ago, a wacked out Neo Nazi slit the throats of three men on Portland's light rail, killing two of them. Another time, a deranged man tried to push me in front of an oncoming train. Still, another time, a man seated next me loudly explained his intention to kill every white person he could. I say this not to be ironic but Portland's light rail is like heaven by comparison to the one in Phoenix.

The difference is that Portland's mass transit is sill a real-world system with lots of working and middle-class people using it. Despite the homeless crazies, you never feel as if you're locked up in Bedlam with them. There are other people around keeping the insanity at bay. In Phoenix, the social ecology suggests mass transit is only for those too poor to afford a car.

Maybe this will change as downtown becomes a larger population hub. Maybe gas prices will shoot up, and the middle class will start using light rail more. Maybe light rail will catalyze urban-scaled development along its path. Maybe.

If wishes were fast trains to Texas, we'd be in Amarillo by noon. But the sorry truth is that Phoenix is too spread out and too lackluster a city to make this miracle happen in my lifetime (or the next). I'm not happy to say this - I was a cheerleader for decades - but Phoenix isn't going anywhere by train.

Terry Goddard told me that the test of light rail would be whether people other than the poor rode it. The results are mixed. ASU students, sports fans, and workers at peak times do use the trains, so that's a victory. Other times, not so much.

When I'm in Phoenix, I take light rail exclusively, at all hours, and have never had a problem. Maybe it's the old I'll-put-you-down-with-excruciating-pain look I have from my paramedic days. I've had few instances where I had to plot a "tactical solution" and lock it in the computer of my brain.

For Dinner in the Stacks, Will Bruder and I rode the train from Osborn to the library and back, easy-peasy. Why would anyone want to be car-burdened?

People of all socio-economic backgrounds take transit in Seattle. A majority of the 300,000 (!) downtown workers ride buses or take light rail. Still, given the progressive city's tolerance and stood-down policing, occasional problems arise.

The problem in Phoenix requires more police aboard, not abandonment by law-abiding citizens.

LRT was never going to stop sprawl and car-dependence in Phoenix. It does provide a choice if you live (as I do in both PHX and Seattle) along the line. My hope is that infill and more corporate investment keep ridership growing.

Cars are killing us. And Elon won't save us with techno-magic.

Riding from Osborn to the library experience of light rail is not the same experience most have if they are heading to either end of the line. That I would describe as a pretty safe stretch. My issues with riders have been those long trips into Mesa, and never had a need for the West end.

Regarding alleys, they are pushing in some neighborhoods like mine to remove the big cans and go back to curbside as they were having injuries and even a death from unhoused people living in and around and actually in the barrel during the coldest nights, plus narrow alleys.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

My Photo

Your email address:

Powered by FeedBlitz