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.