« Peak oil — nevermind | Main | Phoenix 101: Lost opportunities »

June 04, 2009


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

I was born in the city in 1976, so I am too young to have witnessed the magic that Mr. Talton refers to in this installment of Phoenix 101.
But, I spent enough time in the Valley of the Sun -- just over a generation, to be precise -- so I was able to witness firsthand the region's devolution that saw the pristine Sonoran desert on Phoenix's fringes replaced with soulless cookie-cutter subdivisions, strip malls and mega car dealerships.
I moved away to Boston in early 2004 to take a journalism job at a respected regional newspaper; the time that my wife and I spent there taught us what a beautiful, cosmopolitan city is all about -- vibrant, cultural and walkable -- and that Phoenix will never be one.
Still, I missed Phoenix when I lived in Boston, and I ached to pay my native city a visit. I received that opportunity in late April when I had to travel to Phoenix on business. Suffice it to say, I wasn't prepared for what I saw -- much of the city, it seems, has decayed into one giant linear slum.
On the north side of town, near I-17 and Cactus, whole strip malls sit abandoned, while residential neighborhoods appear overgrown, the homes that fill them in disrepair. I couldn't help wondering, are these homes in foreclosure -- is this an indicator of the severity of Arizona's real-estate crisis? Or are the homeowners simply lazy?
Who knows. But as an outsider looking in, and a longtime Phoenix resident who until last April hadn't set foot in the city for more than four years, I can say with confidence that I am appalled and saddened by the decay that has beset Phoenix, and glad that I escaped while I still had the opportunity.
Farewell, Phoenix. And thank you, Mr. Talton, for penning such a beautiful memoir of the beauty and magic that was Phoenix.

I was born in Phoenix in 1948 and grew up in Sunnyslope. My early memories were shaped by the Big Beautiful Tomorrow boom of the 50s: the dazzling new skyscrapers on north Central, modern ranch houses taking root in the citrus groves, and the sense that things were not only getting better but that Phoenix was well on its way to be one of the best places on Earth.

Of course, that was the perspective of a kid whose sense of reality was so limited that there was really nothing to compare Phoenix to except a couple of small cities in Oklahoma where my parents were born. Yet even today, I recall with residual pleasure the modernism of 50s Phoenix.

The disappointment came in the late 60s. By that point, it was obvious that Phoenix was not getting better, just bigger. And the price of this gigantism was the loss of soul. By that point, I was grown, had been drafted into the Army, and had seen enough of America to know Phoenix was not magically unique but just a place where newness replaced everything.

By the late 60s, modernism itself became old. What was bright, shiny and dazzling became stuccoed, inward, and guarded. Instead of huge plate glass windows inviting the outdoors in, we pulled up the drawbridge and retreated into backyards and rear patios. Phoenix had seen the future and it was dark.

The metastatic growth of Phoenix hollowed out the Phoenix of my youth, including Sunnyslope. The revaluing of Phoenix was relentless. Some older things did survive and prosper: the old historic neighborhoods were gentified, north Central Phoenix maintained, and even modernism was placed on preservation watch lists. But by that point, it was clear that the fate of this place was outside our control, that the machinery of growth had ultimate control, and that we were not guardians of a legacy but the survivors of a previous explosion.

Now the cancer is so advanced that even the New can't disguise the condition of the patient. The city without a core, a heartbeat, and a soul has finally reached its limits. The implosion that's coming will remind us why this city is named Phoenix.

Regarding the Channel 8 docs: it's my opinion that they lack depth, much less any kind of emotional connection to Phoenix residents, current and past, because the powers that be decline to accept any input or hear any voices other than their own, often narrow view of the world.

If it were only my "voice" or "ideas" that the Channel 8 producers weren't interested in hearing, I could understand that. But, their unrelenting provincial attitude permeates many of their projects. Where is the Hispanic voice? I for one, would like to see some Hispanic history told by someone other than an Anglo-Saxon.

Thanks Jon - -
We settled in Phoenix in 1949 and (though long departed) I have watched the decline and loss of what made it such a wonderful place. My Dad (still living in AZ, but not in the valley) said to me on my last visit that they should have grown it up, not out. I always said that the city was 20 years behind LA and headed in the same sorry direction. Now when people tell me that they live in Phoenix, I ask what part, and when they say Peoria or Cave Creek, I can only fondly remember when it took a while to get to those places through the desert, the fields and the groves.

It is still possible to live in a grand farmhouse built in the 1920s, get your flood irrigation from an old SRP lateral and look across the street at a hundred-acre field of corn or cotton, all within 6 miles of downtown. But you have to want that more than anything. We did, and for the past decade we've ignored our skyrocketing property value and joined a few like-minded neighbors in trying to slow down the flips and subdivisions encroaching on our little patch of old Phoenix. We are the youngest, and may be the last of the holdouts in our area. In another 20 years,the game will be over. But every game ends. For everyone else, it's hard to mis what you've never had.

I'm a latecomer to the Valley -- Summer, 2003 -- but I've enjoyed reading your work for a while, both in print and online.

I see this as similar to other mid-20th-century cities, though there may not be many that are at this stage of their urban lives.

After all, 39 years have passed from 1970 to now -- how many American cities have gone unscathed, or at least unchanged in a big way, over that time?

I've met few Arizonans in my six years here who have any pre-1980 memories, and only a few who can even speak to what life was like as few as 20 years ago. I don't know if that indicates that people have moved on, literally or figuratively, or if it indicates that few have interest in the urban landscape.

I moved here from an area that rarely changed -- the Western NY region between Buffalo and Niagara Falls -- from what was established in the last 1800s. Well, no changes outside of the half-million fewer residents in the region, and the changes resulting from that exodus.

Change happens in every city and region. There is little we can do to stop it, good or bad.

That doesn't mean the Valley or Phoenix itself won't be livable or thriving. It just won't be the same as it was in the old days.

Few things are.

I grew up in the 1960's in phoenix, the sad thing is my grandma house ,my mom house, were torn down for what,a car lot , Ill I have is memories,my grandma had been there since 1950, and it a shit hole of cars , i pray tha t they will go out of business.

Gosh, such memories... in the late 60's I moved into a rental house in that neighborhood South of Roosevelt and West of 7th Ave. It was wonderful. I do remember the city cooling overnight even in the summer. Took a drive to Cave Creek one morning at 4 AM when I couldn't sleep and it was positively cold!

I left Phoenix for West Texas two years ago. What happened there happened in a lot of places. It will probably happen here too. I picked a place that reminded me of the spirit of Phoenix but it's not nearly as beautiful (as Phx WAS). Still, there's no brown cloud, my allergies are gone, I can get anywhere in town within 10 minutes and it's a big enough town to have most of what I want. But it'll never compare to my memories of Phoenix as I found it in 1964.

I left in the early 70s for college and quickly came back but knew the city was changing forever. I was forced out of partial denial when they tore the house and citrus groves down on the southwest corner of 32 St and Camelback for that damn office building...

My family gradually moved back to my father's original hometown, Prescott, but it's also changed. Nothing stays the same but I don't have to always like the change. I still can't imagine living out of this state.

I was born in 1940 and have lived here all my life. My 16 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren find some of my stories hard to believe: unlocked doors, sleeping outdoors on hot summer nights, five-cent telephone calls, 27-30 cents for a gallon of gasoline, $2-$3,000 for an average car, $12-$15,000 for a decent three or four-bedroom house, etc. I have many beautiful memories of growing up in the Valley - especially the wonderful 1950s!

Hi Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Trying to remember the names of the Downtown theaters; Fox, Orpheum/Paramount, Vista, Strand, Rialto and slightly east of Downtown was the Spanish language Azteca.

What'd i miss?

Jon: some years back when you came to Fountain Hills to talk about the craft of writing books, I also remember your comment that if we got here after the mid-80's, we missed the best of Phoenix. For me, that was when the air got more soup-y and the out-of-control subdivisions were beginning to spread their stucco tentacles to places like (Heaven Forbid) Queen Creek! Being a retailer, I charted all this with growing delight in what it did for the bottom line. Mexico was my escape, just as Oregon has become. Living here year round is difficult, because summers are longer, hotter and drier. Help!

I recall Phoenix of 1958 before irrigation made the place humid and unbearable during daylight. Everyone did what they had to outside before 2:00 PM when the temperature got up to 115F. until 5:00. Everyone sought out cool bars,then came out after 5:00.

By the 60s irrigation made the place humid all the time. Everyone lived indoors with A/C a must.

Great column, Jon! I was somewhat put off by the "doom and gloom" comments of some of my fellow " "posters" until I noticed the 2009 dates. Maybe I'm an eternal optimist, but I still believe Phoenix can become a great city someday. Downtown is slowly making a comeback--light rail and the ASU campus are leading that. There's still plenty of room for improvement. In my case, my dad was the relative who took me down to Union Station to watch the trains. Occasionally--when I didn't have school the following day--I could even talk him into a late night trip to watch the East- and Westbound Golden States arrive and depart. Now, Phoenix is the largest city in North America (perhaps globally) without intercity rail passenger service. That will change someday.

Thanks for a very poignant trip back to when Phoenix was in many ways a small town, even well into the 60's. I was almost 10 when we arrived in 1955. We lived in a new subdivsion, "Delano Estates", just north of Van Buren, between 48th and 46th Streets. Part of it, and the small subdivision just to the north, were demolished for the Red Mountain Freeway. My grade school, the original Balsz on Van Buren and 44th Street, was bulldozed years ago for a hotel. My high school, Phoenix Union, has a few buildings left. The magnificent auditorium, where professionals played (I saw Liberace backstage once during play practice) was gutted inside. In the summer the nights cooled off somewhat, and the scent of the orange blossoms was a natural perfume. I left in the early 70's but have been back many times, and each time it seems to have lost a little more of its soul. I still remember coming home from school and watching Wallace and Ladmo in glorious black and white. Phoenix was, well into the 60's, still on a scale where you didn't feel dwarfed. Crime was not an issue -- your doors were unlocked because there was no need to lock them. That Phoenix is gone forever, and at times I feel sad, for the loss of what was, for a time, an incredible place to live.

I was born in Phoenix in 1946. My family lived in a beautiful old home on Portland St. between 5th & 7th ST. My mother and father owened the origional armored car service (Armored Motor Service) which they bought from my uncle I believe the year I was born.
It brings tears of joy growing up in that time period. I miss you old Phoenix!

Born in 1940 and moving to Phoenix in 1944, I reveled in the wholesomeness of the grand City. We lived on Almeria St between First and Third Avenue one block north of McDowell. Commercial buildings were just encroaching the area, but the Oleanders, lush green grass and narrow sidewalks made for lovely children's play areas. Kenilworth School meant crossing McDowell and as an 8 year old, I had no worries, as long as I crossed with the old traffic light - which was brand new then. At the corner of McDowell and Central Ave on the northwest side was an Oldsmobile dealer where my grandfather bought all his cars. The library was near First Avenue in an old three story house, later moved nearby to a modern facility with two floors. I was disappointed when the "Heard" took over and an alabaster buidling with confusing hallways came to replace the neighborly atmosphere that encouragied reading. My grandparents stayed and my mother left to live at the end of Jefferson and 30th Avenue. The neighborhood never got better. It was a bus ride to old Phoenix Union High School, and a short walk to Phoenix Tech across the street. I'd walk from 27th Avenue to the Rialto on Saturdays for the double feature, newsreel and all the cartoons, plus the continually running serial about my favorite actor/actress. The days of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Flash Gordon and their counterparts are gone. So is Phoenix, leaving in its wake the gray cement and thick steamy cloud of smog covered buildings. The past never returns. I moved to Texas, the open spaces and never missed the new Phoenix. My memories are no doubt better than the reality was with swamp coolers and blistery asphalt streets that we dealt with. I miss the good times I had at Bob's Big Boy on Central Ave, and the drive-ins. Neighbors were good, we had movies shown on a huge sheet in the backyard of a nearby family's dwelling place...awww. Memories are always good. I can do without the reality. Thanks for your column. It has helped my autobiography progress.

Phoenix rises from its own ashes every single day, but its fire burns out without being doused by water. It's always been a dry heat. Those of us who are natives, appreciate that, as well as the citrus, the relaxed lifestyle, the nice people who live here.

The thing to remember is this: Phoenix does NOT rise from its own asses--the people/politicians/bureaucrats who allowed unbridled suburban growth, who didn't provide for some important historic preservation, and, the people who take this place for granted.

Phoenix is not meant to be taken for granted. It is a rough climate. The nice people who live here are appreciators of that fact--no matter how long they've been here or how much they remember how interesting the "old" days were!

As for me, a third generation Arizona native, I love it here: then and now.

I moved to Sunnyslope when I was 2 I in 1981. I have seen channel 8 air the 1950's documentary of Phoenix but it was along time ago, I really wish I knew where to find them online. Does anyone know? Please get back to me if you do, thank you!

We left Massachusetts in l947 to move to Phoenix due to my dad's health.
We lived in the Far West Auto Court at 1950 Grand Ave.
There was a small store there, run by a world war 2 veteran and his family.
I remember there were railroad tracks across the street, and the Arizona fairgrounds were not far away.
I went to Adams School, was 12 years old. My mother worked at Woolworths and remember many Indian women sitting on the sidewalk in front of store selling there jewelry etc.
Just seems like it was yesterday. My dad could not fine a job so we only lived there 7 months.
I just loved the west and wish we could have made it our permanent home.

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