Arizona Centennial: Downtown Phoenix

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Co-authors of Downtown Phoenix share photographs and stories from their new book that recounts the history of downtown Phoenix.

Ted Simons: Arizona turns 100 in just over two weeks, and tonight we continue "Arizona Horizon's" celebration of the state's centennial with a look at Arizona's capital city. "Downtown Phoenix" is a new book from Arcadia publishing that explores the city's growth and development with a huge helping of historic photographs. Joining me now are the coauthors of the book -- Seth Anderson, an ASU graduate and writer for the "downtown Phoenix journal." Suad Mahmuljin, who earned a degree in urban planning from ASU. And Jim McPherson, president of the Arizona historic preservation foundation. I can safely say we didn't identify any single one of you correctly, but we'll get to that during the course of the interview. I want to start with you and let's start with why this particular project was undertaken.

Jim McPherson: Sure. Arcadia publishing wrote a letter to several nonprofits that are heritage related and I received one being on the board of Arizona preservation foundation and said they were looking for authors to write this book. And I had said ok, Let's find new faces, new voices and Seth was one of them and we came together as a team, and started writing the book.

Ted Simons: Downtown Phoenix, why downtown Phoenix? Why now?

J. Seth Anderson: I love downtown Phoenix. I like an urban life. I dream of an urban downtown Phoenix that is walkable and freindly and where you live and work and do everything and I also love Phoenix history and it bugged me to death when people said Phoenix has no history. And it's borderline offensive to be because it's not true. I wanted to be part of this to kind of refute that with the book and say, hey, here's the history, this is real.

Ted Simons: So the idea of Phoenix having no history. I mean, it is a young town, but there's a lot back there. Were you surprised by some of the things you found?

Suad Mahmuljin: I was. I was surprised by some of the things that came out with respect to African Americans in Phoenix, some of the earlier founding's that we had with Seth's passionate under goings with that chapter. Absolutely, there's definately things that even surprised myself.

Ted Simons: Let's get to the photographs. These Arcadia books are always full of great stuff. We'll start with Washington Street, looking toward the west here with bicycles, I think they're looking west, but mule-driven taxis huh?
Jim McPherson: One of the themes we were waned to discover and talk about was that sustainability is something that generations of Phoenicians have dealt with. Meaning shade and the older buildings and the alternative forms of transportation like the bicycles that you mentioned. And this is a shot of downtown Phoenix. Very active street-scape, a lot of pedestrians.

Ted Simons: Yeah, and we have another shot of Washington Street as well. This one looks like it's a little bit later on and this one I believe is looking east from second street. That's a bustling downtown there, Seth. This is the kind of thing you're wanting right now?

J. Seth Anderson: Right, the same vantage point as the previous photo too with the architecture and the bricks and the people on the street. You can see the tracks of the old trolley, the horse, the bike.

Ted Simons: It's fascinating stuff. There are a couple of photographs, Suad I want to ask you about t his one. It's Central Avenue looking north and it's at one point way back in the day. I think 1890s or something. This is 1948. Looks familiar. Central and McDowell looking north onto central. But back in the day, like 1880s and 1890s, this was a toll road for buggies, and there it is, it's the same intersection.

Suad Mahmuljin: Correct. It goes to show how the places we all know and are familiar with today, you can sort of take the snapshot back into history and find out what it was back before it even was what we know as today. These types of books are very sort of easy to digest and understand in that sense.

J. Seth Anderson: It was a toll for buggies but it was free for bikes.

Ted Simons: There you go. Sustainability even in those days, huh?

Jim McPherson: And you look at the trees in the different photos and how the different styles of trees matured and were replaced by others and this was a green city.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

Jim McPherson: Over the years.

Ted Simons: An oasis, in other words. I mean the desert's out there, we're all gathered in an oasis.

Jim McPherson: You could drive from Phoenix to Tempe in shade. And with the growth of highways and widening of the streets, some of the trees had to be taken down.

Ted Simons: Now you could also go to the state fair, first on an area south of central that got flooded?
Jim McPherson: Yes, back in 1890, 1891 there were residences of wealthy Phoenicians in that part of town. And the original territorial fair was in that location. But with the floods, they're going, we need to move to higher ground and that's why you see this movement of wealthy Phoenicians building houses more northward, north of the downtown that we know of the downtown and then migrating on to the Grand Avenue area.
Ted Simons: And they moved, I think they now moved. This isn't what we're looking at. This is the second, the second. And where was that?

Jim McPherson: This is in our current location.
Ted Simons: Ok. This is basically 19th Avenue and Madhouse and McDowel. Our next is a sketch of downtown Phoenix, I think 1945, something along those lines and seeing a city there. You're not seeing a lot of territorial homes, are you?

J. Seth Anderson: No, and there weren't a lot of homes around this particular area. It was mainly commercial. The residences were nearby and surrounded it. By 45 though, in that photo, you can see how dense and walkable it was.

Ted Simons: The sketch was done to -- what? -- to show this is a modern city? Ok. Martin Luther King in Arizona, in downtown Phoenix. Apparently, according to your book, he spoke at a restaurant in front of a bunch of Kiwanas and then went to the church at Eighth and Jefferson, correct?

Suad Mahmuljin: Correct. This speaks to the civil rights movement during which have-- Martin Luther King did visit Phoenix and it's one of those images that shows again we did have key persons and events that happened in Phoenix that talk about us having that history, which is, you know, not having anyone of significance or importance come down to our city.

J. Seth Anderson: You don't think of Phoenix as a big civil rights city but a lot of stuff did happen in Phoenix, Martin Luther King did come and speak, and there was a case in 1953, that desegregated high schools before the Supreme Court did.

Ted Simons: Also along these lines, what's believed to be the first African American woman in Phoenix, you got a photographer of that as well. Her name was Mary Green. Came here -- what? - in 1868, something along those lines?

Jim McPerson: This house was south of the downtown area, showing plants and gardens and beautiful Victorian structures and a family that wanted to move and live here.

Ted Simons: Yeah, yeah, we're kind of getting all sorts of shots there of her. That's a fantastic house. Look at that thing. That was south of Central somewhere, south of Washington somewhere? Interesting. We got kind of a sneak preview there of our next one is of the of the freeway, and this is over Central, is this over Central Avenue?

Jim McPerson: Kind of, yes, this is the 1960s shot, the proposal for the last loop of interstate 10 in the United States. From Florida to California and we were the last place to have it filled in and in the '60s, it was a proposal of this giant series of hilal coils where you go up a ramp and go around and underneath would be no houses, nothing, and the community was very upset. And after more wrangling they did come up with a proposal where we would go underground and put up a park, the Margaret T. Hance deck park.
Ted Simons: Interesting because Residents probably looked at that and went, what are you kidding me? What's going on? A hot wheels set there in the middle of the city. The idea of renovation, the idea of taking older homes and neighborhoods, saving them, preserving them. We've got a shot here of the Rossman house back in the late 70's when it was started to be renovated and such. Talk about, we mentioned the fact that people think that Arizona, Phoenix, has no history and for a while, it seemed like the city couldn't wait to tear stuff down. The Rossman house is a good example of how that changed, isn't it?

Suad Mahmuljin: The previous comment is very true. And the opportunity that these homes bring, or other structures that bring via adaptive views are endless and we're seeing a resurgence of that in some cases today. But this is a key example of something that was saved and is an idea that needs to be carried forward as we go on.

Jim McPherson: This was a perfect example of a public=private partnership where Mayor Drakes at that time and the Junior League of Phoenix got together and said, we need to preserve this house. Because there were many other houses like this in the neighborhood and it just started a resurgence and the interest in historic preservation.

Ted Simons: And if anyone really wonders where that is anymore it's right by the pizzeria bianco down there. Hanning's is another example of an old building, renovated and now it's going great guns.

J. Seth Anderson: Hanning's is probably my favorite place in all of downtown. I pretty much live there. And it's a beautiful building from the '40s that was a men's clothing store and for decades after it closed was owned by the city I believe, it was boarded up they used it to light on fire, and the fire department practiced putting out fires. 2008, it opened with the same owners that has preserved -- I love that shot, because it shows the fine grain urban fabric that used to be part of the streets before so much was knocked down and super-blocks and mega-blocks came. But it's such a valuable place in downtown.

Ted Simons: Some of these photographs, how difficult was it to find these things? Talk about the research and the acquisition of these photographs.

Jim McPherson: We did an all-points bulletin and a lot of searching at the Arizona state archives and the library of congress and Phoenix library.

J. Seth Anderson: But we also cast a wide net in the community. We didn't photographs just from archives or just from the library we wanted the stories from families who lived here. We met with the junior league, who had a good collection of photos of work they had done. Lincoln Ragsdale Jr and Matthew Whitaker gave me some photos from--
Jim McPherson: And photos from the Jewish heritage center.

Suad Mahmuljin: And I also had the pleasure to take some of the photographs for the book. The one that we're looking at now, one I photographed to show the newer concepts behind the adaptive reuse and the importance of why buildings like this are -- are key to having a vital downtown.

Jim McPherson: And history continues. We're in a phase where we're trying to revitalize downtown Phoenix and examples of the public sector, the private sector, working on projects like the Hanning's and others, is continuing and with light rail, we're trying to bring back that urban feel that was in Phoenix.

Ted Simons: It's a fascinating book. These Arcadia books are wonderful. They take you to certain areas, they take you to certain neighborhoods, you guys obviously concentrated on downtown Phoenix and did a great job. Congratulations, it sounds like it was a lot of fun to put together and continued success. Sounds good thanks for being here. Tuesday on "Arizona Horizon" -- Arizona's congressional and legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years to reflect changes in the U.S. census. See the latest district maps and how they may impact Arizona's 2012 elections. That's Tuesday on "Arizona Horizon," week nights at 5:30 and 10:00, right here on eight H.D. That's it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening!

Jim McPherson:"Downtown Phoenix" Co-Author; J. Seth Anderson:"Downtown Phoenix" Co-Author; Suad Mahmuljin:"Downtown Phoenix" Co-Author

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