More than 2,000 years ago the Hokoham peoples created the blueprint for modern Phoenix, digging over 100 miles of irrigation canals in the Salt River Valley. The ancient ditches were long abandoned when a pioneer prospector named Jack Swilling saw the valley for the first time in 1867 and his dreams turned from mining to farming. He raised $10,000 in seed money from the mining camp at Wickenburg for the Swilling Irrigating Canal Company and got to work. The first crops were appearing in the irrigated fields within a year.
Pumpkins did especially well and the emerging community was first referred to an Pumpkinville. Phillip Darrell Duppa, an English native and self-proclaimed Lord, was a friend of Swilling’s and an early canal digger with a more classical sensibility and, noting the community’s debt to the Hokoham’s canal system, he offered the name “Phoenix” for the mythical bird reborn from the ashes of destruction. The name stuck and the town was incorporated in 1881. In 1889 the Territorial Legislature left Prescott for Phoenix, then a village of about 2,000. Ten acres of land were provided one mile west of the town center and the Arizona government has been there ever since.
In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the National Reclamation Act, allowing dams to block western streams and Phoenicians, still reeling from a Salt River torrent in 1891 that swept into the town center a mile away, eagerly embraced the projects. By 1912 when Arizona became the 48th state and last of the contiguous states to be admitted to the Union the Salt River had disappeared from Phoenix and the streets were paved for the first time. The town of 11,000 inhabitants was connected to the main transcontinental railroad lines and functioning as the region’s primary distribution center.
Today almost nothing remains of Territorial Phoenix before statehood. A city of 100,000 people in 1950 that would grow to over 1.3 million before century’s end couldn’t spend much time looking at the past. But there remain glimpses of 1920s Phoenix tucked into the modern streetscape and we will ferret them out, as well as important newer buildings, on our walking tour that will begin with a work from Arizona’s most celebrated architectural team...
Maricopa County Courthouse
125 West Washington Street at southwest corner of 1st Avenue
Anchoring this corner and defiantly staring down hovering modern skyscrapers with its 1920s style is the one-time Maricopa County Courthouse and former Phoenix City Hall. The composition was a joint project of the county and the city, each of which provided their own architect. The main section was the courthouse, designed by Edward F. Nield, who hailed from Shreveport, Louisiana. Although most of Nield’s work was confined to the Bayou State here he showed a facility with the indigenous Spanish Colonial style and terra cotta tile. The west wing was the City Hall and handiwork of go-to Phoenix architects Royal Lescher and Leslie Mahoney. In their long careers Lescher and Mahoney dabbled in almost every architectural style, and their firm, which at times numbered as many as 65, completed 2,541 commissions in virtually every community in Arizona.
FACING THE COURTHOUSE, TURN RIGHT AND WALK WEST ON WASHINGTON STREET.
Phoenix City Hall
200 West Washington Street at northeast corner of 3rd Avenue
The Phoenix City government exited “Old City Hall” in 1962 and moved across the plaza to the boxy Calvin Goode Building. In 1994 it was time to pack bags again and move across the Washington Street to these 20-story digs that was fashioned by the Los Angeles firm of Langdon Wilson. Ernest Clifford Wilson Jr and Robert Langdon were responsible for such disparate structures as the famed J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu and the Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California.
J.W. Walker Building
30 North 3rd Avenue at northwest corner of Washington Street
Lee Mason Fitzhugh designed this ornate Beaux Arts structure with exquisite Corinthian columns to be the base of an eight-story high-rise for developer J.W. Walker in 1920. The counted-on financing never came through and construction stopped at the two stories seen today. With the original plans scuttled, a parade of tenants moved in, beginning with a branch store of the J.C. Penney Company. Looming in the background is the Phoenix Municipal Courthouse; when it was constructed in 1999 part of the deal was the restoration of the classically-inspired Walker Building.
400 West Washington Street at northwest corner of 4th Avenue
This was the Dodge Theatre when it opened in 2002 as a 5,500-seat mid-size performance venue. In 2010 Dallas-based bank Comerica took over the naming rights.
TURN RIGHT ON 4TH AVENUE AND WALK TWO BLOCKS TO MONROE STREET.
Grand Lodge of Arizona, Free and Accepted Masons
345 West Monroe Street at southeast corner of 4th Avenue
Masonry traces its origins to the first centuries of 1700s France. Today there are 11,000 Masons in Arizona and Lodge #2 here dates to 1879. This Neoclassical hall, accented with Ionic pilasters, has been the meeting place for the Masons since 1926; it is the work of architect F.C. Hurst.
Historic First Presbyterian Church
402 West Monroe Street at northwest corner of 4th Street
The Presbyterian congregation was the first church of any denomination to be incorporated in Arizona, back in 1879. The current meetinghouse dates to 1927 when the stretch of Monroe Street between 2nd and 4th avenues was known as “Church Row” with three other churches holding services close by. Today only the Spanish Renaissance church of the Presbyterians functions as a house of worship on Church Row. Spreading out over 60,000 square feet, the church cost $400,000 to erect and includes a full gymnasium on the third floor.
TURN RIGHT ON MONROE STREET.
First Baptist Church
302 West Monroe Street at northwest corner of 3rd Avenue
The Phoenix Baptists erected this crisp Italian Gothic church in 1929, fashioned from plans drawn by George Merrill working with the Department of Architecture of the American Baptist Home Mission Society back in New York. What you are looking at is only the movie-set version of the church building - it was gutted by a fire in the 1990s and no longer sports a roof. But before it could be bulldozed down Phoenix got the facade listed on the National Register of Historic Places so it still stands.
TURN RIGHT ON 3RD AVENUE. TURN LEFT ON ADAMS STREET.
203 West Adams Street
Architects Royal Lescher and Leslie Mahoney blended Spanish Revival and Baroque Revival elements for this showcase downtown theater in 1929. Impresario Henry Nace, a one-time circus acrobat who would own some 30 theaters across Arizona, and his partner J.E. Rickards poured $750,000 into its creation to present vaudeville acts and live stage productions. The exotic interior was typical of the atmospheric theaters of the day that transported patrons on fantasies of the mind as they experienced the shows. The Orpheum was converted into an 1,800-seat movie palace and eventually suffered the same fate as its downtown cousins across the country in a losing war with suburban malls and television. The Orpheum was one of the lucky ones however, dodging the wrecking ball and picking up a $14 million facelift to re-open in 1997.
TURN LEFT ON 1ST AVENUE.
Title and Trust Building/Orpheum Lofts
112 North 1st Avenue at northwest corner of Adams Street
Royal Lesher and Leslie Mahoney assembled Arizona’s largest office building here in 1931, designing the Art Moderne confection in a U-shape and appointing the interior with generous amounts of travertine tile, marble and etched glass. The 1st Avenue entrance is lorded over by regal pylons. The architects were pleased enough with the results to make their offices here for more than 30 years. When its days as an office tower fizzled the building’s interior was completely reconfigured for residential use but the exterior, including the windows, was unaltered.
CONTINUE ON 1ST AVENUE TWO BLOCKS TO VAN BUREN STREET AND TURN RIGHT. AT CENTRAL AVENUE LOOK NORTH (YOUR LEFT) TO SEE...
Hotel Westward Ho
612 North Central Avenue
The 16-story Westward Ho held the title of tallest building in Arizona from its opening in 1928 until 1960. From the curb to the roof measured 208 feet; the 240-foot steel tower and 40-foot antenna came along in 1949 to send out signals for Phoenix’s first broadcast television station, KPHO-TV. The Mediterranean-flavored hotel operated until 1980, during which time it took roles in several Hollywood productions including Pocket Money from 1972 where Paul Newman heaves a television off a fourth floor balcony and Bus Stop, a 1956 Marilyn Monroe starrer which included parade scenes shot in front of the Westward Ho. One movie in which the hotel does not appear, although it is commonly assumed to have done so, is the opening sequence of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho where the flyover of the Phoenix skyline pans by the Hotel San Carlos down the street.
TURN RIGHT AND HEAD SOUTH ON CENTRAL AVENUE.
234 North Central Avenue at southwest corner of Van Buren Street
Reaching a rooftop height of 108 feet, this was briefly the tallest building in Phoenix when it was completed in 1928. Ohio-born architect Claude Beelman, who did much to shape the streetscape of Los Angeles, provided the Renaissance Revival design. The money man was Dwight B. Heard, one of the largest landowners in the Salt River Valley who sold cattle, alfalfa, cotton and citrus fruits from his ranch south of Phoenix. The modernist, bunker-like apparition on the roof was an apartment built in 1958 by Walter Bimson, founder of the Valley National Bank. To Bimson, the look of his banks was almost as important as the money they generated and to that end he took pains to make sure each branch was a modernist contribution to the Phoenix landscape.
201 North Central Avenue at northeast corner of Monroe Street
Whereas the Secutiry Building represented the limits of Phoenix skyscrapers in the 1920s, Chase Tower across the street has been the tallest building in Arizona since 1972. It was constructed for Walter Bimson’s Valley National Bank on plans drawn by the prominent Los Angeles-based architectural firm Welton Becket and Associates. At 483-feet the glass curtain wall tower is the tallest building between Los Angeles and San Antonio, Texas.
Hotel San Carlos
202 North Central Avenue at northwest corner of Monroe Street
Charles Harris and Dwight D. Heard kickstarted the creation of the San Carlos Hotel, which celebrated its grand opening on March 19, 1928. It came with a price tag of $850,000 and was constructed on the grounds of the first school in Phoenix, a four-room adobe lesson center raised in 1874. Guests to the San Carlos could enjoy the first air conditioning in Phoenix and it is still functioning as a guest house in the internet age. The San Carlos has gained national renown among ghost hunters in search of the spirit of Leone Jensen. Jensen, in her early twenties, jumped to her death (or was she pushed by an abusive boyfriend or romantic rival?) from the San Carlos less than two months after the hotel opened.
137 North Central Avenue at southeast corner of Monroe Street
This splash of Art Deco joined the Phoenix streetscape in 1932 as a place where the Maricopa County Medical Society could gather medical, dental and laboratory offices. At the same time the Valley Bank and Trust Company was seeking new quarters so they took the lower three floors and the medical offices consumed the upper seven. The 171-foot Professional Building plays up its verticality with streamlined elements and setbacks at the top. It is dressed in Indiana limestone on the lower levels and joined by concrete above painted to simulate limestone
112 North Central Avenue
In addition to owning a good chunk of the land south of Phoenix, Dwight B. Heard purchased the 22-year old The Arizona Republican in 1912. Today, as the Arizona Republic, it is the state’s largest newspaper. Heard published the Republican until his death in 1929 and constructed the first high-rise in Phoenix in 1920 to house his newspaper operations. The building was designed by Llewellyn Adelbert Parker, raised in Los Angeles and educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With his engineering degree in hand Parker returned to the West and distinguished himself by building bridges, including the longest contract girder bridge in the world across the Salt River in Phoenix.
TURN LEFT ON ADAMS STREET.
40 North 1st Street at southwest corner of Adams Street
Hyman Goldberg founded a store in Yuma in 1864 and ten years later was running the first permanent general merchandise store in Phoenix. In 1939 his grandson Chester wedded his operation with that of Vic Hanny to form Hanny’s. In 1947 the business moved into this new home created by Royal Lescher and Leslie Mahoney that was heralded as “the most modern building in the Southwest” and lauded as the finest International Style commercial structure in Arizona. Hanny’s helped usher in the age of modern architecture in Phoenix and outfitted Phoenicians in sophisticated menswear until 1986. After the shoppers filed out the City acquired the building and regularly torched it as training for aspiring firefighters. Today the landmark building has been resuscitated as an eatery.
75 North 2nd Street
The Phoenix Symphony began presenting concerts around town on a sporadic basis in 1947. In 1972 the musicians got their own venue in the Phoenix Civic Plaza. Symphony Hall, which is also home for Arizona Opera and Ballet Arizona, took a star turn five years later in Clint Eastwood’s The Gauntlet playing Phoenix City Hall which Clint treats rudely by driving his hijacked bus into. A generation later both Symphony Hall and Eastwood’s bus received makeovers - the 2,837-seat venue got an $18.5 million dollar renovation and The Gauntlet bus was rescued by a couple who spent $60,000 removing hundreds of bullet holes and restoring it as a recreational vehicle.
TURN LEFT ON 2ND STREET. TURN RIGHT ON MONROE STREET.
St. Mary’s Basilica
231 North 3rd Street at northeast corner of Monroe Street
Circuit-riding priests of the Franciscan order conducted the first Catholic services in Phoenix in 1872. Work began on an adobe church on this site in 1880 and was shepherded to completion by Eduoard Gerard, the first priest ordained in Arizona. The Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary would remain the town’s only Catholic parish until 1924. The adobe church was torn down in 1902 and replaced by a “basement church” that functions as a social hall today. Work picked up on the current structure, one of the state’s best Mission Revival buildings, a decade later and dedication took place on February 11, 1915. The design features four domes spread across the structure and includes the largest collection of stained glass in Arizona. In 1987 St. Mary’s was elevated to a minor basilica, the 32nd basilica in the United States and the only one in Arizona.
TURN RIGHT ON 3RD STREET.
Phoenix Convention Center
100 North 3rd Street
As late as the 1960s the city’s biggest cultural and theatrical events were staged in high school auditoriums. To foster growth and become a major player on the national scene a first class convention center was a must and it became a reality in 1972. Since then Phoenix has grown exponentially and the event space has kept pace. It now covers 24 acres with over 300,000 square feet of exhibit space, decorated to mimic the Sonoran landscape.
TURN RIGHT ON WASHINGTON STREET.
146 East Washington Street at northwest corner of 2nd Avenue
Phoenix does not claim many souvenirs from the 19th century but here is one, considered the earliest commercial building still standing in the town. The core of the two-story structure was raised in 1885; it was expanded northward in the first years of the 1900s. It has since absorbed modern appearances for its street level shops.
TURN LEFT AT FIRST STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO JEFFERSON STREET. AT THE CORNER, LOOK LEFT DOWN THE STREET TO SEE...
401 East Jefferson Street
Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks have played every one of their home games in this stadium that was the first built in the United States with a retractable roof (Toronto and Montreal each had one at the time). Bank One Ballpark, as it was known from its birth until 2005, was the first to boast natural grass, however. Ground was broken on the park in 1995 and completed just in time for the opening pitch of the 1998 season, the inaugural campaign for the expansion Diamondbacks who celebrated a World Series championship in just their fourth season.
IN FRONT OF YOU IS...
U.S. Airways Center
201 East Jefferson Street
When the Phoenix Suns joined the National Basketball Association in 1968 they became the first professional sports franchise in Arizona, a distinction the Suns would hold for twenty years. Games were played at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, as they would be for the next quarter-century before the team moved to this facility prior to the 1992 season. That season the Suns, led by league Most Valuable Player Charles Barkley, went to the NBA Finals where they lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Despite owning basketballs’ fourth best all-time winning percentage the Phoenix Suns have still never captured an NBA Championship.
TURN RIGHT ON JEFFERSON STREET.
Jefferson Hotel/Barrister Place Building
101 South Central Avenue at southeast corner of Jefferson Street
As any fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho knows the eerie cabins of the Bates Motel are not the only hotel rooms featured in the classic thriller from 1960. The movie begins, after a panoramic tour of Phoenix, in the Jefferson Hotel where Janet Leigh and Sam Loomis scheme to steal $40,000 that sends her driving off to Anthony Perkins’ out-of-the way motel. Before the Jefferson was constructed in 1915 a large adobe trading post sat here. In the 1990s the Renaissance Revival structure became home to the Phoenix Police Museum which told the history of the local force from a single room until it skipped over to the old city hall.
11 West Jefferson Street at southwest corner of Central Avenue
Here is another in the progression of Phoenix “Sky Kings” - the Luhrs Building held the title of city’s tallest building from 1924 until 1927. In 1867 George Henry Nicholas Luhrs decided to skip out on an invitation to join the Prussian Army and come to America to chase gold. He eventually gave up, found his way to Phoenix and opened a wagon-making business and stable with a partner on this corner. In 1887 the partners opened a 20-room hotel which Luhrs eventually gained control over and named it after himself. He spent more than a half-million dollars to construct this office tower, the top four floors of which housed the cushy Arizona Club. Henry Charles Trost, one of the Southwest’s leading architects working out of El Paso, tapped the Second Renaissance style for his three-part high-rise rendered in dark brown brick and white marble.
45 West Jefferson Street at southeast corner of 1st Avenue
George Luhrs, having suffered a stroke, was only two months away from death when ground was broken for this 14-story skyscraper in 1929. Once again Henry Charles Trost was called in and this time he delivered one of the town’s best specimens of Art Deco architecture, infused with Spanish Colonial influences. Luhrs’ son, George Jr., carried on the family property development tradition until his death in 1984.
TURN RIGHT ON IST AVENUE AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.