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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Phoenix of streetcars and water bags

Since 1990, US Airways Arena has been built for the Suns along with new venues for the Cardinals, Coyotes, and Diamondbacks. We have the 101, 202, and 51 to get around better while the Phoenix population has increased by 500,000.

Although change is inevitable, it’s interesting to take a look back at how Phoenicians used to live in a more relaxed era. Don Williams has lived in Scottsdale since 1961 and in the 1960s worked for Mountain Bell Telephone as a “nickel snatcher”. That’s slang for a guy who emptied money from pay telephones. Remember nickel pay phones with rotary dials? By the 1950s, nickel calls became dime calls and in the mid 1960s, rotary was replaced by push buttons. Don has seen them all.

In 1961, Fashion Square in Scottsdale was an open air mall with tenants like Goldwater’s department store. In those days, you could drive on two lane Scottsdale Road from Camelback to Carefree and encounter one traffic light. Going west on Camelback, you could buy fresh oranges at the stands in Arcadia. Sometimes under the honor system!

In the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, owning a car was a luxury so many Phoenicians depended on streetcars from the Phoenix Transit Company. “Ride a mile and smile the while” was their slogan as one could ride on 17 miles of track within Phoenix for 5 cents while a 12 mile ride to Glendale cost 35 cents. The cars ran from 1887 to 1948 when they were replaced by motorized buses.

Speaking of Glendale, many residents miss the fragrance of the orange blossoms that used to dominate that city. Eventually many orchards gave way in 1993 for the opening of the Arrowhead Towne Center. New apartments and the 101 weren’t far behind. I feel fortunate that I was able to enjoy the silence and fragrance of that area before the bulldozers attacked it.

It’s lucky for the large shopping centers like Arrowhead that the population followed them. I don’t think anyone wants to drive long distances these days with gas hovering at $3.70 per gallon. During the pre World War II era, gas was sold for about 15 cents a gallon in Arizona with the Whiting Bros. stations doing great business on the busy Main Street of America, Route 66.


After a fill up at Whiting’s, a stop at Stuckey’s for a sandwich and a pecan log made the day complete. It was also a good time to check your canvas water bag on the front bumper. You didn’t want to run out of water while you were reading the Burma Shave signs on Route 66. Sadly, by 1985, Route 66 was decommissioned and the Whiting Bros. stations were gone within the next ten years.

In Scottsdale, “Big Brownie” of Brown’s Ranch still drove cattle up Scottsdale Road as late as the 1950s. He was so well known that mail addressed to “Big Brownie, Scottsdale, AZ” would reach him.

The Kachina Theater on Scottsdale Road lasted from 1960-1989 and showed films in “Cinerama”. Until the early 1970s, the Round-Up Drive-In Theater was on Thomas Road and downtown Scottsdale had Mag’s Ham Bun, a popular businessmen’s meeting place from the early 1960s until 1986.

The Safari Hotel and coffee shop was busy with celebrities after it opened in 1956 at Scottsdale and Camelback. Stars like Sonny and Cher, Burt Reynolds, and Bob Crane were regulars. Crane ate his last meal there before his untimely death in 1978.

Legend City Theme Park lasted from 1963 to 1983. In 1977, Compton Terrace in Chandler opened as a concert venue. In 1985 it moved to Firebird Raceway until its demise in 2010. Speaking of Compton, it was Bill Compton and Dwight Tindle who founded KDKB Radio in 1971. There was also KRIZ and KRUX who played the hits in the 60s and 70s. Al McCoy spun records at KRUX from 1960 to 1972 and Wallace and Ladmo entertained kids on Channel 5 from 1954 to 1989.

I could go on but you get the point. Phoenix is still a great place but there was something magical about the early days and simpler times that made them seem just a little bit better.

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