Recently my wife and I decided to stop by a restaurant in north Scottsdale that we have patronized for years. When the place was built about 15 years ago, it was in a lonely desert setting in the Frank Lloyd Wright and Pima area. In those days the patio was a nice place to sit and have a drink when the weather was pleasant. Today, the patio faces an “on” ramp to the 101 and the restaurant has changed names.
Not much stays the same in the Phoenix area. I moved to Scottsdale in 1987 and remember when I would turn east on Bell Road off I-17, there was a mileage sign saying “Scottsdale 21 miles”. That’s not very long ago but there were still Arabian horse farms along Bell Road around 60th Street. They are long gone and replaced by strip malls and homes.
Scottsdale Road from Camelback Road to Carefree has heavy traffic, shopping areas, car dealerships, the 101, and four to six lanes all the way north but in the early 1960s, there was one traffic light at Lincoln Boulevard before you reached the Gainey and McCormick cattle ranches. From there it was clear sailing the rest of the way. The road was two lanes and paved but north of Bell it was like a roller coaster because of the many washes crossing the road. It remained that way into the 1990s and from my experience, it was not a road you wanted to drive on when it rained.
1964-1970 was a great era to be young and partying in the Valley of the Sun. It was the time of the “British Invasion” where The Beatles inspired a new wave of music from the UK tailored for the taste of the fickle younger crowd. Clubs like JD’s and the Red Dog Saloon in Scottsdale did a brisk business. For the teens it was the Pacesetter Club and the Fifth Estate. There were even dances in the lobby entrance to Chris-Town Mall. During this time Alice Cooper and his group The Spiders became a favorite of partiers as they did cover versions of tunes from The Rolling Stones. Does anyone remember Phil and the Frantics playing at JD’s in those days?
Popular singing cowboy Gene Autry had strong ties to Phoenix. While stationed at Luke AFB in 1942, he met future communications magnate Tom Chauncey who was a jeweler in downtown Phoenix at that time. Gene and Tom saw a bright future for “over the air” media in the Phoenix area. They pooled their resources and bought radio station KOOL which broadcasted Autry’s show “Melody Ranch”. After his military discharge in 1945 and with television booming, Gene bought more stations and in 1953 expanded KOOL radio into the TV business with the establishment of KOOL-TV, Channel 10 (currently KSAZ). He also bought KOPO-TV in Tucson (which became KOLD) and invested in several radio stations around Arizona. Autry saw the future of TV and it made him a lot of money.
My first contact with Arizona was in August of 1959. I was a wide eyed 18 year old kid with my buddy driving to Los Angeles from Cincinnati via Route 66 in a ’57 Chevy “six banger”. I remember an attendant at a Whiting Bros. gas station in New Mexico telling me to get a burlap water bag on my bumper before driving across the desert. The only time I had seen one of those was in the 1951 Kirk Douglas film “Ace in the Hole” where Kirk had one on his DeSoto.
The Whiting Bros. gas stations were a staple on Route 66 from 1926 until 1985 when 66 was decommissioned in favor of the interstates. A few years later, they were gone leaving behind a lot of memories. Bobby Troup summed up the old road in Arizona best in his song from 1948, “Route 66”: “Flagstaff, Arizona. Don’t forget Winona; Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino.”
In 1940, John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath” was filmed partly along Route 66. It was a grim story about a family leaving the mid-west dust bowl during the 1930s Depression in search of a better life in California. If you travel the backroads today you can still see evidence of the old road from that era.
Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, and Dorris Bowden in "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940)