The Heart of Phoenix, Part One   2 comments

Today, I want to share the story of a journey with you–a journey through the Heart of Phoenix.

Phoenix, Arizona is a pretty big city these days–fifth largest municipality in the United States with census estimated population of over 1.6 million people in 2009.  It is also the 12th largest metropolitan area, the largest state capitol, and the hottest major city in the United States.  Phoenix is built on a grid of north-south streets and east-west streets, with the zero-zero point being the intersection of Washington Steet and Central Avenue.  Phoenix has numberd streets and places running north-south on the east side of town.  The west side has numbered Avenues, Lanes, and Drives running north and south.  Major traffic arteries are planned to be exactly 1 mile apart in most  places (except downtown which retains its original chaotic structure from the 1800s.  Secondary traffic arteries are placed at the half-mile positions between the  major thoroughfares. 

There are two major traffic carriers running east-west in downtown Phoenix.  One is Washington Street which runs from the State Capitol building at 17th Avenue and Washington to the border of Tempe where it turns into MIll Avenue.  The other is Van Buren Steet, two blocks north of it.  In my humble opinion, Van Buren is the true center of the city.

This morning I decided to journey from one end of Van Buren all the way to the other end of it, and to make a record of the notable things I found along the way.  This is the record of that journey, which began around 10 a.m. and finished about 2 p.m. 

My journey actually begain at my credit union–Arizona Federal at the corner of 44th Steet and Van Buren.  It is a very nice place, and has appeared in these blogs before, but it doesn’t get a picture today.  My thanks to my lovely friend there who gave me printer paper to make notes about my journey.

1.  The main post office of Phoenix, Arizona.

I go here a lot to mail things because the lines are usually shorter.


This is actually a huge building and parking lot, 99% of which is off limits to the general public.  It fills a lot that is two blocks deep by a quarter of a mile  long, and is located at about 5001 E. Van Buren.  There is nothing very fancy about this place, but it has adequate parking and the lines usually move pretty well.

This is Dennis, today's Face of the Post Office.


2.  Tovrea’s Castle

Driving eastward, I next came to Tovrea’s Castle.  It is a fabulous old manion from the days of the cattle barons, and is now a special Phoenix park–not open to the public most of the time.  Our family has always called it the Wedding Cake because it is built in tiers.  This is a look up the main drive leading into it.

Here's where a powerful telephoto lens would have really helped.

3.  Views of the Phoenix Zoo and the old baseball stadium.
Half a mile further east I reached the Phoenix Zoo and Phoenix Muncipal Baseball Stadium.  The stadium is on the south side of Van Buren; the zoo is located inside Papago Park on the north side of the street.

The area that looks like a farm is actually the petting zoo. It features goats and bunnies and small farm animals like chikens.


This wild-looking area is where they keep the alligators and tortoises and other reptiles and birds.


Long ago, before Phoenix ever got a major league baseball team, this was the home of our minor league team, the Phoenix Giants.  They were the biggest minor league franchise of the San Franciso Giants.  When the Diamondbacks came to town, the Phoenix Giants went away.  Now the stadium is used by the Oakland Athletics team as a spring training facility.  Cactus League games are played here before the regular baseball season starts in April.

The stadium is very well protected by a chain-link fence along with internal walls and scoreboards, making it hard to see.


4.  The Hall of Flame, Museum of Firefighting

Just east of the stadium and around a corner on the Salt River Project Drive–home of the biggest electric power provider in Arizona–the Salt River Project–is a firefighting museum.  It’s not a very busy place.

I have never been inside this museum. I really should go some time.


5.  Tempe Town Lake

The eastern extremity of Van Buren Street turns south and becomes Mill Avenue, the main street for downtown Tempe, Arizona.  Tempe has turned a barren stretch of dry riverbed into a good-sized pond by buiding an inflatable rubber dam (I kid you not–it’s rubber, not cement) out there west of the bridge, and then filling it with water from the Salt River.  The Salt River provides the main water supply for the City of Phoenix, and we drink it dry.  In the days of the pioneers a trickle flowed through the desert–beavers built dams on it, and the local Native Americans practiced agriculture by diverting water from it through ditches and canals.  Hundreds of years earlier the Hohokam civilization dug canals all over the valley to carry river water for their farms.  That is why our city is called Phoenix.  It has arisen on the ashes of an earlier civilization.

Here you see part of the Tempe Town Lake--the largest open body of water for 40 miles in any direction--the Tempe Bridge, and a few Tempe buildings.


There is a very nice little park running along both sides of the river here.  On the 4th of July the City of Tempe holds its fireworks celebration here.

6.  The Rolling Hills Golf Course and Driving Range

I turned around at the river and headed west.  I won’t revisit the spots we’ve already seen, but right at the curve into Tempe there is a gorgeous desert golf course.

Phoenix is renowned for its many beautiful golf courses.  This is one of them.  There used to be a batting range here too.  Every time you drove by, you could see the golfers practicing their swings.  Now there’s a restaurant and a pro-shop.  Yuppification is happening everywhere.

I've never been inside here. I don't golf.


7.  The Big Apple Restaurant

It’s just a fast food restaurant, but it has always been a special place for me, maybe because my dad took me here when I was a kid.  It’s kitschy cowboy stuff–all kinds of guns, and saddle tack, and horses and cows on display.  The waitresses dress western and wear sixguns.  There is sawdust on the floor.  The food is great.  It’s in a bad part of the city now, and is kind of a hangout for old-timers like me.

Doesn't that sign make you feel like you're really in the west?


The only restaurant I've ever seen with a 3-D diorama over the front door.


Look! There's a horse on the roof!


8.  The Hospital

I am driving in towards Central Phoenix and I’m thinking how Van Buren Street is really the heart of the city when I come to St. Luke’s hospital and medical center.  This is a huge medical center, and I tend to forget all about it because I never drive that part of town, or go to that hospital.  I pulled into it, and drove around the parking lots looking for something photogenic, and just by accident, look what I found.

Synchronicity in action.


St. Luke is standing tall.

9.  Bunny Cars

As I drove into town I saw a colorful car lot I had never noticed before, and behold!  It has a painted wall!  (A few weeks ago I did a blog on the Painted Walls of Phoenix.  As I find more of them, I’ll probably continue to point them out. 

Look! It's a painted wall advertising a small used car lot.


10.  The Tallest Building in Arizona

Downtown Phoenix is coming into view now.  At the center–Van Buren and Central Avenue is the Chase Bank Building, which is, I believe, the tallest building in the state.  Certainly the big rectangle dominates the skyline of Phoenix.

There is, of course, a fabulous restaurant at the top.  I was there . . . once.

11.  Arizona State University–downtown Phoenix campus

The area around 7th Street and Van Buren has a lot of attractions.  There is the A.S.U. downtown campus–the main campus is back in the heart of Tempe.  The downtown school looks for all the world like an old-fashioned Spanish pueblo. 

12.  The Rosson House and the Arizona Science Center

Across the street from A.S.U. is a special park, which is mostly a place to set up booths and an old Victoriean house from 1880s Phoenix called the Rosson House because the Rosson family lived there.  It’s like a little piece of New England in the heart of Phoenix.

Like something out of a Gothic novel.

The Arizona Science Center contains a planetarium and many halls full of interactive displays.


13.  Downtown Phoenix

I cruised through downtown Phoenix on Monroe Street which is one block south of Van Buren.  Van Buren is very busy and has no place to park and take pictures.  Monroe is very quiet and many of the attractions  have their front doors on Monroe and their backs to Van Buren.  However, they’re all in the vicinity, and I think I am justified in including them as part of the Van Buren tour.

St. Mary's Basilica serves as headquarters for the Catholic Diocese in Phoenix.


Pope John Paul II offers his blessings to visitors.


The Arizona Center is on the north side of Van Buren. There is a whole shppinc center below tis building.


A huge indoor movie palace,night clubs, restaurants, boutiques, and specialty stores fill the Arizona Center.  It’s a fun place to shop, and I have been there several times.  There is no time to investigate it today, or to show in detail–I am just mentioning that it is here across Van Buren to the north from A.S.U.

Of course we find Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Catholic Park in the heart of the city.


Big buildings crowd each other downtown. The one across the street is a parking garage for the Phoenix Convention Center, plus offices upstairs.


Two blocks south of me is the domed stadium for the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. It's a great place. I have attended several ballgames there.


A block west of the church is the Herberger Theater–a playhouse capable of seating several hundred people, and a wonderful way to experience plays.  Seeing a play isn’t like seeing a movie.  The people are real.  Everything is on a human scale, and you really appreciate the skill and effort of the actors.

Something about Theatre just maks statues want to dance around in the nude.

Full frontal nudity on the streets of Phoenix. This bronze titan has a body that I envy. Alas, such perfection is not for real human beings.


Everything you see downtown makes you want to look up.  The next picture shows one of my favorite places that I never get to go to–the revolving restaurant atop the Hyatt hotel.  I imagine most large cities have such places.  I visited the one n Seattle atop the Space Needle a couple of years ago.  It was great.  The scenery is Phonix is not quite as spectacular as that in Seattle, but it is a blast to enjoy your meal and watch the world revolve around you.

The Hyatt in downtown Phoenix is magnificent both inside and out.


That was the last thing worth seeing before reaching Central Avenue.  Join me next time to see what the west side of Phoenix has to offer.

End of part one

Posted December 29, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

2 responses to “The Heart of Phoenix, Part One

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  1. Well, kemosabi, you saved this by covering the Big Apple, which is almost always our first stop from Sky Harbor when we are returning to the City of My Birth. The barbeque pig sandwich is always to die for, and the hot apple pie ends every meal. There should be a historic plaque where the iconic Al’s Bookstore used to be, but what can you expect from a city that only lives in the here and now.

  2. This photo-blog would make a nice introductory primer to a college course about the history of Phoenix. I think it’s interesting how blatant and tremendous the hispanic influence is, especially taking into consideration the political tension in Arizona right now over immigration issues, racial profiling by the police, etc.

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