The Heart of Phoenix, Part two   2 comments

If you joined us late, your host, Atroll, is playing explorer in his own city.  Today’s blog covers the second half of my epic drive from one end of Van Buren Street to the other.

I continued west from Central Avenue on Monroe, just one block south of Van Buren.  The situation is the same. There is no place to park on Van Buren, thus making photography difficult at best.  And I found another . . .

1. Painted wall.  I wrote about the painted walls of Phoenix at length here:  Although the building faces Van Buren, I never would have seen this wall if I hadn’t been driving behind it.

This wall is only visible from a church parking lot. Is there a spiritual connection? The mostly red background makes me think of blood.


Is this some sort of small demon in quest of money? Everything else is on a godlike scale, but this is tiny--its it meant to represent mortal men?


2.  Getting Social

My plan was to get back onto Van Buren at 7th Avenue.  The Sevens (7th Street on the east and 7th Avenue on the west) mark the real east-west limits of the downtown area.  7th Avenue and Van Buren is also the start of Grand Avenue, almost the only transverse street in the city.  It runs northwest from this starting point for many miles until it reaches the city of  Wickenburgh.  I’ll do that route some time.

But our point of interest here is a huge office complex for the Social Security Administration.  An hour of sitting inside it trying to get my social security convinced me that using the internet was by far the best way to deal with this branch of the federal government.

Social Security--why do they need that huge building?


3.  Death is always with us.

I am entering an older, poorer section of town.  Both businesses and houses are generall run down, and it gets worse as I drive to the west.  I travel for about 20 blocks without finding anything to photograph and then I find . . .

Greenwood Lawn Cemetary


I sort of knew it was here because I’ve gone by it hundreds, maybe thousands of times in my life, but I never gave it a second thought before.  Hmmm, there are roads leading into it.  Let’s go inside and take a look.

This cemetary is huge.  A bit of research confirmed my suspicions that this is the largest cemetary in Arizona.  I spent half an hour in here and didn’t see a tenth of it.

There is a small section of the cemetary devoted to people of Vietnamese ancestry.


And there is a much larger section nearby for the Chinese. According to the monuments, the Chinese section is older.


Some burial headstones are spectacular.


(and the blue car in the distance is mine.)

You can just make out a children's playground at the northern end of the Chinese Memorial Garden.


4.  Carl Hayden Community Center

Leaving the cemetary behind I return to Van Buren and drive westward.  I plan to see if I can find the house I lived in when I was in the second and third grades.  But before I reach that part of town I am stopped by another painted wall.

I see a Phoenix Suns logo in this sign. Sure enough, there is a basketball court in the back.


This evocation of the Spirit of Music is what first caught my eye as I was driving by. Stopping and exploring revealed a lot more.


Pre-Columbian Mexican civilizations are alive and well in Phoenix. You can see it in the Aztec and Olmec motifs in their wall paintings.


Catholic imagery mixed with Mexican fetility goddesses.


This is actually the last spectacular image on the trip.  The rest of the pictures until you reach the very end are kind of plain and boring, but I’m using this blog as a kind of metaphor for travel through life (as well as cities). Things are varied, fresh, and exciting at the beginning.  They reach a climax somewhere in the middle, and then there’s a long downhill slide to oblivion.

5.  One of my old neighborhoods

When I was a child, about a million years ago, our family moved frequently–about once every two or three years.  In the earliest days we rented, and every time Dad saw a chance to move up in the world, he did so.  The fact that our family kept growing might have played a part in always looking for newer and larger homes.  The result is that I lived in a lot of different places in Phoenix when I was young.  I remember them all.  This trip along Van Buren took me close to two of them.

The place is a slum. It was a lot nicer 55 years ago when I lived around here.


For about 2 years the St. Andre family lived on West Melvin Street.  We rented a little apartment behind someone else’s house, and I went to the 2nd and 3rd grades at the newly built Coe School.  The Acres of Fun drive-in theater was at the end of the street–it went away long ago, and the space is full of warehouses and storage units now.

I'm guessing, but I think that the little house in the back may have been where I actually lived when I was 7 to 9 years old. I believe the man who lived in front was an amateur radio operator, who got my father interested in ham radio. The amateur antenna gives it away, and it's in about the right place.


As you can see, I was not rich, or even middle class as a child.  I came from the poorer class, but my father was upwardly mobile, and to some extent I have also worked to better myself all my life.

6.  Warehouses

As I go westwards, the residential areas fade away, and a district of gigantic warehouses replaces them.  I could have taken dozens of pictures of warehouses, but let’s face it.  Warehouses, while vital to the economic well being of the city, are dull.  For mile after mile both sides of the road are filled with warehouses.  This is where the supplies of the city are kept.  And it’s not just Van Buren.  The endless warehouses extend both north and south for a couple of miles.

Those aren't houses beyond that field of clover. It's one gigantic warehouse a quarter of a mile long.


The city’s petroleum farm is also out here around 47th Avenue and Van Buren–dozens of huge tanks up to 20 stories tall containing millions of gallons of gasoline.  There was no good place to stop and get a picture, but the place is there.  It’s kind of impressive to see how much fuel could be stored here before being distributed to the gas stations of Maricopa County. 

7.  There is a river . . .

but it hardly ever has any water in it.  This tiny bit of desert wilderness separates Phoenix from the smaller satelite cities to the west.

The Agua Fria (Water Cold) riverbed as seen through my car window. Note the abundant vegetation. There is water here, although it may be just below the surface.


8.  Time for Lunch

The road turns back into city–housing developments, shopping malls, etc.  I have been driving and taking pictures for over 3 hours, and I’m getting hungry.  I start looking for a place to stop and eat, and on the corner of Litchfield Road and Van Buren I find J.B.’s Restaurant.  I remember J.B.’s.  We used to have one on the corner of 32nd Street and Indian School Road, and there was another on the west side of town.  They have both closed.  I used to like to go there for Sunday morning breakfast at the buffet.  All you could eat–it was wonderful.  The waitresses were all experienced pros–they made you glad that you came in.  Popular music played in the background.  I was really unhappy to see it go.  Moved by nostalgia, I turned in and sat down to lunch here.  It was just the kind of place I remembered.  But, nice as it was, I’m not going to drive 25 miles or so just to have a good breakfast buffet.

J.B.'s serves good old fashioned American food--just like your white momma used to make. It's a Caucasian restaurant, and seems to be vanishing from the American scene.


I had a cheeseburger, onion rings, and a Coke for lunch.  The onion rings were fancy, large, and juicy, but hard to eat and messy.  Burger King has better rings, imho.  The burger was excellent and really hit the spot.  The Coke was the Real Thing.

The Trollgod's Hat was on the journey with me. Here it is overlooking the last surviving onion ring and it's getting a drink of water.


9.  The Wasteland

Beyond the town of Litchfield Park there were more houses–some quite pricy–and then trailer parks and ranches and finally it got down to what this part of Arizona woud look like without water from irrigation–bleak wasteland.  Still, it’s only a matter of time before someone turns this desert into another housing development.

This is about 200th Avenue--that is 200 blocks west of Central where this blog began. Arizona wasteland desert.


10.  The End of the Trail

Van Buren Street finally ends when it reaches Jackrabbit Road–somewhere out around 240th Avenue.  There is something out there in the desert beyond the end of the road, but I couldn’t (legally) get there.

Van Buren Street ends at Jackrabbit Road. Across the road is a short piece of dirt road ending in a fence. To the southwest, the Arizona desert stretches off for 100 miles or more.


I turned north on Jackrabbit Road.  My plan now was to get back on Interstate 10 and rapidly return home.  I started this journey about 10 in the morning on the outskirts of Tempe.  It is now around 2 p.m. and I am 45 miles or so from my starting point.  I took one last picture of the mountains west of Phoenix.

The White Tank Mountains are part of a military reservation west of Phoenix. I am convinced that there is a secret military base underground here. It would be a perfect place for it, and I put one here in my computer game Wasteland. It's all fenced off with a gigantic earth dike--you can't get in to investigate.


And that’s the end.  You have been through the heart of Phoenix with me.  You have seen some of the best and the worst that Phoenix has to offer.  Take it as it is.

From here I got on the freeway and was home in half an hour.  There is a lot to be said for high speed travel without interruptions and stop signs.


Posted December 30, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

2 responses to “The Heart of Phoenix, Part two

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  1. Thanks for the tour, really enjoyed it.

    Martin Gutenbrunner
  2. This chronicling of our little corner of the Valley of the Sun is mostly pretty cool, and the digital camera has done wonders for your photography skills, Dad. But I wish you wouldn’t use the word “caucasian.” That term was invented by racially biased pseudo-scientists more than a century ago, and the theory that white people all have ancestors from the caucasus mountains has been totally invalidated now that scientists can analyze and compare actual DNA samples from different racial groups. When you talk about white people, you should just go ahead and say “white.”

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