Exploring Phoenix History

April 26, 2017

Today’s post is by Tim Hoiland, owner of Hoiland Media and a member of The Department.

It is often said that Phoenix has no history.

But as preservationists have been quick to note, it’s not so much that Phoenix hasn’t had beautiful, iconic architecture as that too often this city’s historic buildings have been bulldozed and replaced.

That’s why last Friday I was grateful for the chance to join a group of fellow Department members on a downtown Phoenix history and culture tour, led by Jill Johnson of the Phoenix Rising Tour Company, who is on a mission to celebrate the history and culture of #dtphx, one trolley tour at a time

Boarding our trolley in front of the Renaissance Hotel just up the street from us, we got set up with portable audio players and ear buds. Over the next two hours (which flew by!) the trolley snaked its way through the streets named for presidents – Adams, Roosevelt, Washington, Jefferson – and Jill pointed out one historic building after another, telling us stories that made these structures come alive.

We learned why some people claim to see a ghost of a woman in a wedding dress at the Hotel San Carlos. We learned what the tallest building in Arizona is, and how its height compares to the pyramids of Egypt. We learned why the state capitol building is a mile and a half from the center of the city and where the name Phoenix comes from, anyway. Oh yeah, and we had a nice pit stop at The Duce.

When we get in the everyday habit of driving, riding, biking, or walking in downtown Phoenix, passing countless newish office buildings designed with practical and utilitarian purposes in mind, we sometimes forget that Phoenix is actually an old city, settled by the Hohokam people long before the United States even existed.

At a certain point during the tour, it seemed to me that we had been transported into the past. We were still passing all the same utilitarian buildings, but now we were noticing all the other ones – some shorter and less glimmery, some partially obscured – in between. Yes, too much of this city’s history has been paved over with parking lots and convenience stores. But so much remains, and valuable new contributions are being added all the time.

The Phoenix Rising Tour Company is taking a break from public group tours over the summer, but they have two tours remaining this week and private tours can be arranged throughout the year.

Whether now or in the fall, I really encourage you to book a tour. Take your family. Take your coworkers. Take out-of-town guests.

Whatever you do, remember: friends don’t let friends perpetuate half-truths about this city.

Follow the Phoenix Rising Tour Company on Facebook.

Header photo: “Phoenix Skyline – ca. 1940” by unknown photographer (via Wikimedia Commons)

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