Van Buren, as it used to be
Van Buren is a mess. It is run down, decrepit, ugly and trashy - but enough of the nice talk, lets look at the bad things about this street. Perhaps more than any other street in Phoenix, Van Buren is known for prostitutes, pimps, porn, police and poverty. In the newspapers, the name of the street often appears with words such as murder, rape, shots, crime, drugs, and johns." Even so, with all its problems, Van Buren is the most interesting street in Phoenix.
It was not always like this. Van Buren Street was the main drag. From the founding of Phoenix up until the 1920s it was a quiet, cozy rural road connecting Phoenix to Tempe. Then, as Arizona expanded and America discovered its passion for the automobile, Van Buren become the gateway to Phoenix. If you were coming to Phoenix from the East, as most people did, you came down Van Buren Street. You would drive by dozens and dozens of hotels, motor hotels (soon abbreviated to motels), inns, courts, camps, cottages, huts, resorts and many other names used to indicate that the establishment offered a place for the traveler to rest and relax.
But Van Buren is more than cheap, sleazy motels - it is the place where Phoenix began (twice!) and where it was named. It is the site of Phoenix's first prized institution, the State Insane Asylum. It is where one of the first airports in Phoenix was built. It was the site of the first drive-in movie theatre in the Valley. It is where the oldest Cemetery in Phoenix is, even if few of the thousands of people that drive by it are aware of it. It is where Mike kicked the bucket, even if he couldn't see the bucket because he had had no head for two years. It is where an eccentric millionaire had a castle, and where his wife was murdered (twice). Van Buren even had a zoo, before there was a zoo in Phoenix. It is where the Virgin Mary made her single known visit to Phoenix. Van Buren street is where certain events occured that would lead to one of the most important rulings ever by the US Supreme Court, on criminal rights. It is also where Arizona's most famous woman spent most of her years, when they managed to keep her locked up. Van Buren was a place where an English Lord could get drunk, recite Shakespeare, and still be respected. It is where The Thing was, or should have been, and, most of all, Van Buren was the only place in America where you could buy a real, authentic, genuine Chuchu, the devil mummy pigmy fish boy body to hang on your wall, guaranteed to scare off your mother-in-law. Yes, Van Buren is sleazy, but it is also weird, amazing, historic and interesting.
A Trip down Van Buren Street
Van Buren in the 1950s - one nice, quiet motel after the other. You would have had to have seen it to believe it. This Van Buren street is long gone, never to be seen again. In the picture: The Rose Bowl motor court with the Sea Breeze hotel behind it, and a bunch of cars, all made in America.
Four major US highways came through Phoenix and they all joined along Van Buren: US 60, 70, 80 and 89. It was perhaps the best known and most traveled street in Phoenix. Initially, as seen in the 1885 map (when Phoenix was a little over 10 years old), Van Buren was a rural road north of town. It was the road to take if your were going east to Tempe and Mesa.
Things soon changed. With the advent of the automobile, Van Buren became "the road to Phoenix." It was, in many ways, what The Strip is now to Las Vegas. It was, most of all, motel alley. There were perhaps 100 or so motels, motor hotels, inns, courts, courtyards and even 'resorts' on Van Buren in its glory days, which began in the mid 1930s and lasted to the mid 1960s. If you came through Phoenix you had to drive down Van Buren and you and your family would probably stay in one of the many nice, neat, quiet motels that lined both sides of the street - unless you were rich, in which case you would stay in one of the already famous upscale resorts near Camelback. If you were traveling by bus, the Greyhound Station was at the corner of Central Avenue and Van Buren. Update: There were over 150 motels, just on the east side.
I am going to take you down Van Buren, into the past, with a few comments on the way. I will concentrate mostly on the East side, the traditional entrance to Phoenix, and where it all happened. I have found a bunch of photos and postcards with pictures of things as they were. The names and places are in order by their street numbers, from West to East. Here we go...
Sun Dancer Lodge, 803 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
AutoLodge Motel, 804 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Newton's Inn, 917 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Hyatt Chalet Motel, 938 East Van Buren, Phoenix. In the 1960's it was a star memeber of the Hyatt chain, on the upscale side for Van Buren. In 2007 it is boarded up, and from the sign it used to be a "7 Motel", whatever that is. The colored glass windows under the A is long gone - it has been replaced by painted plywood. It looks like they are going to do something with this old hotel.
Phoenix East Travelodge, 965 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
It was here in 1966 that a robber had cut out the manager's eye to show he was serious about wanting some money. In 1974, another manager was shot, then taken to St Luke's Hospital just down the street where he died (All around St Lukes there is a public housing project known at the time for its criminal element). Years later, the cold case police used old fingerprints to track down the shooter, who was then a preacher in Washington.
The miracle on 11th street. In 1989 someone noticed a yucca plant, the top of which woukld cast a shadow that was said to be the real, true image of the Our Lady of Guadalupe. The silhouette was even better seen at night. Soon thousands of people were making nighttime pilgrimages to see the shadow of the Virgin Mary on the wall of a Mexican restaurant on the corner. The crowds were such that the police had to reroute traffic on Van Buren around the shrine. It was a great attraction until somebody decided to cut the top of plant and take Mary home. End of miracle. Oh yes, there was also a Safeway supermarket at this corner, many many years ago. The fact is, that like many poor neighborhoods, there are no decent markets on Van Buren.
You need a gimmick, a theme...
Like The Strip in Vegas, the motels along Van Buren were always looking for the added attraction that would make the weary traveler choose their establishment rather the next one for a well deserved night's rest. Signs along the highways coming in to the Valley of the Sun would announce the bargains and attractions that would entice a family to stay at one particular place. Initially, it was the usual stuff: $5 per night rent, free coffee, air-cooled, free breakfast, playgrounds, and so on. Then a couple of places started putting in swimming pools, upping the stakes. Soon all motels that were anything at all had pools. Then it was real air-conditioning, not just evap-coolers. By the 1950s, the competition was fierce. The first drive-in movie place was built and it had rental cabins. Long before "cable in all rooms" the Theatre Motel had big screen movies, really big screen. In the late 1950s the stakes went even higher: One hotel had a streetcar trolley that would take guests to their rooms. Not to be outdone, another put in a large-scale miniature train for the kids. As in Vegas, hotels and motels along Van Buren would choose different exotic themes and decorate their dinning rooms, offices, rooms and grounds accordingly. Thus we have the Arabian themed establishments (Caravan, Bagdad, Pyramid) , Mexican themes (Mission, Montezuma, El Rancho, Sombrero), Western (Stagecoach, Frontier), Early Americana (Old faithful, Log Cabin) and so on. Probably the last and greatest fad was the Polynesian motif that swept the USA in the early 1960s, which manifested itself along Van Buren in the Cocanut Grove, Aloha, Tropics, Tahiti Inn and most of all, the famous Kon Tiki, the last of the great motels on Van Buren.
Camp Montezuma, 1850 East Van Buren - or on Bankhead National Highway, two miles east of Phoenix. This is a great picture of "the finest cottage auto camp in Arizona." The back of the postcard says: "A really beautiful place - one that offers comfortable cottage quarters or attractive camping sites with all modern conveniences including free baths and electricity at reasonable rates. The comforts of home; a quiet restful environment; friendly folks around - combine to make Camp Montezuma 'a place by the side of the road' for those who yearn for something a bit better, yet something within their means. Just watch for the orange sign on the Bankhead National Highway, two miles east of Phoenix."
Now how many people have heard of Bankhead National Highway? Not many! It was one of the first Interstate roads (which were usually called transcontinental trails in the 1920s), from El Paso Texas to San Diego. This route was later called the Borderland Highway after 1926 and finally still later most of it was incorporated into US 80 in the 1930s. The route was conceived as a tribute to Senator John H. Bankhead, who had been instrumental in passage of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916. Imagine crossing the USA on a dirt road in a Ford Model T?
Speaking of the Bankhead or Borderland Highway, I remember my grandmother telling me of driving on this road across the desert and sand dunes to Yuma, where her folks lived, on a road made of wooden planks. Of course, if another car came in the opposite direction, each car would get keep only the left wheels on the planks roadway to pass. Fun!
Winter Garden, 1850 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
One of the early auto courts in Phoenix. It had "cabins and trailers" for weary travelers. I guess this came after Camp Montezuma (see above). I see the water tower and windmill are gone. This location is basically where the Indian "La Ciudad" ruins were located (see story below). Up into the 1920s, when this was still Camp Montezuma and then later Winter Gardens and Tent City, the Hohokam mounds were very much visible. Notice all the trees.
Montezuma Motel, 1890 East Van Buren, Phoenix. Two different pictures, probably both from about 1960. Only the paint is different, one is yellow the other pink.
This is ground zero! - 1920 East Van Buren, give or take about 100 feet.
You are now in front of Saint Lukes Medical Center. Bow your head respectfully, for this is the site of the original Phoenix - both of them, kinda, sorta. It is a big area, occupying a whole block. It is also a pretty bad, run-down, dirty neighborhood surrounded by Public Housing projects. It doesn't help that there is a sign saying "Wound Treatment Center" next to the main building of the hospital.
Swilling has an 'original' idea.
- In the late 1860's a guy named Jack Swilling and a group of people moved to a flat area just north of the Salt River, planted corn, wheat, squash and pumpkins, and started a city. They called it Swilling's Mill, then Helling Mill, and then a few other names. They just couldn't find a good name. Anyway, it didn't make much difference because they didn't like the location anyway.
So they moved down the road to this spot, where there happened to be old Indian ruins and the remains of pre-historic canals. The settlers built a few houses, a store and a saloon. They needed a name for the new settlement, again. One person said the place should be called Salina. One moron suggested Pumpkinville, pointing to the crop out in the field. Still no name.
After a few fist fights and a round of booze, a guy named Duppa stood up and said it should be called Phoenix, probably because the town (all five mud huts of it) was obviously built on top of the ruins of an ancient Hohokam Indian village (which archeologists call "La Ciudad"). Anyway, somebody grabbed a pen and wrote down the word Phenix on the map. Close enough.
From what my grandfather told me, Duppa actually threw in a few lines from Shakespeare's famous poem, The Phoenix and the Turtle, at that historic moment, as follows:
Whereupon it made this threne
Nobody could figure it out, but nobody dared ask Duppa about how a bird and a turtle could fall in love - and what about the dove? Was it a threesome, a manage-a-trois? It seems that when Duppa was drunk and reciting Shakespeare, he did not like being interrupted. Anyway, after finishing his poem, he proposed that the place be called Phoenix. It could have been worse, he could have said the new city should be called Turtle. He then offered to recite Macbeth, all of it, if they wanted more ideas for names. Everybody said that Phoenix would be a fine name for the new community, thank you, Duppa. So that is how Phoenix got its name. Oh yes, the turtle in the poem wasn't really a turtle turtle, it was a turtle dove.
Imagine if some old grumpy Phoenix pioneer had asked Duppa to explain the poem... I am sure Duppa would have explained it in classical terms, as a feathered version of Romeo and Juliet - a fowl love affair gone foul, if you will. I am sure he would not have come up with anything like the modern interpretations of the poem like the following found in academic papers:
To the phoenix and the dove,
Co-supremes and stars of love,
As chorus to their tragic scene.
Beauty, truth, and rarity,
Grace in all simplicity,
Here enclosed in cinders lie.
Death is now the phoenix' nest
And the turtle's loyal breast
To eternity doth rest,
Leaving no posterity:
'Twas not their infirmity,
It was married chastity.
Truth may seem, but cannot be;
Beauty brag, but 'tis not she;
Truth and beauty buried be.
To this urn let those repair
That are either true or fair;
For those dead birds, sigh a prayer
The Phoenix and the Turtle deconstructs the hierarchical opposition between the death of the old and rebirth of the new that Love's Martyr attempts to establish. The term that is valorized throughout Love's Martyr (usually interpreted as a celebration of the impending Jacobean succession) is the “new Phoenix,” who rises from the ashes of the old. The language of The Phoenix and the Turtle continually defers the presence of the new Phoenix so that Shakespeare’s contribution is finally revealed as an empty signifier that serves to deconstruct the discursive values implied by its context...
Do they actually believe this stuff? "Shakespeare’s contribution is finally revealed as an empty signifier." Yeah, all he did was write the darn poem. Both the bard and the bird would have been disgusted, for sure.
So, after about two years (in linguistic terms), for reasons unknown (but related to cultural mythology at the anagogic level), the early Phoenix settlers (proletarians) revolted (against the bourgeois establishment) and moved (deconstructed, in modern terms) the (primitive feudal) city (again) a couple of (symbolic) miles west (on a tropological level) - taking its new (allegorical) name with it - and this (superseded, decentered) location at 18th to 20th street became known (in discursive terms) as East Phoenix. See, I can write just like them!
Back to Van Buren. (I sometimes get off on a wild tangent, as you may have noticed above. I will try to stay on the main topic, which is the adventures of Van Buren Street, not Duppa or Shakespeare.)
Marx describes a process of the demystification of history which is brought about by primitive accumulation and which makes the proletarian revolution possible. The bourgeoisie, unlike the proletariat, attempts to appropriate the historical mythology of the superseded feudal state. It is this process that generated the publication of Love's Martyr with its manipulation of Royalist symbolism. Rather than participating in the appropriation of the Phoenix myth to legitimize a largely bourgeois Jacobean state, Shakespeare’s poem reduces it to a symbol for the deconstruction of all cultural mythology inherited from the Elizabethan age. Whether or not The Phoenix and the Turtle engages in deconstruction on the anagogic level or Lacanian ideas of the subject on the tropological level, on its allegorical level its decentering of the values established and valorized in the poems of Love's Martyr amounts to a political statement (although its use of linguistic technique to manipulate reader expectation rather than positive utterance successfully evades the attribution of a definite political position). Note: These quotes are from 'Three Theoretical Readings of Shakespeare's Phoenix and the Turtle,' by Clifford Stetner.
I found an old 1920 map of the excavations and have superimposed it over a modern Google Earth aerial photo of the area. So here you have the remains of about 60 Hohokam structures (including a ball court), as well as two prehistoric canals, Swilling's Old Salt River Canal, also called Swilling's Ditch (now East Villa Street), the route of the old Fort McDowell trail (in yellow tracks, across the image) and the location of the five initial (or remaining) buildings (as of 1920) from the time when Phoenix was Phenix (marked as yellow boxes) before it became East Phoenix. The old general store was the one built on the mound. Please check out the image. This location is sometimes referred to as the "McKinnie Carpenter" site by the experts, to differentiate it from the other "original" Phoenix site on 28th Street. In the 1920s and 30s there was an motor hotel on this location (with a Villa Street address) called Tent City Auto Court. It was quite famous, I understand, but I don't know why. It may have something to do with a speech in which J. Edgar Hoover condemned the new Motor Court type establishments springing up across America as a blight on the Country's morals. Maybe!
Note: Duppa was an interesting guy. Born in France, the second son of a noble English family, he traveled the world, living for adventure and the $12,0000 a year sent to him as long as he stayed away from England. Duppa had a classical education (he could recite Shakespeare by the hour) and spoke five languages (French, Spanish, Italian, German, Spanish) and he could even speak faultless English when sober. He traveled throughout Europe, then went to South America (where he was the sole survivor of a ship wreck) and from there to New Zealand and Australia. After all this, he decided he need a nice, cool, quiet, peaceful place to relax so he moved to Arizona, where he was wounded three times in three different fights with Apaches. Nice and quiet. He is the person considered responsible for naming both Tempe and Phoenix.
Tropics Motor Hotel, 1902 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Old Faithful Inn, 1916 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
A History of Van Buren Street. I would like to quote a few lines from a paper by the ASU School of Design on the history of the Wilson School District and Community. (Here is the link to the study: )
Van Buren Street saw its greatest glory after World War II with the popularization and affordability of the automobile. During this time period Van Buren Street was the major thoroughfare through Phoenix as part of U.S. Route 60 to Los Angeles. Van Buren is straddled by U.S. Route 80, “the Broadway of America,” which brought people west from Texas and east from San Diego, and U.S. 89, which carried people from Mexico to Canada. Van Buren Street saw one of its first hotels, the Rose, built in 1929 and later placed on the Register of Historic Places. Soon row upon row of autocourts and motels competed with souvenir stands for tourist business on Route 60. In 1950, 37 motels and autocourts lined Van Buren Street. By 1960 the autocourts had disappeared, replaced by motels, now 39 in number. Many developers in the late 1950s, including Del Webb who built the Highway House, later the Travelodge, built swanky resort hotels to lure more upscale tourists to the area. Three major resorts were built during this time, the Highway House, the Desert Hills, and the Kon Tiki Motel. Some of the hotels left large areas relatively vacant in the middle of their complexes hoping space could be used for casinos at some time in the future when gambling would become legal in Arizona.
Stone Motel, 2114 East Van Buren, Phoenix, or is it 2044 E. Van Buren? Why do I have two addresses for this motel?
The death of Van Buren Street as the major thoroughfare into Phoenix occurred with the building of Interstate 10 in the 1970s. By 1970, motels along Van Buren numbered 31, by 1980 only 20 remained. Today Van Buren Street remains depressed, its remaining hotels and motels have gone to seed. Only the King’s Rest remains on the National Historic Registry. Both the Desert Hills (now the Salvation Army) and the Highway House (now the abandoned women’s prison) have been recycled into institutional buildings.
Camp Phoenix, 2220 East Van Buren. One of the early 'auto camps' as they were called. Notice the refrigeration cooling tower or, in other words, a giant, centralized swamp cooler. And no self-respecting auto camp is complete without Arizona's favorite game: shuffleboard, on concrete. Camp Montezuma, Camp Joy, Camp Phoenix and Autopia were probably the first generation of the new type of hotels on Van Buren, targeting the new type of traveller that appeared in the 1920s: the motorist and his family.
And more motels and establishments of like nature.
I really don't know how many hotels, motels, courts, inns, parks, camps and other overnight hospitality businesses have existed on Van Buren. Beyond the ones hon this page which I have found pictures or postcards of, I also have run across references to the places listed below (with street number). This is only for East Van Buren in Phoenix, mind you. I am sure that I have missed a bunch, in that motels would come and go, be built and torn down, sold and change names. There are even duplicate names for different street numbers, which may be my error, or maybe they moved. Here is a partial list:
Auto-O-Tel (unknown adress), Celebrity (333), Downtowner Lodge (501), Sesame Inn (541), Economy (804), Super Seven (938), Klose Inn Tourist Park (969), NC Auto Camp and Gas Station (1214), Palms Auto Court (1214), American (1601), American Auto Court (1607), Rose Court Motel (1617 1/2), Colorado Court (1619, 1617), US Cottages (1629), US Auto Court (1629), Home Auto Camp (1710, 1714), Fenix Auto Camp (1723), Mexico (1725), Coronado (1803), Winter Garden (1850), Eastside (1865), Near Town (1865), Camp Montezuma (1890, 1850), Tropic Motor Hotel (1902), Liberty Park (1903), Palace Auto Court (1911), Hall's Motel (1925), Pullman (1930), Arizona Motel (1930), Shady Park Auto Camp (1937), Korner (1940), Antrys (2004), L-Bar-K (2004), El Dorado (2006), Sun Court Auto Camp (2006), Mary's Motel (2006), Orange Auto Court (2008), Waggoner (2018), Bridges (2020), Lucille's Motel (2021), Hellen's Cottages (2021), Rainbow Auto Court (2022), Lorena (2045), Steering Wheel Motel (2045), Cross R (2104), C and E Motel (2104), Tip Top Court (2109), Valley Motel (2125), Del Coosha (2125), Irish (2133), R-V Motel (2133), Southwest (2137), Shannon Auto Court (2160), Camp Phoenix (2220), Thompson Motel (2228), Travelers Motel (2228), Roosevelt (2230), Rest Haven (2230), Airport Central (2247), Olympic Trailer (2308), Sky Harbor (2323), El Rancho Veijo (2353), H and R Auto Court (2364), Columbia (2501), Hialeak Courts (2502), Sun Villa (2529), Silver Dollar (2529), Wonderland (2535), Thunderbird (2601), Lazy A Motel (2635), Frontier Motor Hotel (2823), Dutch Gardens (2832), Navajo (2832), Keystone Lodge (2834), Alamo Plaza Motor Court (2835), Zira (2836), Sahuaro (2841), Franciscan (2900), Ranch House (2909), Desert Pool (2922), Fantasyland (2922), Hudson Lodge (2935), Calico Cat (3001), Bellevue (3001), Hawthorne Motel (3001), Circle Inn (3030), Blue Skies (3033), El Grande (3035), Wards Motor Hotel (3037), Palm Lane (3037), Chilton Inn Motel (3037), Dolores Tip Top Inn (3109), Robin Hood (3221), Circle (3221), Texan Motel (3221), Navajo (3232), Penn Motel (3239), Pennsylvania (3239), Motor Inn Court (3301), Whittles Motor Court (3301), Nendels Valu Inn (3307), Pyramid Motel (3307), Rancho de Oro (3325), Airport Days Inn (3333), Red Star (3400), Blue Crown (3401), Winfoot Court (3405), Crest Lodge (3411), Joyland Motel (3449), Park View Tourist Court (3500), Joyland Trailer (3501), El Rita (3513), Joyland Park (3515), Triple T (3517), Hollywood (3517), Camelback View (3539), ABC (3541), Parkview Inn (3547), King's Motel (3553), Camelback (3600), Aztec (3603 and 3613), Bonito Trailer (3605), Trails End (3547), Welcome Trailer Inn (3605), Plaza Trailer Inn (3627), Sun Valley (3641), Phoenix Sun Motel (3644), Yaqui (3690), Alamo (3701), Beach Ray (3701), Gateway (3706), Lone Star (3707), Mayflower (3710), Thrifty (3725), Alamo (3751), State Motor Lodge (3810), Sunset Motel (3818), Imperial 400 (3830), Alamo Plaza (3835), Stouffer (3838), Continental Guest Lodge (3901), Modern Court (3939), Rossers Court (3939), Royal View (4065), Thompson Court (4100), Wildwood Lodge (4100), Green Glen (4107), Comfort Inn (4120), El Don (4130), Red Horse Motel (4130), Starlite (4131), Silver Spur (4140), Golden West Lodge (4150), Twilight Lodge (4216), Aricopa (4311), Traveler's Lodge (4433), Bronco (4630), Edgerton's Motel (4630), Hilltop (5147), Motel de Manana (5200), Bollinger Cottages (5218), Minnesota Cottage (5218), Motel Six (5315), Ultra (5333), Lariat (5339), Park Motel (5344), Papago Vista (5445), Cottage Court (6610), Dixie (6600).
The idea here is when I find a picture of any of these, I will remove it from this list and add it to this page with the image according to the street number of the establishment. When I started this project in early 2006, I thought there were about 50 at most. Well, I am sure I have hit almost 150 on the East side and there are many, many motels still missing.
Traveler's Motel, 2228 E. Van Buren.
Don't know much about this small motel except that it existed at one time.
Camp Joy, 2229 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
This is one of the first motels on Van Buren, built in the cottage campground style. The postcard is from the 1920s, and it was at the time beyond the eastern city limit of Phoenix, in the country. The back of the postcard says: Most Modern and Beautiful Auto Camp in Arizona. Rates $1.00 a Day and Up. Air Colled, Steam Heat. Present this card to manager and he will do his best to please you.
Holiday Inn, 2247 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
There was a Holiday Inn starting probably in the 1960s. Before that there appears to have been a small sandwich shop called Dinette (You name the sandwich, we'll build it!) witha soda fountain. I don't know if this was associated to a motel.
El Rancho Viejo, 2353 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
I think the dog's name is Jezebel. Other motels might have been fancier, but they didn't have a talking dog answering the phone.
Green Parrot Motel, 2360 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
The Green Parrot was a well known motel and postcards of it are quite common. Then one day I saw one that showed a name change. The Green Parrot was now the Jay Hawk Motel. Same place, different bird. I tried to buy it but was outbid. I didn't think anybody else wanted an old postcard from an obscure motel.
Wrangler Motel "in the Valley of the Sun". Another listed at 2360 East Van Buren. 37 units. Was this before or after the Green Parrot or Jayhawk? Don't know. There was no date on the postcard. Where have I seen that sign before?
H and R Auto Court. I don't have an address, but I have seen this listed as being on VB. I am putting it here til I find out where is was located. Ha, found it! It was at 2364 East Van Buren - Where the KonTiki was later built. This one is an early auto courts from the 1930s. I am sure there were at least two or three other establishments after this and before the KonTiki, but I have no record of them.
Kon Tiki Hotel, 2364 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Certainly the last and greatest of the hotels and motels on Van Buren. "A little bit of Waikiki in the heart of Phoenix." It was as nice as any hotel in town, and it marked the end of an era. Jet airplanes had arrived at Sky Harbor and Van Buren was already in decline. I have a postcard that describes the Kon Tiki as follows: Fabulous Polynesean atmosphere in the midst of Phoenix. Only minutes to all business and points of interest. One "short mile" from Phoenix Sky-harbor Airport. Complete hotel services with personal attention, and Kon Tiki enjoys the City's most wonderful food by the valley's finest chef -- Come to the Kon Tiki and take away a life long memory.
I remember the Kon Tiki well. In 1966, I took a girl for a dinner date there with 20 bucks in my pocket. I thought I would impress her, but it was a horrible experience because of the prices. I let her order first and then I ordered the cheapest item on the menu. I spent the meal worring about the bill, if I would have enough money. I still remember the cost was $19.18. Not much of a tip but at least we didn't have to do dishes. This was when a hamburger was still 25 cents and you could eat like a king at Monti's or Bill Johnson's Big Apple for $5.
24th Street and Van Buren - home of the first great institution in Phoenix. In the 1880s, as Arizona territory was growing and getting organized, the political leaders got together, and as politicians will often do, they sat down to divide the spoils of power. The issue was 'who got what' for the new Territory. Flagstaff was the capital and it already had the state government so it didn't get anything. Yuma was a small community down in the desert, and it was already famous as a "hell-on-earth" kind of place, so they gave it the territorial prison. Tempe was a quiet community in the center of everything, so they gave it the state normal school, with the mission to produce teachers to educate the state's children. Tucson, the biggest city by far, was given the university. Boy, did they complain. That left the most coveted prize of all for the fast-growing town of Phoenix. They got the Insane Asylum, and boy were they happy. Maybe there were then, as now, a lot of crazy folks in Phoenix, and they figured they needed it. All I know is that in the 1950s, when I was young, we would always refer to "24th and Van Buren" and then make a little circling motion by our head.
Arizona's most famous woman of all time. In 1931 half of the people of Phoenix lined the streets to see Winnie Ruth Judd, known for her packing and carving skills. It seems she was accused of improper conduct with a gun and butcher knife (or hatchet) and ended up at the State Hospital at 24th and Van Buren, where she lived for 40 years, except the five times when she escaped (once for 6 years). Ok, I'll tell you more about Winnie. She was married to a certain Dr Judd (she: 26 he: physician, 56) but was having an hot, wild affair with a local playboy named Jack Halloran. It seemed that Winnie had some competition in the form of two girl friends (also her lovers). Winnie ends competition by sending them back to California by train - in little pieces in two trunks. Winnie also takes a train to California, carrying on her lap a fancy box with the internal organs of one of her friends. Things take a turn for worse at the LA train station when somebody noticed red stuff seeping from one of the trunks (not to mention the stench). Bad packing! Bummer. My aunt remembers the Judd "Trunk Murder" trial as the biggest event ever to happen in Phoenix, and was one of the two most famous (or infamous) trials in all of America in the 1930s (the other was the Lingbergh baby murder case). She (my aunt) said you could always tell when people were talking about Winnie and her exploits, because adults would stop talking or whisper if children were around. The fact is that, more the anyone, the "Tiger Woman" or the "Blonde Butcher" or even "Arizona Tigress," put Arizona on the map. It wasn't until 1964, with Goldwater, that another Arizonan achieved the fame that Winnie had. Anyway, Winnie beat the rap by being declared insane, the day before she was supposed to fry. I guess this was fair, because her stories of wild sex, wild parties, wild drinking and wild murder provided a morbid degree of entertainment and a much needed distraction that made people forget, for a while, the troubles of the Depression Era. She died in 1998, in Phoenix, with her beloved knife in hand (see photo!). Winnie was so famous that reporters would take pictures of anything relating to her. Here is a photo from a press release about her cell in jail.
Van Buren Airport. Now across the street, directly in front of the Asylum, is the location of one of Phoenix's earliest airfields. Yes, Van Buren had an airport. Some manuscripts seem to indicate that the Van Buren Airport was what Sky Harbor was called before it was purchased by the City of Phoenix. I think that these were two different landing strips, and two different airports. Why would Sky Harbor be called Van Buren airport when it was almost a mile south, even below Washington Street. Here is an image of the area in the 1930s. Although the airfield is gone, this picture shows an empty field in front of the Asylum where the airport once was. Here is a link to my page about the 80 or so airports that once existed in the Phoenix area:
Mission Motel, 2433 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
In 2006 the place has no sign and no street number. Notice the location map on the old postcard on the right. It looks strange to me. North is down, so the orientation is reversed.
Flamingo Hotel, 2501 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Another of the great hotels of the era. Notice the "Cooled by refrigeration" notice on the sign. I wonder what happened to the giant pink flamingo?
Log Cabin Motel, 2515 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
It is still there, but I do not recommend this place for anyone. I remember ten years or so ago some older couple came back through Phoenix retracing their honeymoon trip. They pulled up to the Log Cabin, where they had stayed in the 1950s, and one look said "get out". Maybe it was the "adult" movie on the sign, maybe it was the hourly rates, maybe it was the general seedy look to the joint. The roaches went hungry.
A Night in the Log Cabin. I also remember a story in the Phoenix New Times mag (aka, Alternative Newspaper) about a reporter that wrote an article about spending a night in the Log Cabin. Now that tells you all you need to know. Some people look for adventure in sky diving, others go rock climbing and some swim with sharks. If I remember correctly, the story was written in a way to indicate that real adventure was spending a night in a sleazy motel on Van Buren.
Update: I found the story online. It is here: (http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/1995-07-27/news/night-in-a-log-cabin/)
Sun Villa Motel, 2529 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
The writer said that a person could probably figure out the nature of the business because the 'guest' registration card carried a warning that said guest will "be exposed to adult motion picture entertainment. Among both natural and unnatural... " and so on. Enough said. If you want adventure, I suggest something tame, like playing with rattlesnakes.
This old motel is about gone. Only the front office is left. No Vacancy! I have seen ads saying "Free station wagon service from the Airport!" At long last, I found an old postcard - it says: On U.S. Highways 60, 70, 80, 89, 24 modern units, hotel rooms and completely furnished kitchenette apartments. Air conditioned and panel ray vented heat. Tubs and tiled showers, radios and car ports. Lounge furniture for sun bathing and covered patio for relaxation and evening television. Member A.M.H.A. and Chamber of Commerce Approved.
Thunderbird Motel, 2601 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
As you can see only a sign is left, and not much of a sign. The lot is vacant, with concrete slabs where each cottage once stood.
Arizona Motel, 2625 East Van Buren, Phoenix. Three views of a simple classic motel that has changed but continues the same. The yellow postcard is from the early 1940s. On the back it says: "All cottages with air conditioning, fluorescent lighting and inner spring mattresses." Yes, there is nothing like fluorescent lighting to attract the tourist looking for rest or excitement.
The sole survivors. The Log Cabin and the Arizona Motel are, as far as I know, the only two motels left from the glory days. I can't say they haven't changed, but they are still around. Of the 100, 150 or even 200 hotels that have existed on East Van Buren, these are the only two that still have the original names and buildings. All the others are gone. The Arizona Motel is in pretty bad state, even worse than the Log Cabin. I stopped at a few other establishments that still exist but with different names, and the people in them knew very little about the history of the building. One lady in a temporary housing complex did point to a picture on the wall showing the Villa Motel in its former glory. At another I found a middle-aged emaciated bottle blond, very much worse for the wear, behind a desk and totally unconcerned with Van Buren as it was 50 years ago, or even 5 minutes before. She only had about four teeth. I am sure this would not happen in Scottsdale.
They may not last much longer. The Arizona is for sale. I found this ad on a site specialing in hotel real estate:
Full Description: Located in the heart of Phoenix near new Metro Rail station coming soon!!, Area is developing very quickly with new businesses. 19 units with 10 kitchenettes, with newly built 3 bedroom managers apartment, 3 storage rooms, guest laundry makes an additional side income, guestroom include private bath, TV's, A/C, fridge and phones in all rooms, Microwaves in some rooms, Hotel operates on long term guests as well as overnight travelers, located just minutes from Downtown Phoenix near major businesses such as St. Joes medical center, county jail, Near new ASU college, Phoenix Suns Stadium, Diamondback stadium, metro rail is being built right behind the motel. Motel has lots on both sides availble for sale to expand the current motel or build a new business, apartments, the possibilties are endless with this location. Located to close major artery highways 202, 60, I-10. Just minutes from State Capitol, Secretary of State. Centrally located in the heart of Phoenix situating you 20 minutes from all metro Phoenix Cities. Motivated seller is willing to carry for a qualified buyer. Call today Location, Location, Location!!!
Notice the Indian name in the classified ad. I bet over half of the independent hotels in America are owned and operated by Indians (of the sub-continent variety, not the local Native Americans). The ad says it was built in the 1960s. Heck, in the 1960s the Arizona was already old enough to vote, have kids or even grandkids.
The Log Cabin, too! Less than a month (6/2007) after losing its "Rent by Hour" license, the Log Cabin is for sale (See story below "Motels surrender hour-rate licenses" at the 3600 blockremarks). It is the end on an era.
Roadside Auto Lazy A Motel, 2635 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Rose Bowl Motor Court, 2645 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Obviously this is one of the earlier motels on Van Buren, probably from the 1930s. The back of the postcard says: "a truly modern, 28 unit, insulated and air-conditioned, fire-proof motel with full tile showers. Kitchenettes - Radios - Garages." Here we have an early view and then a later one.
So what happened to Van Buren? It was not just one thing or two. It was a combination of many factors: The jet age (people flying and leaving their cars at home), the new Interstate highways (no need to take US Route 60), the tremendous growth and deconcentration of all major cities in the Valley of the Sun, the fact that the more elegant and affluent parts of Phoenix moved northward, the change in demographics of the Central area (the so-called "white flight"), and the change in life styles and entertainment choices for the general American public. All of these contributed to make Van Buren a classic study in urban decay.
Even so, if you can remember Phoenix in the 1950s or early 60s, you may remember the glory that was Van Buren. May I quote from
an article by Susy Buchanan in the New Times:
Van Buren is like a spurned lover -- adored and then discarded by the city it helped fashion from desert and dust. Back when the street was known as Route 60, it was the pride of Phoenix, a resort destination of glittery neon and sparkling swimming pools. From 1910 to the late 1960s, piano bars and dance halls gave it class and attitude. For more than half a century, if you came to Phoenix, Van Buren was the place to be, the main road traveled.
...Today, in a city where 50 years ago is ancient history, almost no one remembers the souvenir stands and flashy auto courts the street was known for in the '50s. These days, East Van Buren only comes up in news reports about serial killers, serial rapists, pimps, juvenile prostitution, gunshots, drug dealing and big busts by police of unsuspecting johns.
Ms. Buchanan sees a new twinkle in East Van Buren's eye; she thinks that renewal is around the corner; she believes that the City and Maricopa County are going to join hands, sing kumbayah and make Van Buren better; she thinks there is hope - I have my doubts.
Some of the new investment twinkle may not be so welcome. When Esteban Sauer wrote his article Forever yours (October 28, 2004) about Preserve A Life, a company that had recently relocated from British Columbia to just off Van Buren in central Phoenix, the editors received over 1,500 calls (mostly complaints) about the business and the article. What Preserve A Life (PAL) does is a revolutionary new process known as "humidermy" in which human remains undergo a taxidermy type process, so they are left lifelike and available for display at home. As the article says:
Mrs. Dunlop... (the deceased) could be "mounted" in a seated position, so her family could enjoy her presence at family functions, or just watch Jay Leno with her. He also quietly advised that, even though it didn't seem possible as the family was grieving, there would be times when it would be inappropriate to have grandmother in plain view. During those times, her countenance could be stored in the hallway closet, since her legs could easily be adjusted to a standing position.
Though Preserve A Life has by all accounts done a marvelous job of treating Mrs. Dunlop's skin, stretching it over a fiberglass model made to fit her proportions exactly, and inserting glass eyes, with the option of leaving the eyelids open or closed, there are occasional rips and tears that have to be daubed with a special putty from the Preserve A Life Home Repair Kit. Additionally, a lingering, musty smell sometimes hovers about Mrs. Dunlop, an odor technicians at Preserve A Life say has nothing to do with death, but is a natural product of the skin of seniors, referred to by some as "that old person smell." Gloria often leaves potpourri near Mrs. Dunlop's body, or simply uses Glade air freshener."
And so on. According to the article, Phoenix Mayor Gordon sees PAL as a fundamental initiative to revitalize the Van Buren area. Even so, many neighbors don't like having the 62,000 square foot facility around, and could care less about the boost of the projected $500 million investment. The fact is why did they choose Van Buren? Why couldn't PAL have been located on Camelback, or Lincoln Drive in Paradise Valley or in Snottsdale? Why Van Buren? Here is the link to the article about this company and their activities
and - even better - here is the link to some published letters and emails complaining about the corporation and the report. Here are a few comments from those letters: "bizarre," "shocking," "repugnant and fascinating," "morbid, tasteless and hilarious" "Forever Yours was the most disgusting, disturbing and deplorable article I have ever read. How frightening to think this society has plummeted to such depths. It ruined my quiet Halloween evening!. The answer is that it had to be Van Buren - only Van Buren had the stature and character to host an enterprise and story like that of Preserve-a-life. Anyway, I got off-topic, again. Back to Van Buren, again.
Sea Breeze Motor Hotel, 2701 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
A mighty strong breeze, that, considering that the ocean is 300 miles away! It advertized itself as the "Largest Deluxe Motor Court in Arizona, Air conditioned by Refrigeration (the only one in Phoenix), Steam Heated, Circulating Ice Water, Four minutes from center of town, east on highways 60-70-80-89. Question: Is the Sea Breeze Tourist Village (first image) the same place as the Sea Breeze motel? Was it remodeled? Anyway, those first two old postcards are fascinating!
Desert Hills, 2745 East Van Buren, Phoenix and also 2707 in some postcards.
Slogan: "As new as tomorrow." These pool pictures are always full of people. I bet that every staff member and everybody in their families were conscripted for these pictures. This is now a very large Salvation Army center, also known as the Herberger Center. It is home to many social service programs. These include the following: Kaiser Family Center, Elim House Shelter, Family Services (food, clothing, utility, rent, emergency and other assistance); senior housing; and the Christmas warehouse. I have nothing but respect for this organization, they do good work.
So how bad are the motels on Van Buren? Well, here are some comments (reviews) of three different hotels taken from two different travel sites on the Internet:
...Worst hotel I have EVER stayed in. The neighborhood is seedy and dangerous. Surrounding motels are all "X rated movies in the rooms" kinds of places.
You get the idea - and those were reviews for some of the better hotels on Van Buren! Actually, if you go to the popular travel sites, you will see that although many Van Buren motels are listed, few have acutally reviews or comments from travelers. This may be because: a. the people that frequent such establishments cannot write or do not have Internet, b. they sure aren't going to let other people know they were there, or c. They did not survive the experience.
...The room was dirty, shabby, nothing but a bed and table with a view of the parking lot and a dirty bathroom. Heard a frightening, screaming, drunken domestic dispute taking place in the parking lot which scared me so much I wanted to check out but was afraid to leave the room. I hardly slept all night because I was afraid someone would try to break in thru the balcony glass doors.
...Staff were sullen and unhelpful. 50's diner style restaurant had ants crawling over the table! Yes, it's all true -- this place is the pits. Stay away!!
...After parking my car, was propositioned twice before even getting to the front desk
...Got flea bites all over my neck and face. It is horrible. And non-smoking room has strong smoking odor. Horrible experience.
...Dont even consider staying here for one minute... stay in a local park, in a box rented from wal-mart or simply spend an extra $40 and stay somewhere proper
...I would only return to this motel if i had an entourage of 5 Range Rovers all bullet proof filled with Ex Russian bodygaurds, armed with AK47's., Even then the motel would have to have been taken over by RITZ.
...We thought the neighborhood was bad on our way in... only to find 2 scroungy guys in a fist fight in the parking lot. Never checked in... took the loss of the non refundable charge and stayed somewhere else.
...Very nice management and very friendly. Proud to go again. Nice meal, nice rooms, nice everything!!! where can you get a better place like this:)
About this picture - it is a photograph of a burned out building on Van Buren Street with a drunk passed out next to the sidewalk, with his trusty bottle nearby. I didn't know what to do with it so I put it here. Update: this building is gone. It was torn down.
We are about halfway down Van Buren now, so lets continue our trip...
Navo-Mex Curio Shop, 2820 East Van Buren, Phoenix. This is a postcard of one of the four curio shops on VB. According to the thesaurus, curio means knick-knack, bric-a-brak, ornaments, stuff or junk. Take your pick. We would now probably call them souvenir and craft stores, but back in the 1940s and 50s the word was curio, as in curiosity. The most famous, or infamous, of these shops was Tate's (see below) down near 52nd Street.
Frontier Lodge Motor Hotel, 2823 East Van Buren, Phoenix. This place went through a few changes in its existance, as seen in the pictures.
Copa Inn, 2834 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Fenced in, boarded up - just about to die. It is dead! As I was driving down VB in mid March 2007 I see demolition people tearing down the Copa. One more old motel bites the dust! By the end of the month the buildings are all gone, and also the sign.
Zira Court, 2836 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
"When in Phoenix, inspect this new, up-to-date, Tourist Court. Insulated and Air-Conditioned. Apts with Kitchens. In shopping district. Only 5 minutes to City Center." There was no date on the post card and no cars in the picture to give me an idea of the date. It does use a 1 cent stamp. My guess is that the photo is from the early 1950s, and the Zira's buildings became the Copa.
Red Barn Motel and Barn Door restaurant, 2853 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
I guess we know where the Deserama (see below) got its sign. Actually, sometimes when there are two or more motels with the same address, it is often hard to determine which came first. Some didn't last very long.
Deserama Motel, 2853 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Here are two pictures, one from the 1960s or early 1970s, and again in 2006. The new name is "Otel" and the sign also says it has a "ool" - who needs the first letters of words... Here is the description from an old postcard: 52 rooms, Refrigerated, TV, Telephone, Conveniently Located to many points of interest. Update: I took another picture of the Deserama in March 2007 when they were tearing down the Copa Inn across the street. It, too, is about to die. Old furniture is piled up in front, behind the wire fence. The wreckers will be visiting this motel soon, I think. On 3/28 only the sign and the palms trees are left. By the end of April 2007 everything is gone, except a single palm tree. Bye bye Deserama. One more motel bites the dust. The pigeons will miss you.
The most infamous motel...
I though of this because there was also a comment in which a writer said he would rather stay in Bates Motel. No, Bates Motel, from Alfred Hitchock's classic horror movie Psycho, was not on Van Buren - but Van Buren is in Psycho. Remember, the film begins in Phoenix as the camera pans south across Central Avenue, showing the eastern part of Phoenix including center buildings, the city skyline, Camelback Mountain and even Tempe Butte - and the downtown portion of Van Buren street is clearly visible as seen in the picture. The camera then zooms in on a building where Marion Crane (Janet Leigh,) in a state of partial undress (of course), meets her lover and plans her escape with the $40,000 stolen from her boss. She then flees to California where she has a meeting Norman Bates, his mother and a cold shower with thrilling background music. So, Van Buren is in Pyscho. Ms. Crane should have stayed in the Log Cabin.
The spot where it all began, part II. You are now in the vicinity of the place where Phoenix began, again. But I thought you said that above at the 18th street address? Yes, but Phoenix was 'founded' four times - It took a lot of work to get this town going. Somewhere near 28-30th street is the original original site of Phoenix, before it was moved and named down on 18th street. Actually this is really the second site because a prior attempt was first made to settle down on at about what is now 56th street, just beyond the Pueblo Grande ruins.
Swilling tells the worker not to bother laying that brick, because they are moving again.
- Like I said before, Jack Swilling and a group of pioneers built a settlement in the vicinity of what is now Van Buren and 28th Street. They called it Swilling's Mill, then Helling Mill and then Mill City. Still nobody liked the name. Swilling suggested Stonewall. Nobody like that either because he (Stonewall Jackson) was a damn confederate (general) and about half of the settlers were damn yankees. It really didn't make any difference because they didn't like the place anyway.
So this is the site of the original Phoenix settlement, not the 18th street site (or this is the second one, depending on how you count them). Well, it isn't really the Phoenix site because here it was called Helling Mill (or, more appropriately, just 'Hell' in the Summer months). Phoenix only became Phoenix when Duppa recited Shakespeare's The Phoenix and the Turtle down the road at 18th street. Here are a few early maps that show Phoenix when it was just starting.
Tahiti Inn Huts, 2900 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Another one of the establishments belonging to the Polynesian phase that swept the nation in the early 1 960s. South Pacific themes were common in hotels, bars and restaurants and even in homes.
Ranch House, 2909 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
A small motor court. I don't know anything about this one.
El Molino Motel, 2913 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Don't know much about this one.
Motel Relax Inn, 2922 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
This is a picture from 2006. I haven't come across an earlier version. The Relax Inn was at one time part of the Villa Motel (see below).
The Dunes Motor Hotel, 2935 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
"Fun in the Sun." Nice little motel, about 1960. In 2006, No Name! Can this be the same one? Yes, it is the Dunes. Same sign, but only "kitchenettes" left. Another motel that is about to die, but it still is inhabited. I doubt that it has a pool, or if it is heated, as above. Many of these crumbling hotels are rented to immigrants for $200-400 a month, no questions asked. By 2007 the sign also is gone.
The Villa, 2970 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
This was called The Villa at one time. It boldly proclaimed "Resort Living in the Heart of Phoenix" on famous Van Buren street. Yeah, Van Buren is still famous. The Villa is now temporary 'assisted' housing, whatever that is. I have also seen the Villa listed at 2870 and 2922 as well as 2970 East Van Buren. Make up your mind! Oh yes, it appears that the Villa was divided into two establishments: one part is a temporary housing facility and the other part, on the West side, is now the Relax Inn (see above).
From sleazy motels to sleazy cars. Van Buren was once known for its hospitality businesses, now it is also known for its mobility businesses - on wheels, that is. Yesterday I drove down Van Buren and counted exactly 40 used car lots on the East side. Not a single establishment selling new cars, but lots of old used cars in an unknown state of operating condition. From the signs on the street, the sellers, for the most part, don't seem to be too particular about who buys the vehicles. As long as you have the green stuff, you got wheels. Well, that is what I deduct from phrases like we carry, buy here, pay here, credito facil, todos califican, sin ssn ok, sin credito o mal credito, sin ssn, bancarrota ok, no credit ok, licencia mexicana ok, credito para todos and so on... In other words, if you have a thousand dollars, they will sell you a $500 car, no questions asked, no background check, no id or driver's license needed. One sign I didn't see was "No down payment." Oh yes, if you are a rabbit, and want to take the furry family for a fast, fun filled ride, there's even a business that will sell you a jalopy.
Dreamland Mobile Home Park, 3033 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
A run-down trailer park. I am looking for an old picture of it. I thought I had one but can't find it. On the sign it has a 'rent to own' with depositos razonables notice and it also states that weapons are prohibited on the premises which are patrolled by armed guards. Another reason I included this picture was because I thought it was here that some guy kept his dead wife in his trailer, in bed under a blanket, for seven years. I checked it out and it was in a trailer park on McDowell, not Van Buren. Anyway, in all those years she never nagged him once, he said.
Romney Motor Hotel, 3037 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
HiwayHouse, 3148 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
This was a Del Webb venture - you know, the same folks that built Sun City (except that it didn't work out as well) and also owned the New York Yankees. They had great pretensions, building a very large hotel complex and even a convention center. Their motto: "Sleep is our business." The Hiway House advertised itself as the "King size playground of the South West," with a miniature train to attract the kids in the back seat. The Hiway House lasted about ten years and then was sold off. It went through several owners before the State of Arizona purchased the property and converted it to a women's prison, which was closed a few years ago. The miniature train was known as the Arizona & Pacific Railroad and the locomotive (word loosely used, there) was Engine No. 1 of the A&PRR, also called the "Phoenix." The tracks went from outside the lobby around the pool, through the gardens, to the cabanas. Even after the resort was sold, the train stayed on site in storage I guess, and was sold by the Department of Corrections in a public auction when they acquired the buildings (1995).
Phoenix Star Theatre, 3148 E. Van Buren.
This was originally part of the Del Webb Hiway House complex. They even built a huge theatre next to the resort. On the postcard, the Star Theatre has a Van Buren address, now it is called the Celebrity Theatre and is listed as 440 North 32nd Street.
The ASU paper (mentioned above) gives the following information on this establishment: The Star Theater was built in 1963 by Del Webb Corporation as a convention center for the Highway House Resort. During the summers, promoter Buster Bonoff staged Broadway musicals at the theater. In the late 1960s, the theater was renamed the Celebrity Theater and converted to a full-time concert hall, featuring a round center stage and seating 2,650 patrons intimately close to the performers. The 1970s and 1980s saw the Celebrity become the hottest theater in Phoenix, drawing national and international acts like Liberace, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Cream, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, and Frank Zappa and hosting musical productions like Funny Girl and South Pacific. The theater rapidly fell into disrepair in the 1990s... Today the Celebrity Theater must compete with similar venues in more attractive neighborhoods.
A moment of silence to remember the tragic story of Mike
Many sad, tragic things have happened on Van Buren in the last 100 years. There are tales of murder, sex, prostitution, crime, beatings, robbery - but there is one poignant event of the late 1940s that stands out. It is the story of Mike, which begins in the small town of Fruita, Colorado, around dinner time, when a guy chopped off Mike's head. The guy did a very bad job of it and, even decapitated, Mike lived. He not only lived, but became famous, appearing in Life Magazine and going on tour, earning about $4,500 a month (about $25,000 in today's currency!). The severed, useless head was put in a jar and went along, at least until eaten by a cat. It was one tragedy after another. Well, after two years of fame and fortune, in 1947, in a motel on Van Buren while in Phoenix, Mike accidentally choked to death on this food. A moment of silence for Old Mike. Here is a link to information about Mike: . This is a 100% true story and Mike even has a parade, a holiday in his hometown and an official web site. Viva Mike, the greatest and most famous of the headless chickens (see the thumbnail image for part of a webpage about Mike, and about him being more famous than Clinton).
Navajo Motel, 3232 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
This is only here because the sign is so ugly, so amateurish, so kitsch that it has a certain charm. I don't know if this is an old motel or what, but I like the sign. The picture doesn't do it justice.
Pyramid Motel, 3301 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Another Arabian-themed hotel on Van Buren. I have also seen this as a 3307 address. This part of the road was once called 'Little Arabia' (Caravan, Bagdad, Pyramid, Sands). All that was lacking was a belly-dancer (good idea) and a warrior yelling 'jihad' (bad idea!). It billed itself as "Phoenix newest" and had room phones (wow), refrigeration (wipee), and free TV (double wow). The postcard is from the arly 1970s and says it has a 50ft heated pool and is "in the heart of Motel Row". The Pyramid is still around.
Caravan Inn, 3323 and 3333 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Sometimes the 3323 address is used, more often it is 3333. The back of the postcard says: Phoenix' most modern inn on Highway 60-70-80 combines motor hotel convenience with metropolitan hotel service. Phoenix and Scottsdale shopping centers are close by the OASIS, intimate restaurant and cocktail lounge in Caravan Inn is one of Phoenix' most popular dining places.
This place is best known as being purchased by the good Rev. Roger Rudin in the 1980s (?), an austere, respectable Pentecostal preacher and one time owner of the Westward Ho. By day RR was a preacher on intimate terms with the Lord, who even made him (RR) His (God's) official end time prophet. At night, he was Roger Rudino, a flamboyant, colorful character that entertained intimate gay friends at his glitzy Paradise Lounge establishment. Somehow for years he managed to fool both communities, ripping off both and leaving many if not fond memories.
Bagdad Inn, 3335 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
I'm not sure, but this is probably just a later reincarnation of the Caravan Inn above with a different street number.
Sands, 3400 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Simply known as "the Sands" it was a large well-known hotel that endured for decades. It is now the New Day Center, the largest Family Homeless Shelter in Phoenix, run by the United Methodist Outreach Ministry (UMOM) to meet "the needs of homeless and hungry persons in our community, building a bridge to self sufficiency through unique programs" so that men, women and children can break the cycle of homelessness and poverty. We hope!
Crest Lodge, 3411 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
I really don't know much about this place. This is the only postcard I've seen of it.
Desert Rose Motor Hotel, 3424 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Closed in 2000. It had a diner that dated from the original 1957 building.
Valley Garden, 3441 East Van Buren, Phoenix. - One of the early trailer Parks, also rentals for travelers. This is probably from the late 1920s or early 1030s.
ABC Court, 3541 East Van Buren, Phoenix. Another early motel. This postcard is from the 1940s.
Desert Sky Hotel, 3541 East Van Buren, Phoenix. Obviously this establishment was built after the ABC was torn down.
The cops and VB. Another pause here in our journey down Van Buren, or 'VB' as it is known on the street and in the police blotters or crime logs. In the 1990s, VeeBee was mainly known for one thing: prostitution. VeeBee was known as 'hooker heaven.' It was where the ladies of the night, whores, harlots, sex workers, putas or hos went to ply their trade. The main area for this illicit commerce was between 16th and 40th streets, in general, and between 24th and 32nd, in particular. Young and old, fat and thin, pretty and ugly, they would sell their bodies at the standard rates, or even less if desperate for a fix. Sometime around 2000 Sheriff Joe Arpaio, having ended all crime in the rest of Phoenix, turned his attention to the streetwalkers on VB. I am not an expert, but it does seem like now (2006) there are a lot fewer 'girls' on the street than there were 10 years ago (I used the words girls lightly, since some of the girls arrested have been found to be in their 60s and 70s). I suppose that whereas ten years ago you would see maybe 20 to 30 women on the sidewalks, usually on the south side, now on a typical evening at 5 PM you see 2 or 3. That is an improvement, I guess. I would also like to say that I work in downtown Phoenix and live in the Papago Park area, so I usually take McDowell home, but once in a while I drop down to Van Buren (particularly now as I am writing this page). Speaking about McDowell, it is another street that has seen better days. From "Miracle Mile" to dump runner-up, McDowell Road also leaves a lot to be desired. I have included here a graphical representation of crime in Phoenix from the Police Department web page. Yes, Van Buren has two pretty bad orange hot spots - at 16th and 24th streets, but the Maryvale area around 51st Avenue and McDowell is worse. It is almost bright red! The question then is if two bright orange spots is worse than one red spot....
Van Buren goes to the Supreme Court. In the early 1960s an 18-year-old woman was walking down Van Buren, returning from work to her home near 7th street, when she was abducted, kidnapped, raped and robbed by a certain Ernesto Pablo Montoya Miranda. Well, Miranda was criminal scum, but he was scum with good legal advice. His case was (in my opinion) one of the three most famous (or influential) cases ever to come before the US Supreme court (The others were the Dred Scott decision about slavery and the Brown vs. the Board of Eduation ruling, about integration and civil rights). In 1966 the Court ruled that Miranda had been denied his constitutional rights and thus was born the famous "Miranda" warning used by police today: You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney and to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you at no cost. During any questioning, you may decide at any time to exercise these rights, not answer any questions or make any statements. If Van Buren Street had been a better place, this would not have happened, or not to the young lady. Oh yes, Miranda was later killed in a bar fight and his attacker was arrested and read his Miranda Warning rights. He then declined to give a statement, and so he was released and then fled to Mexico. Is that irony or justice or what? I guess this was the only case in American judicial history that an accused was read both his and the victim's rights at the same time.
Van Buren is all over the Internet. While doing research for this article, using words like "Van Buren" and "motel", you may come across forums in which people discuss the pros and cons of the sex business, the 'workers' and their 'qualifications', their writers experiences and give advice (if you want to call it that). Here is a quote from one of them:
VB is only good from about 43rd Ave east to 7th Ave, then pretty much the cops run off any streetwalkers between 7th Ave east to 7th Street. Sort of a DMZ for Ho's. Then the action picks up again going all the way from 7th St to 44th St. They are building some nice business buildings and hotels down by 44th Street. There are a bunch of the old roach motel torn down and empty lots. They are supposed to revitalize it.
The postings get worse, much worse. It is not for the feint of heart, so no link. The letters "VB" appear constantly in these discussions, in spite of Sheriff Joe's best efforts - that pretty much tells you all you need to know about the neighborhood....
Be aware of a few things though. On 7th Street from VB to Loop 202, those ladies are not always what they seem. They are mostly shemales. Also from 7th Street to 16th Street many of the Latinas are actually Latinos too! (This is the section of VB where Danny Bonaduce from the Partridge Family beat up a shemale hooker either before, after, or during ....
But things are about to get better. This is from a recent Arizona Republic article (Apr. 4, 2007):
Motels surrender hour-rate licenses
Wow, it only took the police a year to find evidence that these places were linked to prostitution, drugs and crime. I don't think they have top worry about the Copa, at least.
Let's continue our trip on Van Buren...
Phoenix Drive-In, 3600 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
You can't rent motel rooms by the hour in Phoenix anymore.
After a yearlong police investigation, the last of the city's hourly motels surrendered its sexually oriented business license on Tuesday.
The licenses allowed motels to rent rooms by the hour and advertise adult movies on the exterior of their buildings. But police say the motels were inextricably linked to prostitution. When the police investigation began last year, only three motels still held the licenses. All were on East Van Buren Street, a known corridor for prostitution.
As police built cases and motels surrendered their sexually oriented business licenses over the past year, violent crime fell nearly 48 percent in the area and prostitution arrests decreased by more than 71 percent.
During the police investigation, detectives found evidence to show prostitution was taking place at each of the motels and that the owners knew about it, Scott said. Subsequent court proceedings resulted in each of the motels giving up their licenses.
The following motels surrendered licenses in Phoenix:
o The Log Cabin, 2515 E. Van Buren St.
o The Copa Motel, 2834 E. Van Buren St.
o The Classic Inn, 1865 E. Van Buren St. now called the Desert Winds Motel.
Probably the first drive-in movie place in Arizona. It was built in the 1940s, after World War 2. By the way, here is a link to a great site about the history of an important aspect of Americana: the Drive-In Theater:
Theatre Motel - and Drive In Movie Theatre, 3602 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Wow, a motel and a drive-in theatre. Notice the big outdoor screen of the Phoenix in the background. "Movies under Arizona Stars. Open year round. Theatre Motel Apartments, finest in the Southwest." I found another card and I pasted the back words on it. It says: "World's finest cinema auto amphitheatre."
Sun Valley Motel, 3641 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Another early motel, probably built in the late 1940s.
Vagabond Motel, 3644 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
A later motel, probably from the 1960s, based upon the style of the buildings. In 2006, it is now the Phoenix Sunrise Motel.
Yaqui Motor Lodge, 3650 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
OnUS60, 70, 80, 89 - Phoenix, Arinoza. The back of the postcard says: All modern, some units with kichenettes. Air cooled, vented heat. Adobe construction. Spacious laws. Member of Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.
A new, improved Van Buren? Actually the Old lady is getting better. There is some new construction and a few upgrades. VB is still a dump, but a better one. Every year the Phoenix City council meets and talks about the "revitalization" or "renewal" of Van Buren. They talk about doing great new projects on what they call "The Van Buren Corridor" and nothing happens. A local newspaper recently ran a story with this byline: "New investment sparkle is showing up on East Van Buren, a part of Phoenix that for years suffered under the tarnish of urban blight." Suffered? Past tense? Yes, a few things have been done, but VB is still a dump. There are also a few nice residential projects between 7th Street and 12th, but this area is usually considered more "Center" than "Van Buren" and it is for the most part outside the traditional VB district. You can get a basic idea of the state of the street from the title of a recent article in the New Times: "Tough Row to Ho - Can the city's seediest street ever be cleaned up, much less gentrified? Here is the link: from a 2004 issue.
Actually I take issue with that line about Van Buren being the "seediest street" in the city. It is not the seediest street in town. It may be the biggest of the seedy streets but even that is debatable. For example, Buckeye Road is as seedy as Van Buren, and I would rather take my chances on Van Buren at midnight than on many other streets in South or West Phoenix. On thing, however, is certain: that Van Buren has fallen the farthest - from showcase and gateway to what it is now and has been for the last thirty years is quite a tumble.
Still, things are improving. Here are a few lines from a website dedicated to urban redevelopmwent issues:(http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/archive/index.php/t-99228.html)
The Van Buren area is part of Mayor Phil Gordon's "Opportunity Corridor," the name he coined for the area between Van Buren Street and the Salt River, from the state Capitol east through Phoenix to the Tempe border.
Lone Star Motel, 3707 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
The area is filled with industrial properties, large distribution buildings, rental car businesses, vacant lots, a variety of industrial businesses, and aging motels and other under-utilized properties.
Commercial brokers say the checkerboard of small businesses and vacant lots present major challenges when it comes to assembling a large enough property for redevelopment.
"It is an emerging market," C. said. "The only reason it hasn't been redeveloped in the past is that there hasn't been a catalyst for it to occur, and I think the catalyst is the light rail."
No Name!, 3707 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
At 37th street, on the south side, there is this modest group of old motel units, without a name or sign. This may the the remains of the Alamo or Lone Star. No sign of Davy Crockett, anywhere.
No Name, son of..., 3710 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
I don't have a name for this either, but I thought I should take a picture before the place is torn down. Sooner or later a picture or a 1950s postcard will turn up. The shape of the sign is unmistakable. Later: Could this be the remains of the Mayflower Motel? Wait! A reader has sent me a picture (see image!). A word of thanks to DJ and radio personality, Clarke Ingram, who was Operations Manager of KZZP-FM radio in Phoenix. He collects old postcards, or as he says "mostly cards of motels with big gaudy neon signs" Somehow he found a couple more for this page, including this first-ever one of the Mayflower when it was the Mayflower. Now the problem is that it looks like it was something else before it came accross the Atlantic because it appears (to me, at least) that the sign is recycled. What was the original wording on the sign? Was the sign originally for a different motel? Here is a link to Clarke's bio:
Arizona Palms Motel, 3725 East Van Buren, Phoenix. Back reads, "Arizona Palms Motel...3725 East Van Buren, Phoenix, Arizona on U.S. Highways 60, 70, 80, 89. 45 modern units, tiled tubs and showers, adjoining rooms, kitchenettes, steam heat, cooled by refrigeration. Free TV, room phones. Color TV in lobby. Large heated pool, shuffleboard, pool slide. Restaurant adjacent. Airport car. Reasonable rates." In 2006 the buildings are recognizable as part of the Western Lodge with an address at 3727 Van Buren.
Bill Johnson's Big Apple., 3757 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
A great, long-time Arizona institution and a Van Buren survivor.
In 1955 Bill Johnson and family moved to the Arizona desert. He bought a piece of land on Van Buren "where the pavement ends and the Old West begins." The Big Apple at that time was the last outpost of civilization on the road to Tempe. It also had many famous guests, including locals Waylon Jennings, Marty Robbins and Wayne Newton. Out of state folks such as Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and many more would come in for a meal when in Phoenix. Wallace and Ladmo, Barry Goldwater and other politicians were regulars, too.
As a kid, I always thought it was a really cool place because of the sawdust on the floor and especially because the waitresses packed a six-shooter on the hip. Another reader remembers pushing the button to make the pig turn on the rotisserie (above the entrance). It was, it is, a great restaurant. Here is a link to the restaurant's site: As Bill says, Let's eat! Update: I once came across a Bill Johnson's Restaurant with a 3149 address in a 1950s phone book. What is that about? Was there an earlier building down the street? Was it a typo? I have an answer: Jim R at the Big Apple says: Bill Johnson 1st opened the Belle Starr Restaurant at that location in 1961 but changed to El Diablo Mexican food in 1963 which was there until 1985.
Ramada Inn, 3801 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Not to be outdone by the train at the Highway House, the Ramada put in a full size trolley to ferry clients to their rooms. The main lobby was built like a barn, I believe. For some reason I also have a 3825 E. Van Buren address for the Ramada.
State Motor Lodge, 3810 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
This establishment has been around at least for 3 decades. That is not a record, but even so it makes it one of the older businesses on the street. One reason for their longevity is probably because they didn't spend any money on fancy signs.
Sunset Motel, 3818 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Could this be the original "State Motor Lodge" above. It looks a lot like it, with a new address.
La Casa Real Motel, 3830 East Van Buren, Phoenix. This was later replaced by a hotel chain called Imperial 400 Motel -
"Coast to Coast, Thr-rifty rates"
Autopia, 3901 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
"Autopia as Utopia". Another very early motor hotel and tourist court. This was way before my time. About 1950, there is also a listing for a Autopia Golf Range in the phone book at 3525 East Van Buren. Was this a golf course? Why is it a couple of blocks from the motel? Questions and more questions!
Here also is a great brochure published by the Autopia. Finest motor park in Arizona with tourist hotel apartments. Private garage for your car, and the best hotel acommodations for you and your family. Rates are no more than you want to pay. Don't unpack - Just drive in. Everything furnished.
Aloha Polynesian Resort, 3901 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
After the Autopia was torn down there were at least two other motels on the site: the Samoan Village ("An Island in the Sun") and later the Aloha Resort. The two establishments use the same picture on the front of their postcard - one says Aloha Resort and the other says Samoan Village on the printed side.
Tropicana Motel, 3901 E. Van Buren, Phoenix.
Wait, there is yet another motel at this site. I found a postcard for the Tropicana Motel. The back of the card says: Its tropical setting beckons many to spend their entire vacation here summer or winter. Lounge in our beautiful patios, swim in filtered, pure, sparkling clear water, play tenis, shuffleboard, have Bar-B-Que parties and dine in our attractive restaurant, serving the best of food. 76 individual cottages. Each with telephone. I guess the hotel didn't beckon hard enough. You would think the shuffleboard alone would bring them in by the thousands. Do people still play shuffleboard?
Continental Guest Lodge, 3901 East Van Buren, Phoenix. Yet another establishment at this address. How many hotels, motels and lodges existed here?
Warner Trailer Sales, 3924 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
OK, this is NOT a motel, but you could sleep here if you bought one of those streamlined silver trailers.
We are now at 40th street. It was here that in 1888 Mrs Bialasieweiz opened a 12' by 12' one room schoolhouse, next to the canal at what was then called the Phoenix-Tempe Road. After a few days of class, the teacher decided to shorten her name to Mrs Balsz because the students took about half the morning just to say good morning to her. Bad joke!
It was also at this corner that John Lee and his daughter worked in a small grocery store called Joyland Market. In 1991 the two were found battered and beaten to death. This horrible crime shocked the neighborhood and stunned the Chinese American community. The Gateway Community College building now stands on the spot where this tragic crime happened.
While I am in the neighborhood, I might as well mention Petley Studios, once located at 4051 E. Van Buren. If you collect postcards or booklets from the 1940s and 1950s, you will encounter this name. For over two decades, Bob Petley made and sold more advertising and tourist related material for Arizona and the Western region of the US than anybody else. He did a little of everything, including flora and fauna, scenic and city views, commercial advertising and most of all, humoristic and cartoon postcards. Many of the images on this page of Van Buren Street are from postcards and other collectibles produced by his business.
Desert Star Motor Hotel, 4120 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Another motel from the 1940s, with "26 new, very lovely hotel rooms and apartments, with tile baths and showers." It was reborn in the 1960s with "55 modern units, beautifully furnished and decorated Hotel Rooms, Studio Rooms, Family Rooms, Kitchenettes and full apartments, situated in a beautifully landscaped area. Air-conditioned by Refrigeration, Tiled baths, tubs and showers. Room phones and Color Television. Newly opened deluxe addition. Filtered and heated swimming pool. Shuffleboard. Lobby and Coffee Shop." Now a Ramada Limited.
Rose Marie Motel, 4127 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Motel Flint, 4140 East Van Buren, Phoenix. Another early motel - this postcard is from about 1950. The back says: A modern, air-cooled motel with tubs and tile showers. Some kitchens and apts with electric refrigeration. Carports. Close to good restaurants. The portcard is addressed to Sharon and Nancy in Michigan and says: Hi. We are staying here. Have seen oranges, lemons and grapefruit growing on trees. There is also lots of palm trees. Will write a letter later. Linda. The area above 40th street all the way to Camelback, was known as Arcadia. It was one big orchard, a garden of fruit trees and canals for miles and miles.
StageCoach Motel, 4311 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
Was the Stagecoach an 'inn" or a 'motel'? Well, it doesn't really matter I guess. It ain't nothin now.
Death be not proud.
Of the thousands of cars traveling on Van Buren every day, probably none know they are driving by the oldest cemetery in Phoenix. Most of them probably don't even notice the graveyard. Like Van Buren, it is decrepit and abandoned. It is also unmarked. At about 4750 East Van Buren lies the Crosscut Adams Family Cemetery. Actually, it is officially known as the Crosscut Williams Family Cemetery. It ain't much to look at, but since it was established in 1879 it is the oldest existing graveyard in Phoenix (Note: The Phoenix Pioneer cemeteries were established in 1884. There was an earlier one at 6th Ave and Jackson but the bodies were moved to the Pioneer site when it was opened). Back to the Van Buren cemetery... The records say about 80 people were buried there, but less than 10 graves are still visible amid the broken glass, weeds, beer cans, and other items of urban trash. This also is sad. Mike was not buried here.
Respectability, at last Somewhere about 38th Street, Van Buren achieves respectabilty. The atmosphere improves and things look almost normal. The buildings are mostly nice and new - large commercial parks for prosperous businesses. The only holdouts are a porn shop and this small group of old motel units from the 1950s at 47th Street. It is closed and there is no name, so I can't identify it. The name on the restaurant is Los Jarritos, but it too is closed.
Rock Park., 5050 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
One day I saw this postcard on Ebay. Yes, I remember Rock Park. Description from the postcard: Twin rock Castles seen here are connected by a miniature rock bridge spanning a miniature lake. Most of gem and mineral rocks to be found in the western states were used in this structure.
It was a bunch of stones and rocks in the form of a small city, or at least a few buildings, out in the middle of nowhere between Phoenix and Tempe. Gosh, I hadn't thought about it in 45-50 years. I have no idea what it was all about, or who did it and for what purpose. I wonder what happened to it? I don't remember ever stopping there because my Dad did not feel it was either educational or entertaining. Dad just drove on by and I never got to visit Rock Park.
Up and down the the Street
What I wanted to do here was show Van Buren in its entirety - or at least most of it. I wanted to show the most interesting features and the landmarks. I took an old 1949 aerial photo and added the places mentioned here. It didn't come out as nice as I wanted, but I tried. The only really interesting feature I had not seen before is the Phoenix drive-in theatre that appears as a semi-circle. The picture does show the positions of most, but not all, of the many hotels and motels mentioned in this article. There are over 100 of them on the picture, marked in yellow.
The Hippo and the Zoo
Last year at a family meeting a gentleman in the pool business asked me if I remembered the hippo in a shed on the other side of Papago Park. I said "Do you mean in the zoo?". No, before the zoo. So, was there a real live hippopotamus somewhere on Van Buren in the 1950s? Remember this was before the Phoenix zoo was established at Papago Park (with a donation from the Maytag washer heiress!). Why not? There was a mountain lion in front of Harman's in Tempe which few remember (except Shirley Monti), so why couldn't there be a hippo on Van Buren.
Six months went by and I could find nothing on the dang hippo. Well, the guy is not crazy so I assume there was a hippo there, somewhere, sometime. I tried Google and found nothing. I even sent an email to the world famous 'hippo lady' who happens to live in Phoenix when she is not traveling the world drawing hippos for Dutch luxury dinnerware. She suggested Google. Been there, done that and still nada.
One day I do an Ebay search for Camelback Mountain, and I find the mountain and a buffalo in front of it, in a zoo. I think I have found it. Old Tovrea had a private zoo (called the E. A. Tovrea Memorial Zoo or E. A. Tovrea Wildlife Zoo). I don't know the exact address yet, but the postcard says it "adjoins Tovrea's" and "it contains many interesting Arizona wildlife specimens and is open to the public without cost." There is a problem, of course - the hippo hardly qualifies as Arizona fauna. On the other hand, it had to be either the Tovrea or Cudahy (also a traditional meat packing company) folks. Update: This must have been a one animal zoo. I have looked for more information and have seem a half dozen postcards on Ebay, all with the darn buffalo. Did the zoo only have one animal, or was there only one type of postcard printed? And where is the hippo?
The Wedding Cake, also known as Torvea Castle
Near the end of Van Buren, going East, just before Papago Park, one comes to another famous Phoenix landmark, Torvea Castle, also known as the Wedding Cake building, surrounded by 10,000 saguaros. Edward Tovrea was an eccentric Phoenix entrepreneur and socialite best known for his cattle and meat business. To me, when I think Torvea I think stockyards and then I remember the smell. I kid you not, you could smell the manure and butchered animals in Tempe, five miles away. I also remember shooting doves at the stockyards in the early 1960s, me and a thousand others. It actually rained lead. Winnie did not work in the meat packing plant and any dove killed was not the widow of the old Phoenix bird.
Anyway, in the late 20s Torvea purchased this Castle, hoping that his land and fancy house would attract the rich and famous moving into the Valley. The rich and famous came, saw, held their noses and said "We really like that place up on Camelback a little better."
Edward Torvea also has the distinction of having his wife murdered twice, once in 1928 and again in 1988. Actually I think it was different Edwards and different wives, but both were murdered under very brutal, suspicious circumstances.
The castle has been unoccupied for many years, except for a lonely old lady and many ghosts. Currently the City of Phoenix owns the property and is remodeling it and trying to figure out what to do with the darn thing. From a visit 40 years ago, it seems to me that its circular, superimposed layered construction with many internal walls makes for very little usable space. Another thing that is notable about the property is that someone, at sometime, collected every large cactus around and planted them all over the Torvea grounds. There are about as many saguaros in the one block Castle as in half of the rest of Phoenix.
Technically speaking, the world famous stockyards were on Washington street, not Van Buren, but they actually bordered the south side of VB where the zoo was, next to the Castle. They say the feed trough was one mile long and there were up 35,000 cattle there at one time. The thing I most remember about the stockyards was the smell, which was about 10 miles long.
Remember The Thing? It was an Arizona institution.
In the 1960s and after there were a bunch of big, yellow signs on all southern Arizona highways advertising The Thing, only 30, 60 or 100 miles down the road. Dad never stopped and I am now almost 60 and I never saw The Thing. Poor me. So what does The Thing have to do with Van Buren? Well, The Thing was born on Van Buren. It was actually a chupacabra captured in the Sierra Estrellas and then preserved by a certain Mr Homer Tate, who worked from a curio shop at 5240 East Van Buren. Evidently Tate had a lot of imagination and a sense of humor. He also spent a lot of time out in the desert picking up bodies of dead animals. Many an Arizona jackrabbit has ended its career in a sideshow in Chicago as Chuchu, the devil mummy pigmy fish boy from Burma, or half of the rabbit being half of Chuchu or his bride, Walla-Wally, the horned Amazon Vampire Queen from Borneo. Whatever. Oh yes, a few years ago a BIA government agent showed up to check out The Thing, saying that they had received a call about Native American human remains being on display. After an intense investigation it was determined that The Thing was not Native American or even human.
May I quote from a website dedicated to the weird and outrageous world of the sideshow carnival:
"Phoenix is still a town where free enterprise can, as a Western saying goes, scratch its own itch. Rugged individualism expresses itself in strange and sometimes awesome ways along East Van Buren Street, one of the principal thoroughfares, where alligator farms, cactus curio shops, junk yards and reptile gardens crowd each other. None has more fascination than Tate's Curio Shop where in a single room, Homer Tate, a pink-faced Irishman, manufactures oddities for side shows, carnivals, and 'people who like to scare other people out of their wits.' On the sides of his four walls are cases of arrowheads, two-headed calves, deer with curly horns, skulls, pictures of freaks, and his own handiwork represented by an appalling assortment of shrunken heads, mummies, Devil Boys, Fish Girls, necklaces of hands, fingers and ears (they'll last a lifetime and only cost twelve dollars). Curled around the room's ceiling are forty-five feet of vertebrae ending in a dragon-like skull. This is, according to an attached sign, A Genuine Pseudo Snake.
Here is a link to the Sideshow site: and here is another page:
I mean where else could you get a real, genuine "frog mouth pigmy boy" creature for only $20, prepaid of course, or a "Cannibal of the Jungle" shrunken head in a variety of models: male, regular ($8), female ($12), male, prince - with bone in nose ($10) or even the Deluxe model ($30, "There is not a more attractive shrunken head in the world..."). It gets better: "Shrunken heads are a wonderful window attraction and will make your mother-in-law want to go home."
Little Curio shop of Horrors, More art by Homer Tate. I was trying to find more material on Homer, and there is not much. There are a few collectors, but not many. Too bad. The guy was a genius, in a strange sort of way, but most of all he was funny. The Library of Congress has some early pictures of his work in Safford, before moving to Mesa and Phoenix.
Here are a few of these pictures. The captions read: The Mr. Tate is a self-trained artist working in papier mache and such indigenous materials as cactus, bone, wood and stone
The heads and mummies were made by Homer Tate and the mummies were so realistic that curators of museums must examine them closely to determine their artificiality. Indian relics are geunuine. Safford, Arizona.
Here is the link to the pictures and references:
I came across a Tate creature at a very nice site, by Jim and Kate at MundieArt.com, taken at a side show at the Pennsylvania State Fair in 2005. So, sixty years later, Tate's Devil Boy is still hard at work. Jim writes: "I know a handful of people with Tate figures, but most of them look like hell now (if they ever looked all that good to begin with) - which is as much as you'd expect from something that old made from toilet paper, mud and animal bones and which spent years bumping around from one spot to the next." Here is the link: http://www.mundieart.com/wow-2005.htm
Cottage Court, 5218 East Van Buren, Phoenix.
There were a few motels and like establishments beyond 52nd street. One of the few of which I have found a photo of is the Cottage Court. It doesn't look very prosperous, and there is a "For Sale" sign. I don't know how many times this place was sold, but it was also known as "Bollinger Cottages" and "Minnesota Cottages". Yes, it looks just like Minnesota to me.
Yes, at one time Van Buren had real class.
Alligator farm! Was there a gator farm on Van Buren? Yes, there was! There is a listing in the 1950 Telephone Directory for a Evan's Reptile Garden at 5221 East Van Buren. This would be right across the street from the Cottage Court and close to Tate's Curio shop and factory. Also, there are at least 4 other curio shops listed for this street, but probably none were as weird and interesting as Tate's place. Before the reptile business, Evans had a Cactus Garden at the same location. I guess that sending old bones and dried snake skins to Tate across the street made more money than growing cacti. Update: I found a picture of the place.
Papago Park, the Zoo and the Amusement Park
I suppose I must mention the last two big attractions on East Van Buren -- the Phoenix Zoo and the famous Legend City Amusement Park. The Phoenix Zoo was started out as the Maytag Zoo (think washing machines and repairmen that are never needed) and was built were the Arizona Fish and Game was located, in Papago Park near the Hole-in-the-Rock. Another interesting long gone place was Legend City, our local version of Disneyland. At one time it was billed as the 4th largest theme park in the US. Technically, it was one Washington Street, not Van Buren, but most people (or rather, the few that went there) took Van Buren to get there. Notice the very nice aerial picture of Papago Park including Legend City.
What about the future?
The City of Phoenix has a rather depressing study on the Internet about the "East Van Buren Corridor," done by the City planning department. This assessment evaluates the current situation and reviews what can be done about it, with suggestions on how to improve and develop the era. The sixty-seven pages can be summed up in a few words: situation bad, and maybe it will get better if we hope, spend some money (not too much) and keep our fingers crossed. Here is the link: phoenix.gov/planning/evb01.pdf
There was one interesting map in the report showing the city's growth eastward by annexations relative to the original townsite between 7th Avenue and 7th Steet (Well, not the original original, the third original site). By 1899 the City had annexed the land out to 12th Street. By 1919 the boundary of Phoenix had reached 16th Street, and by 1938 it was at 20th Street. By 1948 the City had advanced all the way to 30th street. In 1955 the City annexed everything up to the canal at 40th street. This is basically where it was when I was a child.
And no, Phoenix was not established in 1835 as stated in page 6 of the online pdf file.
My neigbor Sharon shares her recollections of Van Buren:
I remember a Van Buren that was light years away from today's sad ghost of the past. My Dad - Walter Bassett - an Arizona native born in 1903, spent many years living at 724 East Van Buren - while he attended Phoenix Union High School, just to the East. By the way... in those days, that address was outside the city limits which ended at 7th St. His Aunt, who raised him, continued living there until the late 1950's. (Dad's family had arrived in Arizona in 1877 by covered wagon from Uvalde County, Texas.) Dad's uncle owned the livery stable that stood where the Adam's Hotel was later built.
I first remember Van Buren about 1947...when I was 5. 724 was across from Monroe School. It was a beautiful street... orange trees lined the sidewalk in that area and the grass was always green! My "Granny", my brother and I used to wander East a couple of blocks to the ice cream parlor and always stop to watch the kids swim at the public pool that was approximately at 8th or 9th street.
The motels - clean, well kept and respectable in those days - were there for a reason. Van Buren was also Route 60, that came from the direction of Albuquerque to the East and took you on to Wickenburg and Los Angeles on the West. (Before the Brenda Cutoff, you had to go to Wickengerg to get to LA.) So this was a good stopping point in either direction.
My memories of East Van Buren always begin with spotting Tempe Beach swimming pool as we approached Phoenix from Show Low where I spent my grade school years. What a grand pool I thought that was! (across the street from Monti's - same side) Then we crossed the Salt River on "The Bridge" and after what seemed like miles of nothing... we would spot the "outskirts" of Phoenix. How I loved those years! Your Mom always took you down town on a Sat. morning... where you shopped for just about everything that you needed. There were no shopping malls... no strip malls... and the markets sold food and the drug stores sold drugs. After the shopping was over at Diamonds, Goldwater's, J.C. Penny's, Switzer's, etc... we all ended up at the Woolworth lunch counter where we ran into just about everyone we knew.
Back to the Van Buren area... as I was spending time with my Granny on the North side of Monroe school... my future husband, Jerry, was spending time with his Grandmother on the opposite side of Monroe school. We spent many years...never running into each other! Small world...and very small town in those days!
West Van Buren
Most of the motels were on the east side of town, but there were a few on the west side.
City Center Motel, West Van Buren, Phoenix. This first picture was taken in 1957.
Phoenix Travelodge, 402 West Van Buren, Phoenix.
This is a second one, only a few blocks from the one on the east side.
Kelly Motel, 424 West Van Buren, Phoenix.
Desert Inn, 950 West Van Buren, Phoenix. "the friendliest place you've ever been!!!"
Greenway Motor Hotel, 1208 West Van Buren, Phoenix.
I guess this is what you call "before" and "after" photos, probably from the 1940s (left) and 1960s (right).
El Rancho, 1300 West Van Buren, Phoenix.
This was probably the biggest and best of motels on the west side. Great map on the last postcard!
Palomine Motor Hotel, 1520 West Van Buren, Phoenix.
"One of America's finest." I have a question about that last picture on the right. It says it is the Palomine, but that is all the information I have. Can it be the same one? It looks different.
Park Lane, 1601 West Van Buren, Phoenix. Description: 18 new, modern, air-cooled units with individual floor furnaces. Tile baths - kitchenettes with electric refrigeration, Radios, Sun Deck, Shopping District and Restaurants nearby.
Circle K Motor Hotel, 1939 West Van Buren, Phoenix. Nice map!
Cocanut Grove Motel, 2012
East West Van Buren, Phoenix. I was looking at the back of one of the postcards and it says that the Cocanut was at 2012 West Van Buren, not East. In the phone directory it is clearly listed as the Cocoanut Grove at East Van Buren. Is that right? And what is that about horseback riding? Where did they have horses? Where was it? I am confused. Update: I rarely go down West Van Buren but guess what... The Coconut is still there. Currently it is spelled with an "O". The pool is filled in with dirt and the front area is full of trash, but the Coconut is still alive.
Silver Arrow Court, 2017 West Van Buren, Phoenix.
From its style, this is right out of the era of the 1950s diner.
Sandman, 2120 West Van Buren, Phoenix. I had not been down West Van Buren in years, even while writing this page. Ha! There are still two big motels left on the far side of Central Ave. The Sandman is still alive.
Del Ano, 2125 West Van Buren, Phoenix.
Sombrero, 2125 West Van Buren, Phoenix.
Probably a newer version of the establishment above.
Oakland Motel, 2448 West Van Buren, Phoenix.
That is it - there ain't no more. I have written enough about Van Buren. Yes, I could say a few things about the La Tolteca restaurant and its murals, or the wild El Capri dance hall, Honey Bear's BBQ or even the antique Pickle House. I could talk about immigration and how a young man from Mexico (undocumented, of course) I know lives in a small 8 by 10 room off Van Buren for $100 month and sends $1000-$1200 back home every four weeks. I could even give my opinion as to Van Buren as the one-time, unofficial, semi-official racial boundary between the white and non-white parts of town (no Black or Chinese businesses were allowed north of Van Buren until the 1950s). I could talk about Wilson School district and its problems. But no, I wont go there. I will leave all of these for another day, or year, or never! I hope I have given you something - if not the history of Van Buren street, at least a feeling of what it was and has become.
A few other pages at this site
Here are some "go to" icons to other pages on this site. Read about the Sierra Estrellas, our most historic mountains, or the Old Spanish Gold Mine, lost for 300 years but within 25 miles of downtown Phoenix. Consider the treasure that is Papago Park, or the history of the famous POW camp at that location. Did you know that Phoenix has had about 70 airports? And, of course, there is the "All Topics" page with a list of most of the pages on this site. Enjoy.
Van Buren in the news
VB is still in the papers, but it is good news. This week an article appeared in a local newspaper: Phoenix works to curb Van Buren prostitution (by Lindsey Collom - Apr. 9, 2008 - The Arizona Republic, at http://www.azcentral.com/community/phoenix/articles/2008/04/09/20080409vanburen0409.html)
Here is a partial quote:
With its aging motels and a constant police presence, Van Buren Street has long been known as a corridor for prostitution.
But city officials have worked to change that image. While prostitution roundups have curbed some of the activity, authorities hope new tactics will have a lasting effect on the area.
Police in recent years found measured success by targeting motels along that street, particularly those with adult-oriented business licenses, which allowed motels to rent rooms by the hour and advertise adult movies on the exterior of their buildings. The last Phoenix motel with that license surrendered it last year.
Also in 2007, police made 76 percent fewer prostitution arrests in the area over the previous year. No longer are prostitutes coming from out of state to conduct seasonal work in the downtown area, Cmdr. Jeff Hynes said.
"I almost feel silly to admit the simplicity of this," Hynes said. "We finally figured it out and broke its back."
Officer Robert Rice has been tasked with keeping prostitutes off Central City Precinct streets for roughly eight years. He recalls the days when he would patrol Van Buren Street and see up to 50 scantily clad women lining the sidewalks, looking for johns.
Police data shows a decrease in other crimes as a result of the enforcement. There were no homicides reported in 2007, as opposed to five in 2006. In that time, robbery was down 24 percent, aggravated assault was down 27 percent, and drug offenses were reduced by 45 percent.
Hynes said there is still transient prostitution activity on Van Buren Street, but "it's to the point that if there are any out there, they're playing hide and seek." He admitted that much of the activity has not been eliminated, rather it moved to other parts of the city or to neighboring communities.
An article about this Webpage
This article, about this page, appeared in the Arizona Republic. Here is the text in the September 15, 2008 edition:
Glory days of Van Buren St.
This page about Van Buren St. published March 2007, Updated September 2008.
John Arthur lives in Tempe, works in Phoenix and occasionally drives on Van Buren Street between the two. Just as he did as a kid riding in his mother's car. But the street isn't how he remembers .it.
The Van Buren of his memories was bustling with nice motels and eye-catching signs. The street has since become a "dump," Arthur said. "I hate to say it," he said. "You look around and it's chain-link (fences), it's barren lots on each side, with weeds overgrown."
Arthur wanted to chronicle the street he recalled as a kid, wishing he had paid more attention. He collected postcards of the motels and businesses that were along Van Buren Street in the 1950s and '60s and put those images on a section of his Web site, sierraestrella.com/vanburen.html. The postcards are visual reminders of the string of then-modern motor courts along what used to be the main drag through Phoenix.
"It was pretty much just one (motel) after another," he said. "That was my image of Van Buren." There's the sign for the Rose Bowl Motor Hotel around 26th Street, the giant red bloom centered at the top. There's the one for the Hiway House at 32nd St., built by Del Web. The postcard shows a kids train ride choo-chooing past the sign. There's the man in the nightcap above the Sandman at 21st Street.
"It was like the Strip in Vegas," Arthur said. "It was where everything was." Indeed, several motels share names with counter-parts that were on the Las Vegas Strip. There's a Desert Inn, a Sands, a Frontier and a Flamingo.
But the nicest spot on the Van Buren strip was the Kon Tiki, a Phoenix original that billed itself as a "little bit of Waikiki in the heart of Phoenix." Arthur remembered taking a date there and having just enough cash to cover the $10-a-plate charge, then one of the most expensive spots in the city. "It was a big place to be."' he said, "It was high end."
In some way, Arthur hopes his site can rehabilitate the image of the once-thriving street. Arthur also 'hopes the light-rail line helps bring some life back to Van Buren
(By Richard Ruelas, THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC, Page D2, Monday, September 15, 2008)
Some nostalgia pages
Here are a few interesting links to sites about vintage signs, historic highways, antique postcards, old motels, drive-ins and other topics mentioned on this page:
Autohobbie's Historic Highways:
Motel Memories at WeeklyWire:
Bygonebyways US 80
The Saguaro Symbol:
A page about Arizona motel sign imagery:
The Post Card, about Petley:
Roadsidepeek Motels - An Adventure in Time:
History of the Drive-in theatre:
About Little Winnie Judd: and