There’s history hidden within downtown Scottsdale’s posh hotels, swanky bars and eclectic Western shops, and the city wants residents and tourists to find it.
As part of a trend to honor local history, officials on Monday began tacking up new posters in downtown kiosks showing the area’s historic buildings and other features. The posters continue a theme of the city touting its history for residents and tourists.
Scottsdale recently designated two neighborhoods as historic, including a cluster of ’50s-era apartment buildings west of downtown. It also pushed to list the Hotel Valley Ho on city’s historic register.
One of the goals is for visitors to enjoy the city’s history in addition to its sunny weather and Western charm. Scottsdale markets itself as a Western mecca with a distinctive past.
“The historic angle really helps give Scottsdale a sense of place,” said Laura McMurchie, Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau vice president of communications. “There are resorts and interesting shopping areas everywhere in the world, but history really grounds Scottsdale’s offering as being particularly unique.”
In Old Town, at the entrance to Civic Center Mall at Main Street and Brown Avenue, visitors can pick up walking tour brochures that give them a guide to historic locations downtown. The spots include the “Little Red Schoolhouse,” the site of the current Scottsdale Historical Museum.
“My parents went to school in the Little Red Schoolhouse,” said JoAnn Handley, the museum’s manager. “A lot of people go into a city and they like to know about the history when they visit,” she added.
That’s no surprise to John Dant, a retiree who volunteers at the Civic Center’s visitor cart and often offers brochures and history lessons.
When asked for a “Southwestern lunch spot” on a recent afternoon, Dant told the tale of Los Olivos Mexican Patio, a Mexican restaurant established more than 50 years ago by the Corral family.
“That’s exactly what I’m looking for,” said Shelly Murray, of Gaithersburg, Md. “Whenever I go somewhere, I want to find places that you’re not going to have back at home.”
Historic aspects of a city draw more visitors in, said Scottsdale historian Joan Fudala.
“We would disappoint people if we didn’t have some vestiges of the West,” she said. “There is a resurgence of people who travel for cultural tourism, anything from art to history to architecture. We certainly have a great blend here in Scottsdale, from Hispanic to Native American to cowboy history.”
Visitors seeking the Western experience often end up at the Rusty Spur Saloon, an Old Town cowboy watering hole that was once a bank.
“People come in and want to sit down next to a real-life cowboy,” owner Susan Anderson said.
For owners of some shops downtown, the history is personal. Third-generation family members work at both Mexican Imports and Cavalliere’s Blacksmith Shop.
“I used to play outside the shop when the sidewalks were made of wood and there were hitching posts outside,” said Rosann Song, who works at the import shop originally owned by her grandfather.
At the blacksmith shop, George Cavalliere said he has been working there since he was 16. Everything has changed around him, even the nearby olive trees — there’s fewer of them now, he said.
But history repeats itself. “As soon as the city tore some of them out, they planted new ones,” Cavalliere said.
Some locations on the downtown Scottsdale self-guided walking tour: View map
1. The “Little Red Schoolhouse:” Now the home of the Scottsdale Historical Museum, this former schoolhouse was built in 1909 with two classrooms for grades one through eight. From the 1920s through the 1960s, the school served Mexican settlers and their children. In later years, the schoolhouse became the Scottsdale City Hall, the Public Library and the Chamber of Commerce. The museum was opened in 1994.
2. Mexican Imports Shop: Occupying a building originally built in 1923 as Johnny Rose’s pool hall, the shop started when the Song family purchased the property and opened a grocery store. The store served much of the Mexican population, and it evolved into an imports store in the 1950s.
3. Bischoff’s Shades of the West: This store stands on the site of Scottsdale’s first general store and post office, built in 1897. In the 1940s a group of artists banded together at the location to form an arts and crafts center called the Arizona Craftsmen. Now a store for Southwestern wares, Shades of the West was founded by Anselm Bischoff, and has been in operation since 1971.
4. Rusty Spur Saloon: Ironic for a town that once prohibited alcohol, the saloon now stands where the Farmer’s State Bank of Scottsdale opened in 1921. The bank closed during the Depression, but the old bank vault is still there today, holding liquor instead of money. The bank was also the first home of the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce.
5. Saba’s Western Wear: The original red brick building of the Sterling Drug Store established in 1921, still stands today behind the modern façade of Saba’s. The drug store became Scottsdale Pharmacy in 1937, and was sold to the Sabas in 1948. The family opened Saba’s Department Store, soon to become Saba’s Western Wear. There are now nine Saba’s locations serving clothing needs throughout Arizona.
6. Porter’s: By 1928, Scottsdale was big enough to need a regular post office instead of just a corner in the general store. The mail came out from Phoenix twice a day, and people gathered around the post office to chat while it was sorted. In the 1950s, the post office became Porter’s Western Wear, and the location now holds a jewelry shop.
7. Sugar Bowl: A longtime favorite of residents and visitors, the building that houses the Sugar Bowl was originally built in 1950 as a general store. In 1958, Jack Huntress, a former Chrysler executive, converted the store (which offered automobile services) into the Sugar Bowl ice cream parlor in response to growing tourism and the need for a family-oriented restaurant downtown.
8. Pink Pony: A popular place for both fans and players of Major League Baseball spring training, the Pink Pony restaurant was originally run by Charlie Briley, who played a major role in bringing the Cactus League to Scottsdale. The original location was constructed in 1954, and the Pink Pony moved to its current location in 1970.
9. Our Lady of Perpetual Help Mission Church: This little white building was built with volunteer labor and donated materials in 1933 by the residents of the Mexican settlement in downtown Scottsdale. The church’s 14,000 adobe bricks were made on site. For many years, Our Lady of Perpetual Help was the only Catholic church in Scottsdale.
10. Cavalliere’s Blacksmith Shop: George Cavalliere, a blacksmith, brought his family to Scottsdale around 1910. Told that he couldn’t build his shop in town, Cavalliere obeyed and moved two blocks down, outside of town boundaries. The original building was tin and was replaced by the current adobe structure in 1920.
11. Los Olivos Mexican Patio: This Mexican restaurant was established by the Corral family more than 50 years ago and was named for the old olive trees along Second Street. The building was originally a pool hall and then housed church meetings before becoming a restaurant, which is still run by the Corral family today.
12. Old Olive Trees: Down the center of Second Street, several old olive trees exis that are as old as Scottsdale itself. They were planted in 1896 by Chaplain Winfield Scott, the founder of Scottsdale, to enclose an orange grove. The orange trees died in a drought in the late 1890s, but the olive trees survive as a symbol of Scottsdale’s beginnings.
SOURCE: Scottsdale Stephanie Berger, Gabriel Utasi/TRIBUN