For a city founded 119 years ago, precious little survives from the first half of Scottsdale’s history.
Of course, many objects are found at the Scottsdale Historical Museum, which itself was built in 1909 as a school and is one of a few surviving structures from that period. You can count such buildings on one hand.
This is a community whose physical appearance is of relatively modern vintage. Downtowns in Tempe and Mesa feature many homes from the early 20th century, for example, while Scottsdale has but a handful that are hard to spot.
The one physical thing remaining that dates to Scottsdale’s founder isn’t a building at all. They are olive trees along Second Street and Drinkwater Boulevard that Winfield Scott planted in the 1890s.
Among the downsides of living in a boom town — although all told, I’d rather live in a booming town than a not-booming one — is that what was historic, or had historic possibilities, is often swept away for the latest thing.
This explains in part why Scottsdale came up with an Old West “history” that it really never had: Cowboy stuff plays well with tourists, although we lacked late 19th century structures with Old West ties.
It’s always better to go with the history you have rather than one you’d like. It’s much easier to explain, for one thing.
Wisely, the people who promote Scottsdale have been looking at something more solid on which to hang the city’s non-Stetson hat: Reality.
This includes not only the Western downtown storefronts that by and large date only to the mid-20th century, but some other structures of significance without any Old West veneer at all.
As reported in Tuesday’s Tribune, many of the sites the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau included in a self-guided downtown walking tour have Old West looks. They were built as banks, pharmacies or grocery stores in the 1920s, quite a long time after the gunfighters of yore hung up their six-shooters.
Yet the bureau is also including very non-Old West downtown places built in the 1950s, such as the familyfriendly Sugar Bowl ice cream parlor and the longtime baseball hangout, the Pink Pony bar and restaurant.
The bureau ought to consider other old buildings as well, including the brick former Red Dog Saloon building next to the Galleria Corporate Centre.
Even though architecturally Scottsdale has little to back up its slogan, “The West’s Most Western Town,” other than more recent re-creations of architecture with roots in old Western movies, it has many truly historic places to offer visitors and residents alike.
A visitor told the Tribune in Tuesday’s story that when traveling she seeks places she doesn’t have at home.
Indeed, when visitors return home from Scottsdale, it will be such only-in-Scottsdale experiences they’ll cherish most.
Locals will, too.