By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
In the 1950s, affordable housing came to South Phoenix in the form of "minihomes"--600- to 800-square-foot, cheaply constructed buildings that sat two to a lot. Army barracks, like the one which would later become Jimmerson's home, were condemned in west Phoenix, then moved south.
This was not Phoenix, not yet, anyway. It was just a part of the county.
A group of community activists, which included most of the ranchers, tried unsuccessfully to make the area its own city. But others wanted it to become a part of Phoenix.
It wasn't so much that Phoenix particularly wanted its southern neighbor. Phoenix didn't want anyone else to have it. Smaller municipalities were beginning to spring up all over the Valley. Without the south, Phoenix would have been landlocked close to its downtown.
The proannexation movement in the south joined with that of Maryvale in the west, and both areas were added to the city in one sweep. In 1959, Phoenix grew by leaps and bounds overnight.
But there was an essential difference in the two areas annexed. Maryvale was a planned community, the creation of developer John F. Long. South Phoenix had just kind of sprouted up on its own. The city was ill-equipped to handle the needs that came with this new southern part of Phoenix. So the government chose to ignore it. The city put in water and sewer lines, but little else.
In the absence of zoning, there were junkyards next to homes, and animals in the middle of a block. All of this was there when the south became South Phoenix. It stayed, because the city "grandfathered" existing conditions, preventing regulation that was standard practice in other parts of the city.
The city's new southern border offered a wonderful location close to downtown, with open land and the best panoramic views in the Valley. It was and is the eclectic home of at least five different cultures, decorated with citrus orchards and flower gardens and little spots of history like the old Del Monte store on Dobbins Road, which served the original ranches of the south side.
The area south of the Salt was poised to take off. But it never did. What kept it from developing then is keeping it in poverty now.
@body:Even in its early years as part of the city, South Phoenix seemed, to the rest of the Valley, used--tainted, somehow.
The city's developers, obsessed with all things new, could see a community where there was nothing but desert. But they couldn't see one where there was a hodgepodge of homes and farms.
Williams and Jones Construction, as they were known, created a neighborhood of nice homes near 24th Street and Roeser Road, just south of Broadway, in the early 1960s. In those days, it was about the only place an African American could buy land. Williams and Jones made a practice of policing home loans, so the banks would have fewer excuses not to lend.
They sold to African Americans coming out of the military with Veterans Administration financing, and to others who had migrated from the Old South. The neighborhood, still one of the nicest in the area, was home to jazz musician Louis Jordan, to Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam, and to renowned scientist Percy Julian. Over the years, it would become home to politicians, power brokers and a few professional athletes.
But downtown started to stretch north up Central Avenue. Shopping centers--Metrocenter, Christown, Westridge and, later, Paradise Valley and Fashion Square malls--drew people away from the south side of town.
The cafes and the markets and the other mom-and-pop businesses that had survived on a shoestring for so many years began to shut down or sell out. Industrial businesses, shunned by residential neighborhoods springing up across the Valley, found a home along the Salt River. Cheap land attracted speculators looking to make a quick buck.
Throughout the 1970s, the speculators put up apartment complexes where rent was guaranteed by the government and bought dilapidated buildings that were leased to anyone with a steady cash flow. Most of the owners didn't live anywhere near this community and didn't care what happened there, at least in the long term.
Success came to mean getting out of the neighborhood. The doctors and the professionals who had struggled to attain position and some measure of wealth moved to new homes and never looked back.
John Hart left once, too. Hart, the son of longtime community activist Goldye Hart, is related to the Jones side of Williams and Jones. He was graduated from Arizona State University in the 1970s, and took off for a corporate job in San Francisco.
"I loved San Francisco," Hart says. "But it was, should I stay here and make the mad money or come back to Phoenix and run a company that people have worked so hard for for so many years?"
In 1984, he returned to run the family business, Mutual Investments, at 19th Street and Broadway.