Staying Power

During his 79 years, Vic Kramer has watched downtown Phoenix morph from a bucolic village into a seething metropolis. His vantage point: the only home he has ever known.

His home was much smaller and his family not as prominent as Kramer's (his father ran a meat market), but the two remained close friends over the years. Kramer was best man at Romo's wedding 43 years ago.

Romo says being so deeply rooted downtown makes it hard to leave. It was only four years ago that he moved from his home on Almeria Street to a house near Central and Maryland.

"I still can't get used to being way out here," says Romo, who retired after a long high school teaching career.

In the dining room of Vic Kramer's home hang photos of his parents, R. William and Hilda Kramer.
Paolo Vescia
In the dining room of Vic Kramer's home hang photos of his parents, R. William and Hilda Kramer.

He and Kramer have mixed emotions about the changes downtown. They relish memories of the days when traffic was lighter and streets were safer. People used to stroll downtown on Saturday nights and folks had a great time dining and dancing to live music at supper clubs.

But they both approve of some of the changes, the new buildings that have taken the place of the old ones. Neither has set foot in Bank One Ballpark. And Kramer has been in America West Arena only once.

As nostalgic as Kramer is, he's not fanatical about it or about to stand in the way of progress.

The Golden West Hotel, which he still owns, has been targeted for demolition in the past, but yet it stands. Adjoining the Professional Building, it has been eyed as a prime spot for the entrance to a future hotel, he says. Advocates for the homeless have urged Kramer to keep the hotel, which rents rooms for $10 a night. It's an important low-cost housing alternative for those trying to get off the streets, they argue. But while Kramer is sympathetic to the plight of the homeless (he has an idea for a dormitory-style facility in a warehouse) and the old building has sentimental value as the birthplace of his mother, he's ready to sell it.

"It's awfully difficult to get good tenants and to try to find someone who will maintain it. If someone comes along with an offer, I'll do it," he says.

He has a similar attitude about watching parts of his alma mater, Phoenix Union, being torn down to make way for an annex to the Phoenix Civic Plaza. He was sorry to see the old structures demolished, but he's not going to lose sleep over it. And he's not worried about the new use of the Phoenix Union property bringing new traffic or other problems to his neighborhood.

"We're a block away," he says, "and I figure by the time they get that done, I won't care much."

In 1978, four years before her death, Hilda Steinegger Kramer and her son were interviewed for an oral history tape for the Phoenix History Project at the Arizona Historical Society. On the tape, she says, "I'm as old as the hills," and complains that her arthritis prevents her from playing the piano her father had bought from a Philadelphia company, sent via sailing ship around the tip of South America, then brought to Maricopa by train, then to Phoenix by horse and wagon.

The piano still sits in Kramer's front room.

Hilda Kramer reminisces about the German Club, in which early Phoenicians of German descent would get together for food, beer and music from the old country. And her son talks about his grandmother's "big project," raising money from other Catholic families to fund St. Joseph's Hospital.

"I'm certainly glad she collected that money. I think being born in a hospital is better, you know," Vic Kramer says.

"You do?" his mother asks.

"Yeah, it gives you a little class."

Kramer's aunt, Marie Steinegger, also contributed an oral history tape before her death in 1992. She turned over boxes of family records and memorabilia. Included are the original deeds granting Alexander Steinegger possession of several lots in the Phoenix townsite. On thin paper, in formal handwritten script, are recorded various Steinegger purchases. One dated August 31, 1875, gives him three lots in downtown Phoenix for $17.50. Another from 1883 shows he paid $80 for four more. His bank books, original checks and an $885 tax bill from 1901 to the county for numerous land holdings and mining claims are included in the materials.

A photo from around 1897 shows Alexander and Caroline Steinegger in fancy clothes posing in front of a handsome home at 10th Street and Moreland, a house that was torn down to make way for the freeway.

On her tape, Hilda Kramer says her "chums" liked to visit that home and sing while she played the piano, particularly if her folks were hosting the German Club. "They'd say, 'Let's go to the country.'"

Vic Kramer says when his family wanted to get out in the country, they would drive to the mountains surrounding the Valley. His dad, stuck behind a desk during the week, enjoyed climbing the mountains with his son. Hilda Kramer, not a climber, would sit in the car and wait for them.

"Now, you couldn't leave a woman by herself in a parked car," he says.

Vic Kramer doesn't get out much anymore. But every Saturday evening, he goes to Mass at St. Mary's, where he meets Al Romo and his wife. From there, they go to Durant's for dinner, a tradition they have kept for years.

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