Sunnyslopetopia

It's not just for meth labs and Hell's Angels anymore

Mike Nielsen is talking about his dream again. It's about a Phoenix neighborhood so perfect he's not sure there's a single adjective that can do it justice. In this fantasy neighborhood, there's a nice mix of upscale, custom homes and affordable housing; a spiced-up combination of hilltop mansions, swanky gated communities, newly constructed starter homes, and careworn bungalows just ripe for renovation by civic-minded architecture fans. This picturesque pastiche of houses is nestled into and around a handsome, hilly landscape and surrounded by sweeping desert views yet is only minutes from downtown. This oasis in the desert is peopled by a diverse, harmonious community eager to embrace local culture and history.

These charming townsfolk in Nielsen's dream village gather in a cool coffee shop where hipsters and oldsters hang together, they meet for after-work cocktails at the hot new upscale wine bar, and they bump into each other at the greasy spoon where the waitresses remember how you like your cheeseburger. When they're not hanging at one of these hot spots, these super-sensitive citizens are working together to make their community a prettier, safer place by serving on city-sponsored committees funded by the community's cash cow, John C. Lincoln Hospital; by forming neighborhood coalitions designed to help the unfortunate folks who are blamed for local blight; and by not just providing opportunities for displaced ethnic communities but inviting them to move to this tiny Shangri-La in the desert.

Nielsen's fantasy community, he swears, is not a fantasy at all. "It's happening," he says, "right here and now. In Sunnyslope."

Now, there's a claim that sounds like the punch line to a joke to anyone who's lived in Phoenix for a while. Johnny-come-latelies may not know that "Sunnyslope" and "cool" have long been considered mutually exclusive; that the names Sunnyslope and "crack whore" are used interchangeably around here; that this hundred-year-old community is usually spoken about in accompaniment with a curled lip or at least a well-timed roll of the eyes. But Nielsen, an interior designer and gallery owner who's also known in certain circles as "The Mayor of Sunnyslope" because of his devotion to local neighborhood causes, insists that his community's time has come — that Sunnyslope's bad rap will soon be a thing of the past.

It's hard to argue with Nielsen, considering the recent stampede of developers who are scouting sites for gated communities and custom homes; the number of overlays and restorations and low-rise apartment houses (designed close to the ground, so they don't block the swell city views) going in. The Slope is short on those Styrofoam-and-stucco McMansions that mar most local communities, and long on restored ranch houses from the '50s. And if there's no main drag, there are some amazing pockets of nightlife and cozy neighborhood strip malls.

"We're not all the way there yet," Nielsen admits. "But Sunnyslope is closer than it's ever been to being one of the most desirable neighborhoods in town."


If this were any city other than Phoenix, Sunnyslope would already be our Beverly Hills. Instead, this sleeping beauty — with its gorgeous mountain terrain, its dazzling views of downtown, its proximity to freeways, resorts, and the Central Corridor — has been dogged for decades by a lousy reputation that evolved from its days as the original Tent City, back when it was a lowly convalescent camp where the sick and dying came to soak up the sun.

Founded a century ago by an architect who fell for its unique skyline and klieg-lit, hilly terrain, Sunnyslope has been kept in a continuous holding pattern by that crummy rep. It's maintained its place as a community on the brink of significance, a place of great paradox. Its handsome, hilly landscape — which stretches from 16th Street to 19th Avenue, between Northern and Cactus Roads — has long been populated by drug dealers and hookers, undesirables whose derelict homes rest in the shadow of million-dollar hillside housing. It's a community that's often mistaken for a town; one that's been home to both one of the city's best-regarded high schools and its highest concentration of crime.

And though developers have been busy building stadiums and relocating college campuses and renovating fallen neighborhoods all over town, the denizens of Sunnyslope have been quietly rebuilding their community, one street at a time. It's an eccentric, grass-roots effort unlike any other in the Valley, one born of necessity by this overlooked, redheaded stepchild of a borough, and funded by a corporate benefactor — a hospital, no less — that owes its very existence to Sunnyslope.

As a result of this beneficence, the downtrodden Sunnyslope, like any good mirage, is fading fast. Its rundown neighborhoods are bustling with infill projects, custom homes, and restoration plans. Shearer's Plumbing, a high-profile Central Avenue junkyard stacked high with old toilets (locals knew it as "the porcelain palace") has been replaced by a tony interior design showroom. Sleazy Giovanni's Mediterranean Lounge is now Corbin's Bar and Grill, one of the Valley's hottest eateries. Bomberos, an upmarket wine bar, is set to open in October in an abandoned fire station on Central.

The word is out about this area's reclamation, and folks are coming from far and wide — arty types from Roosevelt Row; young marrieds from Arcadia; even Oaxacan refugees from southern Mexico — to claim Sunnyslope as their own.

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16 comments
Shell
Shell

All of those who claim you love sunnyslope and the terrain know not of the plight of sunnyslope, rather you ignore its pressence and just wish it away. So you've DRIVEN through what you call 'rough' areas...so what. Try walking through them alone, day in and day out. Try knowing people who live in those 'dingy' little house shacks. Try having drug deals go down at the building across from you in your apartments.Dont get me wrong, I love sunnyslope immensely. I was born at John C Linoln Hospital, attended Lincoln Learning Center, Sunnyslope Elementary and Highschool. I had something terrible happen while walking at 3rd St and Vogel; I vowed I would never go back. I lived there for 20 years. Hiked the same mountains you have, admired the same skyline you have as well.... but yet we do not acknowledge eachother.

I dont want Sunnyslope to be the new scottsdale. Yes, like Sheryl Crow sings, A change will do you good; A change here and there will do Sunnyslope some good. Too much though and it will change drastically and dramatically. It will not be the town we all fell in love with. Theres no need for shopping malls and palm trees...just protection and a higher sense of community. People need to set asside their differences and talk to one another when out and about at the grocery store. See whats going on in their area of the neighborhood and communicate. Without communication there is no community. Stay devoted thank you :)

Tim
Tim

I grew up in Sunnyslope,since the early 70's. My father owned and ran Country Market since 1972.Had great times there but things have surely changed.

Bruce Trethewy
Bruce Trethewy

I grew up in Sunnyslope, when my family moved there in the mid-1950s, before Phoenix annexed it. Back then, it was it's own little town. While it had the "lunger" reputation for its founding, between the mid-50s and into the 1980s, Sunnyslope had a great reputation. In the 1950s, new homes were being built between the canal north to Alice Avenue, and from from the mountain at 14th Street west. Today the housing track looks dated, and not at all all that appealing, but then, they were as good as any homes being built at the time. Sunnyslope was a thriving, energetic community, and not at all the picture of poverty and down-trodden region this story paints. In the 1960s, Sunnyslope High School produced one, maybe two, Miss Arizonas, who competed in the Miss America Pageant, and Sunnyslope's Karen Stenwall won the national Junior Miss title in 1969 or 1970. Sunnyslope and Sunnyslope High School produced a number of very successful and accomplished people, including former Mayor Paul Johnson, former long-time Horizon host Michael Grant, even country singer Tanya Tucker lived in Sunnyslope for a time. The school's athletics teams were highly competitive in the Skyline Region. The wrestling team, especially, constantly competed during the 1960s for the state championship. And one of the best playoff football games in Arizona history occured in 1970, when the "skinny 26," as one sports writer called the team, upset powerful Phoenix Union in a double overtime. Sunnyslope's reputation started faltering in the early 1980s, and while it went through a period of time where it may have been the "eye-rolling" area you indicate, those 20 years or so are meaningless when you consider that every neighborhood goes through a depressed cycle. Just look at other ares of Phoenix that are also now revitalized or in the process of revitalization. Sunnyslope still is beautiful and one of the best areas in the Valley.

Lisa
Lisa

Some 5 years ago or so I became active in my neighborhood as a Block Watch leader in Sunnyslope. I have met so many wonderful people in my travels through taking care of issues in my neighborhood. And all of these people from other Block Watch leaders, to John C. Lincoln, to our Phoenix Police and Phoenix Neighborhood Services Dept. are so wonderful. I couldn't ask for a better place to live and more help than you could ever imagine just by picking up the phone. I am proud to live in Sunnyslope and to raise children here. It is a combined effort of business', neighborhoods, schools, and the city that makes it such a success story. Little by little we can each do our part and make a difference in this world, Sunnyslope is a prime example of that. With every bit of graffiti I paint over and piece of trash I pick up with my children at my side, we can continue to improve Sunnyslope little step by little step that become huge leaps and bounds. Thank you Mr. Pela for writting such a realistic and upbeat piece and helping spread the word of our "small town" in the big city up here in the mountains. Gods Peace.

Diana
Diana

I'm so glad that Sunnyslope is turning into the city it should be.My grandmother, when she was alive lived in Sunnyslope for about 40 years. She lived off of 15th Ave and Cinnabar. We spent all our time their as kids, we knew everybody in the neighborhood. We could to the park at the end of the street and not worry about anything, even at night.We would walk to a litte store called The Country Market and turn in our pop bottles for candy. During the 4th of July, we would watch the fire works from the big mountain facing NE of my Gm house. We used to climb the mountain that is right at 15th ave and Cinnabar, where there is a school now, I believe. That was the neighborhood during the 60's, 70s, and 80's. That's what we used to call Cinnabar, The Neighborhood, because our family and friends hung out and partied at each others houses during that time.

From time to time I'll drive through there and check out my GM old house. Unfortunately it doesn't look the same. That neighborhood in particular looks like it has not life, which is sad to me.I will always have fond memories of Sunnyslope and I'm so glad it's coming alive again! No trouble ever brewed there, I felt safe in Sunnyslope!Diana

Pat Nicolello
Pat Nicolello

I heard a rumour that Alice Cooper bought the mountian with an "S" on it and he's gonna change it into a "$" make it a big dollar sign and then call it "Money-slope"

Brian
Brian

Sunny Slope on the rise ?? Becoming a desireable place to live ?? Bullshit...

Just take a drive north on 11th avenue from the Circle K on Hatcher and then tell me that...

But It is a great place for cheap mexican food and getting some ass....

NoName
NoName

Sunny Slope on the rise ?? Becoming a desireable place to live ?? Bullshit...

Just take a drive north on 11th avenue from the Circle K on Hatcher and then tell me that...

GERRY WATKINS
GERRY WATKINS

I requested from God, (1)a home in the city (2)with a view of the city (3) an where I could walk to a commercial area and have dinner, coffee, etc; well Sunnyslope has exceeded my dream home. I didn't expect such nice freindly people, such ethnically diverse community, and it get's better every day. love my small city thats in a Big city.

Cathleen
Cathleen

I loved your article! I am a physician who practices in NE Scottsdale and my husband works for an advertising agency in Central Scottsdale. My husband discovered Sunnyslope while hiking/biking and when he originally introduced the idea of purchasing a house in Sunnyslope I was doubtful. We did one walk-through of a partially completed house and, standing in the living room, looking out the front window at the incredible view of the Phoenix skyline and South Mountain, I turned to him and said, "This is our home." We've lived here for three and a half years and I can't imagine living anywhere else. We ride our bikes on the canal, hike the mountain behind us, have dinner at least once a week at Corbin's, have lunch at Pano Bianco and coffee at Lux. We've been waiting for Bombadero's to open and we always enjoy watching the "curled lip and slight sneer" of people when we tell them that we live in Sunnyslope. Even more, we enjoy when those same people come to our house and are blown away by the view and the cosy neighborhood.

Thank you for the lovely article!

Erin
Erin

I am happy to say I am a resident of Sunnyslope and an Alumi of the high school. I moved away for 7 years and now happy to be back in a place that is getting better everyday. I look forward to being one of the people that help make the area a better place and I thank you for the nice write up about the area.. Very well written

Jeremy
Jeremy

We recently bought a home in Sunnyslope last September, and have loved it. There is such a small town feel, and a pride that comes from the people that have been there. We were looking for all the same things, affordability, proximity to downtown, the trail access, well built homes that have stood the test of time, large yards, etc. The slope has it all. With the coming light-rail it will be an even hotter spot in my opinion. Thanks for the great article!!

Silvana
Silvana

I have lived in Sunnyslope since 4/03, and love every moment of it. I can afford to live in Snottsdale, but I rather like the views from up here on the slope. I invite other, open-minded people to check out the best kept secrect Phoenix has....

Pattie
Pattie

I have lived in Sunnyslope for nearly 9 years and love the area! It's fun to see the reaction of friends that visit my home who have only driven through and seen the rough edges. They can't believe we have mountains on three sides, big yards with mature trees, and we're 20 minutes from downtown. Thanks for the great article!

Jamie
Jamie

My husband and I are one of those "newlyweds" living in Sunnyslope. We fall more in love with it every year for all the reasons listed in this article. We love its historic charm and small town atmosphere the most. No matter where you shop or eat out, everyone knows you by name. Just the thought of living in a development of cookie-cutter stucco homes makes us claustrophobic. We appreciate the mature trees, greener landscape, mountains and the "cooler weather" here. Unfortunately, like many of my neighbors, we have been affected by the vagrants that run amok here, but we are pleased to see they are being squeezed out farther and farther. Kudos to all the residents actively involved! Your efforts are VERY MUCH appreciated!

Jay
Jay

I've been trying to tell people I know that Sunnyslope is going to be the next big thing in the valley. It's landscape and views would make it a great place to clean up and turn into a great community. It's also one of the most affordable and convienantly located neighborhoods left in the vally.

 
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