Wonky Architecture Stands Out Against the Bland
One of the holiday gifts I received this year was a sweatshirt printed with the slogan "I Phoenix," which was intended, by the gift-giver, as irony. I'm still trying, after a half-century, to truly love our town. It's a lot easier than it once was — there are plenty of great things happening here these days — and so I've resolved to really knuckle down and focus on what I love about this place: the wonky architecture.
Fashion Square: I love a good, old-school shopping mall. And if I love Scottsdale Fashion Square (7014 E. Camelback Road, Scottsdale) most of all, it's because it's the last of these malls that's still thriving. The new malls scare me, with their pyrotechnic water features, laser light shows, and 30-foot wall onto which Nike commercials are projected. Fashion Square has anchor stores and a food court. It has a seating area and an escalator — old-timey amenities that today seem quaint when compared to megamalls with their sports arenas and hotels grafted on. I want chain-store decadence and an Orange Julius, and not from a mall that was once glorious (Chris-Town, anyone? Metrocenter?). Scottsdale Fashion Square is all that's left, and I resolve to visit it more often this year.
Arizona Falls: I love to cruise past SRP's Arizona Falls, an adjunct to the G.R. Herberger Park at Indian School Road and 56th Street. It calls itself a "hydroelectric plant and neighborhood gathering place," but it's really just a lot of smelly canal water pouring over cement blocks. There's also a metal bench perched on a lookout point, so that one can sit and watch the canal water being churned into a froth, and a cement seating area where one might perch on a concrete bolster to watch traffic speed by. Finally, there's a walkway to the "north canal bank," which looks exactly like the unlabeled south canal bank but is home to a smallish, man-made waterfall spilling spooge into a city waterway.
Children's Museum of Phoenix: Despite my best intentions, there's no point in resolving to stop whining about the routine razing of really great old buildings, because I'm never going to do that. Instead, I'll try to remember the Children's Museum of Phoenix (215 N. Seventh St.), which has made its new home in downtown's historic and formerly abandoned Monroe School, built in 1913. Rather than plow down this imposing old Classic Revival-style, Norman Marsh-designed three-story brick building at Seventh Street and Van Buren, someone saw fit to make it useful again. Its renovation of a couple of years ago retained many of its most handsome original elements. The gorgeous oak floors are the same ones laid down nearly a hundred years ago, and they're in great shape. The giant north and south stairwells feature their original banisters, and the wooden beams in every room have been walnut-shell-blasted back to their original finish. And everywhere you look, there's exposed brick — that's the building's skeleton, stacked high in 1913.
Der Wienerschnitzel locations, current and former: I love to play "Spot the Der Wienerschnitzel." This chain of hot dog stands, founded in 1961 by John Galardi of California, was distinctive not so much for its sausages as for its wacky A-frame architecture, its pointy, sky-reaching peak like a demented Swiss chalet. Der Wienerschnitzel was the first drive-through in town — a giant triangle with a massive hole in its middle through which one drove to request wieners and Cokes. They're all still standing, although most have morphed into Mexican food restaurants. But they're not fooling me nor, I'm guessing, anyone else who grew up here. You can peddle sopaipillas all day long, but if you're housed in a colossal Tyrolean tepee in Phoenix, you're a Der Wienerschnitzel.
Spot the Valley National Bank: Another fun what-are-they-now tour (at least to me) involves the Valley National Bank buildings, most of them built in the early 1960s and now owned by Chase bank. There's the Los Arcos branch at 74th Street and McDowell, with its massive metal W-shaped columns supporting a pebble-strewn roof; the tiny, scallop-roofed ChrisTown Branch with its many faux-Roman friezes. More famously, there's the "Flintstones" branch at 44th Street and Camelback, which modernists are still trying to get listed as an historic landmark before it falls prey to a high-rise developer. The one over at Third Avenue and Indian School, all stone-studded walls and cast-concrete columns also is lovely. Even the boxy, Plain Jane VNBs (like the one at 16th Street and Camelback or the similar sandstone version standing at Seventh Avenue and Thomas) have more style and pizzazz than most other midcentury buildings standing today.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Phoenix art and theater scene.