Best Ancient Chinese Secret 2011 | Opium dens in Downtown Phoenix | People & Places | Phoenix
The next time you walk around US Airways Center, consider this: An underground neighborhood — Chinatown or "China Alley," as it was once referred to — was centered right at Madison and First streets.

Census figures from 1890 put the number of Chinese people residing in Phoenix at 200, though given that many were single men living in boarding houses, the number may have been under-reported. Certainly not all Chinese residents lived in this neighborhood bounded by Jackson, Jefferson, First and Third streets, but the majority did at what may have been the height of Phoenix's Chinatown community.

There were Chinese-owned businesses such as grocery stores, vegetable stands, laundries, and restaurants. By 1899, there was a joss house, boarding houses, and another business, Dr. Ah Yim's Chinese Tea and Herb Sanitarium on First Street just north of Madison. In 1910, the three largest restaurants in Phoenix were Chinese-owned.

But this being our "underground" issue, we have to mention there were some pretty persistent and salacious rumors, too — mainly that a system of subterranean tunnels criss-crossed underneath Phoenix's old Chinatown, connecting dens of inequity.

This was such a long-held piece of gossip that a man recalling his Phoenix childhood in 1982 in an article in the Arizona Capitol Times says there was "conviction among the youth of Phoenix that Chinatown lay over a sinister maze of tunnels and underground rooms put to god-knows-what use. Stories about mysterious goings-on were common."

Okay — vegetable vendors, sure, but gambling tunnels?

While it is true that after 1909, gambling and opium smoking were illegal in Arizona, both were still available in Chinatown, and opium joints and gambling dens, visited by both Chinese and white residents, were raided occasionally by law enforcement. We found this gem from the Arizona Republican (March 9, 1910): "Four opium dens were discovered, all in full blast, and packed to the doors with hop-smoking Chinks."

And a Republican article from March 17, 1923, said officers involved in a narcotics raid "made human rats of themselves in exploring the underground tunnels which played an important part in the narcotics activities of the men taken into custody. A majority of the dope taken in the raid was discovered in these subterranean passages."

So there were definitely sensationalized reports in Anglo newspapers, but was there any real evidence to support the rumor that a vast network of underground tunnels existed?

In 1989, archaeologists undertook a survey of the site around the arena prior to its construction and published a report of their findings. Their dig did unearth evidence of narcotics use and gambling (through fragments such as opium cans; see other artifacts, pictured above) found in basements of formerly Chinese-operated buildings, but there was no mention of a system of tunnels.

The terms Chinatown and "China Alley" were used by Phoenix newspapers and on maps up until the 1940s, to describe the area. But by that time, local Chinese populations had chosen consciously to integrate and scattered throughout the city.

"My name is Westley Allen, I think — let me check my notes." That's a direct quote from Westley Allen, who hosts Erratic! Radio each Tuesday night on KWSS 106.7 from 8 to 10 p.m. Allen plays the best in garage, punk, and crude-ass rock 'n' roll, spinning tunes from all over the map, like garage-rock stars The Black Lips and head-scratcher selections from polka man Frankie Yankovic ("Weird" Al's pops), while hosting music from local and national bands like The Limit Club, Labor Party, Cat Party, Digital Leather, and more. Sometimes Allen broadcasts live from clubs like The Rogue, but even when he's in the studio, there's a wild, anything-goes feel, something that's sorely missing from the FM dial in Phoenix.
Jacy Shepherd mans the boards at Wickenburg's Real Country 96.3 FM (you can pick up the station here in the Valley, no worries) from 4 to 7 p.m., and her sultry, smooth voice works wonders toward easing the pain of afternoon rush-hour when paired with modern country hits from the likes of Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins and classics like "Big Bad John," by Jimmy Dean. The freeways may lock up during her shift, but Shepherd has a calming style, whether she is practicing her Spanish on air or just playing the part of the "aw shucks" country girl and remembering the clouds of dust in her rearview mirror as she drove down dirt roads in her past. Yeah, we wish.
Medical marijuana in Arizona went from pipe dream to reality, thanks to the grassroots movement by the pro-Prop 203 Marijuana Policy Project and its leader, Andrew Meyers. Meyers and MPP collected about 250,000 signatures last year to get the initiative on the November 2010 ballot. The measure passed by a narrow margin thanks to countless hours of campaigning by Meyers and other supporters. The future of the law is still in the weeds, but it's important to give credit where it's due. Congrats, Mr. Meyers.
We've heard a few whoppers from politicians in our time, but none tops what onetime Phoenix City Council candidate Gary Whalen told a New Times staffer earlier this year. It was discovered that Whalen, a Tea Party Republican, had been in a scuffle with his live-in boyfriend. The cops were called and a report was written stating that a drunken Whalen threw the partially naked man out of his apartment. Awkward. When contacted by New Times about the scuffle, Whalen actually denied being Whalen. He then called back shortly after — from the same number we called. Sure enough, "Gary Whalen" popped up on our caller ID. The man claiming to not be Whalen then explained there was a mix up: It was "Gaby" Whalen who was involved in the scuffle. Sure, "Gaby" Whalen was mistakenly written on one of several court documents, but the error later was corrected by court officials. Of course, it was Gary who got into a fight with his boyfriend — and who spoke to New Times. He ended his candidacy the next day.
Tucked beneath the lobby of the tallest building in the state, this sprawling underground atrium originally served as a mini-mall for the building's 2,100 employees. Recently remodeled as part of this 40-story skyscraper's $14 million upgrade, most of the stores are long gone, but in-the-know downtowners still ride the escalator down to hidden gems like the Coin Room cafeteria. More important, this surprisingly airy basement is also a soothing reminder of 1970s-style corporate Zen. Sitting here in climate-controlled perfection, surrounded by well-dressed business types and staring up at the high-rises out of every window, you're transported to a time when downtown Phoenix really was the center of the Valley's universe. Now if someone would just bring back the old penthouse dining space spanning the 37th and 38th floors and featuring killer 360-degree city views from nearly 500 feet above the Valley floor.
In Spanish, puente means "bridge." And the peace warriors of the Phoenix-based Puente Movement are building a bridge to an Arizona future free of nativism, bigotry, and hateful anti-immigrant laws pimped by the likes of state Senate President Russell Pearce. Yeah, they're nonviolent, but they kick much nativist hiney and have fun doing it. Their leader Sal Reza, can put a hundred thousand pro-immigrant protesters in the streets like it was nothing. Sometimes he and his people get arrested performing acts of civil disobedience, like their heroes Gandhi and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. And sometimes they're targeted for retaliation by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whom they regularly assail while protesting him outside his headquarters at the Wells Fargo Building downtown. It don't sweat 'em none. They know their vision will one day be triumphant, though they may have to wear a few steel bracelets in the meantime.
Burly and bearded with an elbow ever ready to bend, Drew Sullivan is a committed anarchist who can discuss the relative merits of the black bloc (where anarchists don black clothing and hide their faces during protests) or hold forth on the theories of Hakim Bey and Mikhail Bakunin while sucking back his sixth pint of Guinness and ordering six more.But you're as likely to see him on the front lines of an anarchist street brawl with neo-Nazis as you are in his favorite bar, tipping a few. And oddly for an anarchist and strident critic of capitalism, he owns a business, Ash Avenue Comics and Books, where debates over Batman and Robin and the Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips series Criminal take precedence over the theories of Pyotr Kropotkin and Pierre Joseph Proudhon. A modern contradiction, he is, with a lust for life and a passion for political theory wrapped up in one personality. He'd be as comfortable in a pub in London or a coffeehouse in Barcelona as he is with a comic book or a treatise. He's a bit of an anachronism, a return to the days of the Spanish Civil War, to the Haymarket Riot and Sacco and Vanzetti, and the times when being an "anarchist" actually meant something.
Yes, we know this museum is closer to Tucson than Phoenix, but the bottom line is that the Titan Missile Museum is the only missile site in the nation that the public can actually visit. So if you think in terms of the entire country, this missile museum is right in our backyard. And this place is like nowhere else in the Valley: It's a complex of steel-reinforced concrete, completely underground, with three-ton blast doors and a 103-foot Titan II missile. The missile silo, which was operational starting in 1963, was one of more than 32 Titan II silos throughout the country. The missile in Green Valley was de-activated in 1982 (along with the rest of the Titan IIs), but this is the only silo that survived demolition. And the museum still sees a lot of action — many scenes from the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact were shot there, and the public can tour the facility. Tours include restored engines, the control room, and a simulated launch. There are even overnight stays in the crew facilities for more adventurous tourists.
It's bad enough that a gum-smacking idiot like Anthem Republican Lori Klein is a state senator, but then, Arizona's Legislature is filled to the brim with lightweights who've never evolved emotionally or intellectually past the eighth grade. She is also a class-A bigot and Mexican-hater, yet even that is fairly common these days in Sand Land's highest deliberative body.A water-carrier for the state's premier xenophobe, state Senate President Russell Pearce, Klein sticks out because she is so crass, so proud of being what she is: white trash. Along with her colleague in prejudice, state Senator Al Melvin, she gets her kicks during Senate hearings cracking jokes at any citizens and lobbyists who speak English with an accent. She once told Latino demonstrators outside the Capitol to go back to Mexico, despite the fact they were American citizens and legal residents. And she's infamous for reading a letter on the Senate floor from a substitute teacher filled with lies about Mexican-American school kids and how they'd rather be gangsters than get an education. When it was revealed that the letter was bunk, Klein was unapologetic. A loathsome, racist cretin, she has no place in public life, and yet there she sits in the Legislature, one more reason for the world to regard Arizona with horror, and one more reason for Arizonans to be embarrassed.

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