Best Downtown Building to Poke Your Head Into 2012 | Phoenix Financial Center Rotunda | People & Places | Phoenix

Two identical rotundas share a grassy midtown lot with W.A. Sarmiento's 19-story, Googie-style Phoenix Financial Center. Should you ever be offered the chance to peek into either, we have two words for you: Take it.

Inside the buildings, which were Mad Men-esque banking offices in their heyday, light floods through floor-to-ceiling windows, and surfboard-shaped stairs lead to a second-floor loft. Cast your glance up and you'll find that the space-age dome ceilings are adorned with carved-out stars filled with colored glass. Should you access the southern rotunda (last we checked, it's still sitting empty), its loft has access to a closed-off loggia built as a connecting walkway to the second floor of the Financial Center. While you're there, perhaps you'll have some luck finding the rumored time capsule buried on the site — building managers have hunted for it, but it's never been found.

You're bound to spot the cake-like structure just off Interstate 202 and 48th Street if you look carefully around the bend. Sitting on the top of a hill, the house has one of the best views of the Valley — and a colorful backstory to boot. It was built in 1929 by an Italian immigrant and sold in the '30s to cattle baron E.A. Tovrea for his wife, Della. The estate was passed down through the Tovrea family, wrapped up in one of Arizona's most sensational murder trials, and ultimately left to collect dust. It's a historical oddity in the middle of the city. Thanks in large part to John Driggs, a retired politician and historic preservation champion, it was reopened this year for small tours and volunteer hours in its iconic Carraro Cactus Gardens. Future plans include availability for private parties and, yes, maybe even weddings. The city just needs to work on some piping and fix a few exterior lights first.

In 1539, a Franciscan friar named Marcos from Italy led a scouting party from Mexico's interior through Arizona and into New Mexico, where he later claimed to have seen the prosperous land of Cibola. Along the way, he visited what is now the Valley and, the story goes, scratched a short inscription on a rock that, translated into English, says: "Fr. Marcos of Nice crowned all of New Mexico at his expense, 1539."

The inscription, first seen in the 1920s, is located on a hill just south of the parking lot at the Pima Canyon entrance to Phoenix's South Mountain Park. Iron security bars were put there long ago to protect it. Researchers say it's a fake, forged no earlier than 1850 and likely much later. One big clue: The phrase "New Mexico" didn't come into use until the late 1500s. And historians believe Marcos' route didn't pass through South Mountain or anywhere else near Phoenix. The etching's an apt symbol for Marcos de Niza, disgraced as one of the biggest liars in the New World. Researchers argue over whether Marcos promoted the idea that Cibola was loaded with gold, but apparently he did, because early the next year, the Spanish launched a massive expedition to the area led by Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. When no gold was found, Marcos was lambasted by Coronado's soldiers. And now the priest from Nice has a high school named after him in Tempe, not too far from where he didn't scratch his name on a rock, while on his way to a land of gold that didn't exist.

You'll have to do some extreme trespassing to get into the abandoned Phoenix Trotting Park racetrack in Goodyear, but the view is pretty fantastic. The doomsday-looking structure has sat untouched (by contractors and restoration experts) for decades, but there have been plenty of parties and graffiti trips by brave and risky individuals since the doors closed. The track was built for almost $10 million in the early 1960s and opened as a gambling spot for horse race fiends in 1965. But poor attendance numbers and bad business shut the park down after two and a half seasons. The outer structure remains visible from Interstate 10 just past Goodyear and is noted for its Star Wars-like, megalithic architecture. But the frame has yet to be purchased, and no plans for a renovated track are on the books, so unless you have a risky mission in mind, it'll be a while before you get to see the inside.

Heather Hoch
Apricot Glazed Chicken from Liberty Market

It's hard to top downtown Gilbert's charm, and Liberty Market, housed in a circa-1935 grocery store, might be the most charmed building on the block. The breakfast and lunch joint had us at the omelets, but the quaint touches extend to the bathrooms. There are five separate units, each complete with its own vibe, music, and look. Our favorites? There's the awesome men's room (with hot rod memorabilia and good looking pin-ups), the Italian room (complete with a Vespa tire), and an oceanside room, because staring at a serene sea makes us feel so nice about . . . well, you know.

Dry cleaners? Check. Grocery run? Done. Mani-pedi? Finished. In a Valley full of meh-tastic strip malls, shopping becomes a boring, forumulaic exercise in driving from place to nondescript place.

That's why finding a strip with a unique lineup of shops is so terribly exciting. Hence the allure of Tempe Square. Boasting our favorite indie bookstore Changing Hands as its starring headliner, the southwest corner of McClintock Drive and Guadalupe Road can keep shoppers busy for hours on end. In between perusing the latest in lit, you can grab a snack at Wildflower Bread Company, Trader Joe's, or Mac's, check out the consignment goods at Love Child and Turn Style, and then dance off the calories during an aerobics class at Express MiE. And — voila! — your boring day of errands just got a whole lot more interesting.

That noise you hear when you walk into Alterations and Creations may sound like an elderly man quietly coughing after having fallen to the ground, but look down and you'll come face-to-face with Batman. No, not Christian Bale dressed in a cape and mask, but a pint-size puffball of black and brown fur. Batman is always hanging out in the small storefront located on the street level of the Roosevelt Apartments complex, and he loves attention. But the coolest thing about Batman is "It's a Pomeranian, dude!"

If you're in the need to get some dry cleaning or alterations done, you can do that too. The folks at Alterations and Creations can turn around both in less than a week if needed, and they do a solid job.

Every time you see one of those TV commercials with the hungry kittens and sad, neglected puppies, you want to throw yourself into traffic. Right? Well, don't. Instead, do something to help those unhappy animals by volunteering at the Arizona Animal Welfare League. There, you'll be involved in virtually all aspects of helping four-legged friends to find a home — everything from adoption counseling to dog-walking to keeping up the AAWL grounds. Not much of a cat person? Don't really like dogs? You can work with birds, rabbits, rodents, and reptiles, instead. AAWL offers various volunteer training programs that will help you help them find homes for strays that might otherwise be put to death. Talk about a worthy cause.

A trio on Craigslist looking for a dog to have sex with found a match earlier this year, with a guy offering up his male golden shepherd mix to complete the foursome. Unfortunately, for the three humans in the deal — Shane Walker, Sarah Walker, and Robert Aucker — the guy offering up the dog was an undercover detective with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. The trio's plan, according to the Sheriff's Office, was to use Craigslist to find the dog to "fornicate" with the woman, while her husband and friend watched. The detective eventually was also offered the "opportunity to join in on the act," although it's not clear exactly what his role would have been. At the time, Sheriff Joe Arpaio exclaimed, "People who do this for enjoyment are a different breed, that's for certain." The three humans in the busted foursome all eventually pleaded guilty to bestiality charges.

With themes of self-loathing, loneliness, and longing, the music of Manchester's gloomiest, The Smiths, is already comic (in an absurdist, depressing way), but it took the good folks at SpazDog Press to gather up a slew of indie comics' finest, like Foo!, Sam Laggren, Kayla Cagan, Tara Abbamondi, and New Times' own Brad Dwyer, to put pen to page and illustrate the melodrama for two volumes of Unite and Take Over: Stories Inspired by the Songs of The Smiths. The morose croon of Morrissey inspires everything from psycho-sexual slapstick to violent, vintage Image-style splatter-fests. Recognizing a readily apparent connection between the post-punk mythos of The Smiths and the intimacy of the black-and-white page, Unite speaks to the alt-pop nerds as easily as the comic book guys — turns out, they're the same kids anyway.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of