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  • Best of Phoenix 2013: Vintage Phoenix
G.R. Herberger Park

Hey, it's Phoenix. If we want things like waterfalls, we have to make them out of other stuff. Thus, Salt River Project long ago crafted, between 56th and 58th Streets along Indian School Road, a natural 20-foot water drop along the Arizona Canal. Known as Arizona Falls, the water feature was restored to use in conjunction with the Phoenix Arts Commission and the Arcadia neighborhood in June 2003, and it officially reopened as a hydroelectric plant and neighborhood gathering place.

Established in the early 1900s, the Falls was a meeting place for locals and the home of Phoenix's first-ever hydroelectric plant. Rebuilt for higher power in 1911, the plant used flowing canal water to produce power until 1950, when SRP shut it down. Today, visitors can hang out in the Water Room, seated on big rocks and surrounded by water sheeting down three walls, or ogle an antique gear system salvaged from the original hydroelectric plant and installed there as public art.

Restored and reinvigorated, the Falls isn't just splashing around and looking pretty; it's also earning its keep. Designed to celebrate the city's past and tout the wonders of various green-centric SRP programs, the site once again generates "clean" electricity from the canal's waterfall, and that electricity — as well as energy generated from its numerous solar panels — is fed into SRP's grid. Propaganda posted at the Falls boasts that the waterfall generates up to 750 kilowatts of renewable electricity, which can power up to 150 homes. Not bad for a little water park on a busy street.

Tovrea Castle and Carraro Cactus Garden

Even if you don't know it by heart, you certainly know Tovrea Castle — the wedding cake-shaped building perched above Loop 202.

Besides being a compelling visual landmark, Tovrea Castle is an eclectic piece of Arizona history. Alessio Carraro, the castle's builder, was an Italian immigrant from San Francisco with a fruitful sheet-metal business, and he wanted his own version of a European castle in his adopted city of Phoenix. He intended to make it into a small hotel and hoped that visitors would then be inspired to buy homesites on the surrounding land.


Check out the complete slideshow of Tovrea Castle here.

Even though it never actually opened as a hotel, the castle has features that were built for such a purpose, like an outdoor game court, horseshoe pit, and fish pond, and an annunciator machine in the kitchen that would be used to call attendants to each room.

A man ahead of his time, Carraro enjoyed using recycled and previously used materials in the castle, and several of its features, including dark wood cabinets in the kitchen and a massive safe in the basement, came from the Phoenix National Bank.

In 1932, E.A. Tovrea and his wife, Della, bought the castle from Carraro and left their own marks as designers on the property in the years they spent there.

The 44-acre Tovrea lot contains not just the castle, but several smaller buildings and structures directly related to its operation over the years. Among these is a small cabin occupied by Alessio and Leo Carraro as they built the castle, a well house complete with a signature Carraro sheet metal roof, and the original machine shop, now used by the City of Phoenix and property groundskeepers.

Toward the end of 2010, the Tovrea Castle Society, a nonprofit group, was founded in order to keep the castle available for public appreciation. A visitor's center was built in late 2011, and the castle opened for tours in March 2012 — so now you can see inside, too.

Halldor Hjalmarson is that rarest of things: A fine artist who stayed in town, worked hard at his art, and made a name for himself here. His signature style — three-dimensional, "sprigged" clay vessels depicting Sonoran plants and wildlife, glazed in earth tones and brilliant blues — is recognizable from 30 feet, and beloved by many. (So, too, are his business cards: small, bright ceramic tokens based on a rather naughty old currency.)

Hjalmarson, long an arts advocate and mover-and-shaker, also promoted downtown's historic preservation well before it was fashionable. For years he's made the tea bowls for the local Japanese gardens, and has, along with wife Gail, maintained the Hjalmarson Pottery Studio in the Roosevelt Historic District for 40 years now. He recently set down his slip long enough to chat about bordello tokens, the best way to freak out the gas company, and the art world, then and now.

Robrt Pela: You've been here forever.

Halldor Hjalmarson: I was born in Phoenix in 1938 and lived on West Willetta Street when I was a kid. I went to Kennilworth School. We moved out to South Mountain later, and I went into the Marine Corps for four years. I came back here and began studying art at ASU in the '60s.

RP: So, right from the beginning, you were going to be an artist.

HH: Well, I minored in Social Studies. I got a Masters in Art Education; ASU didn't have an MFA arts program at the time. I was married and had a kid and I wanted to be able to get a job.

RP: You weren't planning to jump right into clay arts.

HH: I started out as a painter, in watercolor. Most clay artists do. I didn't love ceramics at first. But in the Art Ed Masters program, you had to take at least one ceramics class. I did, and nothing happened. I took a second one, and the bug bit immediately. I've been doing clay work ever since — for more than 50 years. I had my first studio out at South Mountain.

RP: What changed your mind?

HH: I don't know. I became more confident after the second class, I suppose. I got a kiln and enclosed my carport and after that it was Katie, bar the door.

RP: You were instrumental in historic preservation and one of the earliest downtown preservationists.

HH: Gail and I worked on a committee or two, back then. People thought we were nuts when we moved back downtown in 1973. This whole part of town was just a mess. Nobody had a yard, or kept their lawns up. It wasn't really a lot of artists down here, back then. There were a lot of people who just left for work in the morning with their lunch in a brown bag.

RP: So, you built a kiln out back and you were one of the few working artists downtown, back then.

HH: I was teaching all year by then, so I fired up the kiln a lot in the summertime. And every summer, we'd get the guy from the gas company out here looking for a leak in the gas line, because our gas use would spike in the summertime. They couldn't figure out why we were using so much gas in July — more than we used in the winter.

RP: Tell me about sprigging.

HH: It's an old technique, and there aren't many who are foolish enough to do it today. I sculpt things out of clay, and I make molds of different Sonoran plants and wildlife, and then I cohere the clay to a finished vessel. I throw the vessels first, as sort of a blank canvas, and then compose the pieces on them later. It's like painting, only it's three dimensional.

RP: Your business cards are little pieces of art, themselves. I take one whenever I see a pile of them in a coffee shop. Aren't they expensive?

HH: They're free. And it takes no time at all for me to make them. I slip in a hundred or more with each firing I do. They're based on bordello tokens.

RP: Bordello tokens?

HH: They were little coins that were used as advertising for brothels or brothel bars, about a hundred years ago. Mostly in Europe, I think.

RP: Where were you selling your work in the early days?

HH: Galleries in Jerome and Prescott. Scottsdale, too. And we did craft fairs — eight or ten a year. It wasn't like it is now. Back then, you just put a blanket down and spread your work out on top of it. Today, you have to have a regulation-sized table, with the proper draping, and you have to provide a photo in advance of what your setup is going to look like. Some potters today wouldn't dream of going to all this trouble —they're just too damn lazy.

RP: Has clay work itself changed?

HH: It has, in general. It's more glitzy today — all art is. And I don't think there's as much skill as there once was. I like to joke about how, if a potter can't sell a pot for $50, he'll ask $500. A lot of bad craft is being passed off as clay art, these days.

RP: I suppose you wind up showing alongside a lot of craftspeople.

HH: It used to be in order to be a studio potter like myself, you had to do all the work yourself. You had to rent the space, and create your own means of production — a wheel, a kiln. Today, we have a mess of what I call institutional potters — they're doing all their work at an art center or a college. Someplace where someone fires the kiln for you, mixes the clay for you, mops the floor for you. There's always an instructor standing by in case you need something, like finding the bathroom. I'll bet they'll wipe your ass for you, too.

RP: Yikes.

HH: That's sarcastic of me, I know. But it's disheartening, too. Most of the competitive potters today are doing their work at colleges or other borrowed spaces, and it affects the work.

RP: Where are you showing now?

HH: I'm in a gallery in Tucson, but I'm slowly turning the business inward, so that I am selling more of my work from my studio. I do just as well. I have a steady clientele, and they know where to find me.

RP: Why do you make art?

HH: (laughing) Well, there's a good question. I usually tell people I've always worked with my hands. But I suppose making art is the result of a misspent youth.

Durant's

Not many restaurants can say they have a "Marilyn Monroe table" and actually have a plausible story to back up the claim. But the legendary Durant's steak house does, and it's a little surprising. Talk to any of the waiters or employees and you'll quickly realize that the majority of the anecdotes about the restaurant — especially ones about Jack Durant himself — aren't backed up by many facts. Almost every story at Durant's (2602 North Central Avenue) is a rumor, but it keeps the mystique alive, and we like it that way. It's certainly true that Marilyn Monroe did, indeed, sit at Table 54, though, and to this day patrons still request the spot when they call for reservations. The table is one of many features of Durant's that ooze history and tradition. Entering the restaurant from the back kitchen door is an absolute must, as is taking in the vintage décor and all-red everything. The atmosphere inside Durant's is unlike anything else in Phoenix, with the flocked wallpaper, dim lighting, floral arrangements, and endless plaques and awards proclaiming the steak house's greatness.


Check out the complete slideshow of Durant's here.

The busiest time of year at Durant's starts in October and usually lasts through spring. Employees even say that it's quite ambitious to come to the restaurant without a reservation between November and February. Durant's has plenty of loyal customers, many of whom fill up the polished booths on Christmas Eve every year, but guests are usually split halfway between locals and tourists. Another famous feature of the restaurant is the old wooden phone booth located across from the host area. People often go inside to talk on their own cell phones away from the surrounding noise, and the actual phone is used so rarely that the phone company actually tried to take it away once. There's even a phone in the women's restroom, but we don't want to know what kind of situations result in its use.

You've been driving by the Toy Box on East Indian School Road for years now. Maybe as you're speeding past, you glance over at its glittery showroom, where cool old roadsters and carefully restored convertibles are displayed, and assume the Toy Box is a place that sells vintage automobiles.

It's not. It's a full-service auto shop, launched by mechanic and car fanatic Tim Horn in 1978. Horn sold the business to Phil Barrett, who grew up in the Valley in the '60s before relocating to Idaho in 1967. Barrett says that although his front-and-center showroom makes it look like he's selling old cars, the really vintage thing about the Toy Box is its work ethic.

Robrt Pela: I always assumed The Toy Box was owned by an auto mechanic obsessed with old cars.

Phil Barrett: Nope. I'm a retired air force officer. I got a master's in education in the military, and after my military career I always figured I'd be an educator. Instead, I moved back to Phoenix and I bought this place in the spring of 2001.

RP: How'd you end up ditching teaching for fixing cars?

PB: My brother was a customer here. He was getting an old Nash restored, and he called me and said, "Come down here, we need to talk about your future." He introduced me to Tim, and I spent two months training, while he gave me the eyeball, trying to figure out if I was a good fit. He was a redneck and he figured anyone who worked for the government was on the dole. But he eventually warmed up to me and, well, here I am.

RP: Why?

PB: It really isn't the cars. I don't know squat about cars. I have these beautiful clean nails because I'm not a mechanic. I know how to take care of customers and the people who work for me. In a sense, my business is about treating people well.

RP: It's like an episode of Mayberry, R.F.D.!

PB: Integrity is important. All these auto shops around town claim to be certified in all kinds of specialties, and we have specialists working here, too. But our real specialty is integrity.

RP: What do you drive?

PB: I drive an old Ford pickup, but I own a 1959 MGA, and a 1974 Ford Duster.

RP: Is that your MG in the window there?

PB: Yes. I bought it when I was 30. I said to my wife, "Which should I get, a sports car or a blonde?" She said, "In the long run, I think the sports car would be less expensive."

RP: Why cars?

PB: It's not about cars. It's just the enjoyment of working with good people. I just happen to be doing cars. But I'm not the person who talks to the customer about why their AC compressor isn't working.

RP: Then what do you do?

PB: I mop floors real well. I empty trash cans. I do the taxes. I answer the phone. I do payroll. My employees are the key. I grew up when there were full-service stations. They don't exist anymore. It's not just gas stations, it's everything. Service is considered old-fashioned.

RP: So I don't have to own an old car to get service here? I can come here for an oil change?

PB: Well, if you want an oil change, you could go to Jiffy Lube. We change oil, but we're also checking your brakes and the air in your tires. We pull out your spare and check the air in that, too.

RP: You do?

PB: Yes, because no one ever does that. You need air in your spare, which nobody thinks about until they have a blowout on the freeway and their spare tire is flat.

RP: Maybe you need to figure out a way to let people know you're not selling classic autos here. From the street, you look like a place that restores and sells old cars.

PB: Well, on your way in here, you walked by three signs that say, "Full service garage." But, yeah. We have a perception problem. People think we're a car dealership. I'm not a car buyer or broker. What I do is I have customers who bring in their old cars, and while we're waiting on parts, we put them in the showroom out front. Sometimes we'll sell a car on consignment. There's a 1949 Plymouth out on the floor, and a 1970 Delta 98 out there, too.

RP: What makes someone choose an old car?

PB: Nostalgia. When I started here, we were selling and working on a lot of cars from the '30s and '40s to middle-aged guys because that was the car their dad taught them to drive in. Flash-forward, and those guys in their '60s aren't buying cars anymore. It's the next generation.

RP: Is it just me? I don't see any contemporary cars — or really much of anything made after 1980 — that's distinctive enough to one day be collectible.

PB: I don't think anything that's being made today is going to be iconic. After the '70s, the style and design just isn't there. That's why I have to wash the windows out front every day.

RP: I'm sorry?

PB: People press their noses against the glass. The cars we have here are beautiful.

RP: Tell me your worst customer story.

PB: I don't have worst customers.

RP: Give me a break.

PB: I've had maybe three really lousy people in 12 years that I've had to give my little speech to.

RP: Your little speech?

PB: It goes like this: "Apparently, we are unable to meet your expectations of customer service. I encourage you to look elsewhere to have your auto repaired." Because, of course, it's not professional to say to someone who's behaving badly, "Get the fuck out of here."

Jackalope Trading Post

Bo's Funky Stuff. Shaboom's. Elbo Antiques. Go-Kat-Go. Honey Buns. If you've shopped at any of these landmark vintage shops — all of them now truly things of the past — you've shopped with the Kvetkos, the Valley's first family of vintage retail. What started as a mom-and-pop antiques store 35 years ago became a dynasty of sorts — a chain of different vintage shops that's currently represented by Jackalope Trading Post, recently opened by Brandi Kvetko, who reminisces about growing up in auction houses and antique shops all over the valley.

Robrt Pela: So how does this happen — a family dynasty of vintage retail?

Brandi Kvetko: My dad pretty much started it all. He started collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia right around the time I was born. He always wanted a store instead of a real job. So, about 35 years ago, he opened Elbo Antiques — El for Ellie, my mom, and Bo is my dad's name. They had partners who got out of the business really quickly — you know, selling vintage isn't for everyone. And then when my parents split up, my dad opened Bo's Funky Stuff, and my mom opened Honey Buns, where she sold vintage clothing.

RP: I remember Honey Buns. You know, no one ever called it anything but Miss Ellie's.

BK: I know. It was like that with all the vintage clothing stores. Everyone just called them by the name of the person who owned them.

RP: Like Beulah's.

BK: Beulah's! I'd forgotten about that place. She was so nice. What was the name of her store?

RP: No one remembers. We just called it "Beulah's." So, then your aunt got into the business?

BK: Well, Aunt Jacque was always there, working with my parents, but in the '80s, she opened Shaboom's over in Glendale, and then my dad moved his store to Glendale, too. And my brother Shad was always dabbling in antiques and collectibles. He had a store, too. He was the one who had this real talent for retail — he was into it from the time we were kids.

RP: You weren't?

BK: No way. I was going to nursing school! I wanted nothing to do with retail. Then I met my ex-husband, Chris, and we went to Vegas for our honeymoon and we visited all these great little vintage shops while we were there, and I said to him, "Why don't we open up a store!" So when we got back we opened Go-Kat-Go.

RP: What happened to nursing school?

BK: Vintage retail is in your blood. You can't shake it.

RP: Did your family force you guys to work in their stores when you were kids?

BK: I think we wanted to be there. We grew up in those stores. I worked my way through high school in my dad's shop. One day I mentioned to my dad that I was planning to go to college and he said, "What are you, stupid?"

RP: Were your parents obsessive collectors?

BK: My dad used to say he collected money. But, yeah, they've always both collected stuff. Right now, my mom is into old signage and vintage medical things. And my dad has always been into old beer signs and advertising pieces. Shad is into folk art now and really old hospital stuff. He probably has the weirdest collection. I'm doing Halloween items from the '20s and '30s and older cat collectibles.

RP: Did your possessions get sold out from under you when you were a child? Did you come home from school to find your entire bedroom set gone?

BK: No, my parents weren't ever like that. But I do remember this one time, when I was real little and really in love with toy nurse and doctor kits, and my dad brought one home — a really old one with all the contents in it. I was so excited, because I thought he brought it home for me, but he cleaned it up and stuck a price sticker on it. Today, he claims this never happened.

RP: Did you get to play with all the stuff in your parents' stores?

BK: Not at all. In fact, the only times we got into trouble was if we broke something. Once, I broke one of my dad's Howdy Doody plates. My mother said, "Your punishment is you have to tell your father you broke his plate when he gets home."

RP: Still, it sounds like a fun childhood, to have parents who sold hip vintage things.

BK: Well, I was like any other kid. We had cool, modern furniture and antiques, and I wanted to be like every other kid I knew. You know: "Mom, why can't we have normal furniture?"

Our parents didn't push us into this life, but our life was centered around going to auctions and swap meets. It wasn't horrible. Every summer, we vacationed wherever the collectible convention was that year. Back then, we just wanted to go to Disneyland, but now I look back and think, Hey, I got to see a lot of cool places that I wouldn't have gone to, otherwise. And I got to experience that whole buyer-seller culture while it still existed.

RP: The secondhand market has changed.

BK: Yes, and it's affected our family, business-wise. My dad's store in Glendale isn't open. He does auctions sometimes. Shad has booths in two different stores in Texas, and he sells on eBay. My mother is completely out of the business — she does permanent makeup now. My aunt has gone into estate sales. My cousin Penny does some selling on eBay, but mostly she does life coaching.

RP: You were the one who didn't want any part of running a vintage shop, and you're the last Kvetko standing. You've got a new store in a new location.

BK: Jackalope Trading Post is doing really well. We picked the right time to move onto Grand Avenue — with ASU moving downtown, we're seeing a lot of activity down here. We took a big chance, changing our name and location and our hours — but it's worked out. We're on the upswing. My partner Christian and I are doing what my family's always done: Selling cool old stuff that everyone can afford.

Big Surf Waterpark

Phoenix is a resort town in many ways, with one important exception: There's no beach.

That (more or less) changed in 1969, when the Big Surf wavepool opened at 1500 North McClintock Drive in Tempe, providing Phoenicians with the closest alternative to real sand and giant waves.

The wavepool was the first in the United States and such an advanced feat in engineering that the same equipment from the park's opening still operates today. Each wave churned out is made up of 75,000 gallons of water and produced by two main pumps behind the structure (with a third that remains idle for backup). From real surfers to casual raft-floaters, the massive waves provide the closest thing to an ocean experience you'll find in the Valley of the Sun.


Check out the complete slideshow of Big Surf here.

Over the years, Big Surf has added attractions, such as the many waterslides that transform it from wavepool to full waterpark. The mold of one of the park's first waterslides, now just a cement outline filled with a rock bed, is sandwiched between two still-operating slides.

But anyone around since the early days can attest that Big Surf serves as more than just a place to catch a wave or go down a slide. The wavepool works as an ideal concert amphitheatre and has hosted live acts as big as Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Vintage Phoenix Collection: Jenny Kuller's Kitchen Goods

Stepping into Jenny Kuller's 1950s-inspired kitchen is like traveling straight back in time. The pink walls, patterned curtains, and stacks of colorful tablecloths make the small room a vintage sanctuary. Everything from the authentic food packages and containers (retro Jell-O, anyone?) to the shelves of salt-and-pepper shakers and figurines transforms her kitchen from a place to cook food to a place to curate history.

"Why be beige when you can be bright red, lemon yellow, or green?" she asks. "Things then just seemed to be a heck of a lot prettier than they are now."


Take a video tour of Jenny Kuller's home here.

Kuller, a Phoenician since 1987, has been a collector of 1940s-'50s kitchen linens and goods for more than 20 years. She looks the part, dressed in a vintage teal dress and perfectly coordinated accessories, from pearls to a flowered hairpiece. Inspired by the colors, textures, and history that are inherent to each piece, Kuller loves to surround herself with things from the era. Loyal to her adopted home state, she has assembled a collection-within-a-collection of vintage Arizona kitchenware, spanning items from tiny matchboxes to specialty dishes. Among Kuller's vintage pieces are several artifacts from the Hotel Westward Ho in Phoenix. She shows us a massive handful of old multicolored swizzle sticks, a set of vintage original dishes and cups, and even two pool balls from the billiard room. The dishware displays a pattern called "Mariposa," specifically made for the Westward Ho by the Syracuse China Company.

In addition, Kuller owns about 600 vintage tablecloths, including several that are Arizona-inspired. She unfolds one with a detailed and colorful map that documents cities and attractions all over the state and shares how to decipher its date of origin. In the upper-left corner of the tablecloth is a label for the attraction that we know as Hoover Dam, named in 1930. In the early 1930s, its name was switched to "Boulder Dam," then switched back to Hoover in the late 1940s. This particular map labels it as Boulder Dam, proving it was made during that brief period between the name changes. She affectionately shares anecdotes like this, bubbling with excitement over the unique facts and specific details that bring the history of the kitchenware to life.

Kuller considers herself a curator and feels that her admiration of '40s and '50s culture helps her process the present world. Her attachment to the era is personal, too — she collects as a gesture to both of her grandmothers, who inspired her love of kitchen collectibles with the decorations in their old homes. "I've always kind of felt that I'm chasing my grandmothers; I'm chasing the feeling that I had at their houses," she says. Most of Kuller's kitchen pieces are the fruits of her tireless scavenging efforts. "I do have a lot of fun with the hunt. I've been estate sale-ing and yard sale-ing for most of my life," she says. The reward of finding unique artifacts from the '40s and '50s and preserving them with care for generations to come continues to fuel her search.

Los Olivos Mexican Patio
Jamie Peachey

Los Olivos Mexican Patio opened in Scottsdale in 1947, and waitress Serena Cays has been there almost since the beginning. Launched by restaurateur Tomas Corral, Los Olivos has been handed down through three generations of the Corral family, nearly all of whom has worked there — although none so famously as 75-year-old Cays, who has waited table there since 1953. Cays is the aunt of the current owner, Maria Corral-Ramirez, whose affectionate exasperation with her mother's sister ("She's a handful, and she refuses to retire!") is filled with love. It's hard not to be crazy about Cays, who herself loves a good Reuben and her long-ago home of Mexico.

Robrt Pela: How did you wind up here?

Czarina Cays: You mean in Scottsdale? Or serving the enchiladas?

RP: I mean Scottsdale.

CC: We lived in the ranch, in Mexico. I am from Mexico. A Mexican, si? And this man who owned Los Olivos came to Mexico to look for gold. And this nice man, he fell in love with my sister. I was about to start high school. You know? High school?

RP: Yes, high school. It comes after grade school.

CC: So, my family. Where was I?

RP: You were about to start high school. Some guy fell in love with your sister.

CC: , high school, in Mexico. I came here to visit my sister, she stayed and married her husband. And it was time to go back to Mexico, to go to high school, and I got to the border, and I said, "I don't have any papers, but I need to get back home." And the man at the border said, "Oh, no. You are too pretty to leave, we want you to stay here, and go to school in the United States."

RP: Boy. Those were the days.

CC: Que?

RP: Nothing.

CC: So I stayed in the United States. I was very lovely, then.

RP: You're still lovely.

CC: Lonely. I was very lonely. In Scottsdale. There was nobody living here then. It was a very small town. I didn't want it. I wanted Mexico. I cried a lot. All the time, I cried for months. No one at Scottsdale High School spoke Spanish. There was one Spanish class, and no one spoke to me. I couldn't understand them. They couldn't understand me.

RP: Did you eventually learn English?

CC: I stopped going to school. I got a job here, during vacation.

RP: At Los Olivos?

CC: Yes. Do you ever eat here?

RP: All the time. You've waited on me!

CC: I have? I see so many people. I don't remember everyone.

RP: No problem. So you dropped out.

CC: Yes. It was 1953. I worked in the kitchen at Los Olivos. It was not a place for a young girl, the kitchen. So I said, "I'm gonna learn English and work in the dining room!"

RP: And here you are.

CC: Yes. Sixty years, here I am.

RP: So you've watched Scottsdale really change.

CC: Oh, yes. You know, when I first got here, my mother, she was thinking someone was going to take me. Kidnap me. It was so wild. Not like home. I got here in Scottsdale and I thought, "This is the United States? I'd rather be on my ranch in Mexico."

RP: But you stayed.

CC: I just stayed. Si. I got married here. A bartender, a very nice man. After he died, 20 years ago, I went back to Mexico for a visit. And my boyfriend that I had in Mexico, when I was a girl? He was still there, and he said, "I will marry you, and you won't have to work." And I said to him, "You know what? I prefer to work."

RP: Why do you still work?

CC: I got the bills! Plus the health insurance is good.

RP: Have you had the same customers for years?

CC: Oh, yes. People come to Los Olivos from New York, and Canada, and they ask for me.

RP: Are people nicer today than they used to be?

CC: No! (laughs) People used to be nicer. A lot of people are scary, today. You go to the store and they are in line being mean to the clerk, they're talking on the phone. Not nice. Scary.

RP: Do you ever feel like you've served your last enchilada?

CC: Uh-huh. I loved work for many years, the people, but now not so much. It's very hard. A lot of walking. I work two days a week.

RP: Tell me a story about the worst customer you've ever had.

CC: No!

RP: Come on.

CC: Well, everyone is pretty nice to me. I had one couple, many years ago, they complained to the owners about me. My husband was very sick, he was dying from cancer, and I was not doing good at work. My mind was thinking of my husband. Maybe not so much the tacos. So these people, they complained. But now, when they come in, they ask for me. So, you know. Maybe they like me now.

RP: Or maybe they like bad service. Do you eat at Los Olivos?

CC: Let me tell you, I eat beans too much. And the enchilada. They're very good here, everything is good here. But I like to have a Reuben. I like the French dip, I like a good steak.

RP: Where do you go for a French dip?

CC: The Salt Cellar. My son has been a bartender there for 13 years. Best food I ever eat. Also good is the sandwiches at Streets of New York. I eat a big sandwich and two eggs and pound cake. I eat and eat and I don't gain a pound, but the doctors can't find anything wrong with me.

RP: What's the best thing on the menu at Los Olivos?

CC: Los fajitas! And the Camarones a la Veracruzana. I love enchiladas.

RP: And the worst thing on your menu?

CC: (Long pause) Maybe the ground beef tacos. Why do people order this? We have delicious shredded beef. People should order shredded beef. That's just life.

Vintage Phoenix Collection: Heidi Abrahamson's Native American Jewelry

Heidi Abrahamson taps on her couch, retro turntable spinning in the background, and invites her Siamese cat to jump up beside her. She produces a stylish cat collar, made of silver Native American beads strung along a bright red band, from behind her back and ties it around the impatient feline's neck. Her cat may be a grudging model, but its stunning collar is one of many ways that Native American silver and turquoise jewelry has worked its way into Abrahamson's home.

A Phoenix resident for 18 years, Abrahamson began collecting Native American jewelry as a high schooler in the early '70s, long before she moved to Arizona. She's largely influenced by her mother and remembers acquiring the first pieces of her collection at flea markets and old pawn shops in Friendship, Indiana. From there, Abrahamson has added to her menagerie of turquoise in Seattle, Miami, and many places in between. Colorful and diverse, her collection represents jewelry from Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni tribes.


Watch a video of Heidi Abrahamson explaining her love of Native American jewelry here.

It's obvious that Abrahamson has an attachment to each piece in her collection, and for a variety of reasons. Her oldest piece — of which she's particularly fond — is a pair of turquoise earrings from the late '40s. A few pieces, including a "scrimshaw," belonged to her parents. Among her more conventional jewelry items, Abrahamson also shows off belts, a comb, and giant bangles.

Abrahamson remains fascinated by the handiwork that goes into creating the jewelry, and her awe is visible as she describes the tedious bead-making processes that are an integral in its making. A turquoise and squash-blossom silver necklace is particularly impressive when you know that each of its elaborate beads is handcrafted. Abrahamson is quite skilled at making jewelry of her own — which you can see (and boy) at heidiabrahamson.com — but for the most part, she refrains from using turquoise. It's her respect for the cultural significance of turquoise Native American jewelry making that keeps her from trying to create anything like it.

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