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  • Best of Phoenix 2013: Vintage Phoenix

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.

MacAlpine's Soda Fountain and Espresso Bar

MacAlpine's is it: the last of the vintage soda shops. First opened in 1928, the former Birch's Pharmacy became MacAlpine's Rexall Drugs 10 years later — a popular pharmacy with a lunch counter and soda fountain. In 1991, Monica Heizenrader bought it and has been running it, with her two daughters and son-in-law, as a diner and antiques shop ever since. Monica stopped slinging vintage hash one recent weekday, just long enough to talk about ghosts, and victory rolls, and the chewing gum of Wayne Newton.

Robrt Pela: Way back when, lots of famous people hung out at MacAlpine's.

Monica Heizenrader: Oh, yes. Back in the old days, it was a real Who's Who of customers around here. Frank Lloyd Wright used to drive downtown just to eat here. Barry Goldwater was here for lunch a lot. And Wayne Newton.

RP: Not Wayne Newton.

MH: Yes. I heard he was discovered here. I've been told he used to sit at the counter and sing along to the jukebox with his brother. We think his DNA is in the bubblegum stuck under the counter.

RP: Is that why you bought the place? Are you planning to clone Wayne Newton? Because one Wayne Newton appears to be enough.

MH: No! I knew the man who owned MacAlpine's, and I knew it was struggling. Before I had children, I had owned and operated restaurants and really enjoyed that. I came down here and fell in love with the place. I knew they were going to close it, and the plan was they were going to auction off the entire contents on eBay. I couldn't let that happen.

RP: So you bought MacAlpine's to save it. But who eats here now? I mean, do local celebrities still come in for a Chili Size?

MH: No. We do have a lot of attorneys, I suppose because we're downtown and this is where they work. When we first reopened, there would be days where literally every table was seated with lawyers. Now we've got a more diverse customer base — lots of people from the neighborhood and from all over.

RP: All over where?

MH: Europe! We've had people come in from however many miles away Europe is — maybe 8,000? — because one of their friends told them they just had to eat here, or because they saw us on the Internet and made this a stop on their trip to America. Sometimes, people are shopping at our antique store next door and they wander in and discover our diner that way.

RP: Speaking of your antique shops, I have never seen so many outdoor furniture sets in one place in my life.

MH: It's true. We have a ton of them. The older stuff is so well made, it never falls apart. And it looks better than the new garden furniture from Walmart. We buy entire estates, and there seems to always be an old garden furniture set.

RP: What's left at MacAlpine's from the old days? I mean, besides Wayne Newton's gum.

MH: The shelves that line the walls are from the original pharmacy. The soda fountain is original. The booths were brought in from a restaurant back east. They're very old, and they look original to MacAlpine's, but they're not. We put them in where the cough syrup and the shampoo and the comic books used to be, back in the '30s.

We finally had to replace the original flooring. It was all different levels, and I kept tripping. We went with a period-correct look. We did Jadeite green. Very '20s.

RP: But everyone seems to think of MacAlpine's as a '50s diner.

MH: That's probably because people associate soda fountains with the '50s, thanks to, you know, Happy Days and the fact that so many rock 'n' roll movies have scenes set in diners where someone is playing a jukebox and someone is sitting at the counter, drinking a malted. But pharmacy diners and soda fountains go way back. You know, it was a pharmacist who invented Coca-Cola, which was originally something to settle your stomach, back in the '20s.

RP: Well, just about everyone knows that.

MH: Our décor is from the '20s through the '50s, but the '50s is the decade people are entranced with. They find it more interesting than the '20s. Greasers and rock 'n' roll are more iconic than big band music from the '40s, I guess. When my daughter Holly waitressed here, she wore her hair in a victory roll, from World War II.

RP: I always thought a victory roll was a kind of a biscuit.

MH: It's a hairdo. It's in the shape of a V, for victory.

RP: I'll have to try that some time. So, is there such a thing as vintage menu items?

MH: Well, our most popular thing here is our Sloppy Joe.

RP: Is that a food from the '30s? Or just something that no other restaurant around here serves?

MH: It's more of a comfort food thing — people like to eat things from their childhood. It's the same with chocolate malteds, and phosphates and egg creams. Do you know what those are?

RP: Sort of. They're like malts, but made with cream and eggs. Right?

MH: Well, there are no eggs in an egg cream. And no cream.

RP: Of course not.

MH: But they're delicious. We have 99 flavors of syrup to put into our shakes and malts and egg creams. My favorite is one called Wedding Cake Ice Cream. It tastes just like wedding cake.

RP: I should hope so. So, is MacAlpine's haunted?

MH: I think it is. By quite a few ghosts — but good ones, not bad ones. A man who worked here from 1946 to 1991 heard ghosts walking around in the attic. One night my daughter and I were here late, baking, and we went to sit on the couch, and it felt like someone came and sat down next to us. And one of our customers sees a man sitting at the back table, and then he vanishes. The same customer sees another ghost, sitting at the counter and watching me very closely.

RP: Maybe he's afraid you're going to steal someone's tips.

MH: I like to think he's watching over me. And MacAlpine's.

It happened again the other day. I met someone at a cocktail party — a museum docent who used to live downtown — and we got to talking about the older neighborhoods in Phoenix and which historic districts we preferred. When I mentioned the corner our home is located on, she squealed, "Oh, my God! You live in the Monkey House!"

Apparently. Everyone in our neighborhood, it seems, as well as dozens of people we've met over the past 12 years, knows our home as the Monkey House — because the guys who lived there in the '80s and '90s kept pet monkeys there. Also snakes.


Listen to Robrt Pela's podcast "Monkey House Shines" here.

When we first moved onto the block, our very nice neighbors were quick to fill us in. "They kept the chimpanzees upstairs," Susan from across the street told us. "The monkeys were in the back bedroom, and they howled at night."

"In cages?" my husband asked. But Susan just laughed. Apparently the monkey guys were free spirits who didn't believe in caging their pets, no matter how wild.

"The animals had the run of this place," our former gardener, who'd attended parties at the Monkey House, told me one day. "I don't remember a lot of monkey shit or terrible smells, but those chimps were mean. One of the little fuckers bit me once when I tried to grab a water bong it was holding."

"I think the cobras were in the basement," Kathy next door said. "Or maybe they were pythons. Either way, I'm sure they took all the reptiles with them when they moved."

I don't have anything against snakes, but that comment provided fodder for a recurring dream in which I come home to discover a yellow anaconda in the breakfast room, quietly digesting a lump that used to be one of our housecats.

We wonder why our house didn't become known as the Fireman Brother House, in honor of the pair of firefighter siblings who did such a nice job turning it from an indoor petting zoo back into a livable three-bedroom. Or Oddly Patriotic Couple House, after the husband and wife we bought it from, who named their children Liberty and Justice (and who later, I like to imagine, had another child they named For All).

Monkey House is a better name, I guess. And it's hard to trump an indoor wildlife zoo. While it's not a terrible thing to live in a notorious building, I do wish people would stop bringing us monkeys as gifts. Ceramic planter chimpanzees and Pez dispenser Rhesus monkeys and, perhaps most memorably, a toaster cozy shaped like an orangutan — we've got them all. Lamps with tails and bookends clutching bananas and a tamarin doorstop. If only our house had a reputation as a good place to drop off big bags of cash instead of tchotchkes with baby gibbons glued to them.

I suppose I'm afraid that, after a certain number of people have visited us and seen all the monkey paraphernalia, our house will become known as Grouchy Guys with Bad Taste House.

Vintage Phoenix Artifact: Leona Caldwell's Patio Wear

Leona Caldwell liked birds.

The late designer, revered in fashion circles by in-the-know locals, screen-printed her garments with roadrunners and owls. She designed ceramic jewelry studded with her drawings of quail, as well as purses and hats printed with cactus and cactus wrens.

Caldwell, who died in 2003, drew inspiration from the desert, where she lived her entire life. Born on a farm near Peoria in 1912, Caldwell married and raised her family there, and returned to school at Arizona State Teacher's College in Tempe to study art, later opening a private ceramics studio. After her husband died in 1954, she opened Leona Caldwell Originals in the Kiva Craft Center on Scottsdale's tony Fifth Avenue in Scottsdale, selling her work alongside local artisans like Charles Loloma and Paolo Soleri.

Today, Caldwell's simple, colorful, and playful designs — inspired by Hohokam artifacts, as well as by Sonoran plants and animals — are highly collectible and instantly recognizable to desert fashionistas. A fringed yellow workshirt and printed with prickly pear, a magenta shirtdress studded with quail, a sleeveless shift emblazoned with a century plant in full bloom — all are enjoying renewed attention, thanks to websites like Etsy and fashion peddlers like Robert Black, who carries Caldwell's work in his Scottsdale boutique, www.fashionbyrobertblack.com.

"Leona Caldwell represents what was great about the past in the downtown Scottsdale fashion scene," Black says. "Her screen-printed dresses and ceramic jewelry adorned the locals as well as the visitors who traveled from all over the world."

Leona made Arizona look cool, comfortable, and fashionable.

Vintage Phoenix Artifact: Bill Johnson's Trailer

Bill Johnson's Big Apple

Just when you think you know everything there is to know about Phoenix, someone finds an old trailer, once owned by a barbecued-beef baron, that used to house a radio station and, well, you realize there's still more to learn about this crazy place.

Built by Bill Johnson of Bill Johnson's Big Apple Restaurant, the trailer — a long-bed number that Johnson hauled around with a Ford pickup truck — was used in the '60s as a mobile station for KTAR radio, host to Johnson's very own radio program, usually broadcast from a corner of his popular eatery. Later, Johnson used the trailer as a mobile office before sending it out on the road to promote his business.

"Someone would drive it around on weekend nights, back when traveling hootenannies were fashionable," explains local historian Marshall Shore. "They'd drive around, maybe over to Van Buren, and they'd park it somewhere and play records, and there'd be a dance. Back then, it took a truck to do that — you needed all this huge equipment to play music."

Once hoot nights became passé, the trailer wound up in a huge storage yard on Jefferson Street, languishing alongside old deep-fryers and used bathtubs. After Johnson died and the family divided his spoils, the trailer was headed, Shore says, for the dump — until it was donated by Johnson's granddaughter, Sherry Cameron, to the Roosevelt Row A.R.T.S. Village, a newish adaptive re-use project that's dressing up vacant lots with modified shipping containers.

"It's in the shop now," says Roosevelt Row maven Greg Esser. "But we hope to have the trailer up and running soon." Future plans include turning the vehicle into a mobile classroom — to teach kids about the old days of radio broadcasting — and possibly making it into a video editing lab.

"The graphics on the vehicle itself are amazing," says Shore, who's relieved that initial plans to repaint the trailer have been scrapped. "One fresh coat of paint, and all that history would have been lost."

Best Of Phoenix®

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