Orpheum Theatre

Downtown's Orpheum originally served as a silent movie house. Before its 1990s restoration, the Valley of the Sun Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society raised funds to sponsor the installation of a huge Wurlitzer assembled from vintage parts. Occasions to hear this gorgeous monster in action are rare. One of our favorites is Silent Sundays, when a virtuoso organist plays accompaniment to an actual pre-talkie film. The acoustics are stunning, and many of the selections are the very same ones used by theater organists back when the films were released. (They kept notes.)

The screenings are sporadic at best (and the films VOTS-ATOS can afford to rent are sometimes a little weird), but the chapter accepts donations to help support the next Silent Sunday and hosts regular meetings and events featuring the Orpheum instrument and other great local organs, each one an entertainment experience like no other. So it's worth stalking the website.

Sometimes, we drive by Gammage Auditorium, beautifully perched on the southwestern tip of ASU's Tempe campus, and wonder how long it will be till someone notices that the iconic theater has fallen into pale pink disrepair and tries to tear it down.

That won't be easy, given that Gammage was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but you know Phoenix — someday someone will try. That's why we were pleasantly surprised a couple of years back to learn that Manzanita Hall was being spared the wrecking ball.

Considering none of the reports on the hall's recent remodel list an architect — let alone a super-famous one — it's amazing the 1967 structure made it. But it did, and we're pleased, because after Gammage, it's ASU Tempe's most notable structure. It looks like it was built of Tinker Toys by a triangle-happy toddler, and by the time the remodel took place, residents were complaining that the place was stinky and rundown. No more. Late this summer, hundreds of lucky students moved into new swanky, LEED-certified digs. A good lesson in preservation.

Arizona Military Museum

Don't know your M1895 "potato digger" from a Howitzer? Get the Bushmasters mixed up with the Rough Riders? Think the Buffalo Soldiers hunted buffalo? Then a trip to the Arizona Military History Museum may be in order. This award-winning museum, operated by the nonprofit Arizona National Guard Historical Society and run by the irascible and ever-knowledgeable retired U.S. Army Colonel Joe Abodeely, is located in Papago Park, in an adobe structure once used during WWII as a maintenance shop where German prisoners of war worked while being housed nearby. The museum follows Arizona's military history from the conquistadors and the Spanish Colonial Period to the U.S. Mexican War and on through to the Vietnam War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. And the many displays feature every sort of firearm, flag, and uniform imaginable, including a 19th-century belt-fed machine gun and a genuine "Huey" UH-1M Army combat helicopter flown in Vietnam. Entrance fee? Nada. Making the museum a helluva lot cheaper than a degree in military history from ASU.

KOOL FM really cuts the crap, playing every good song released before 1990. Unless you have no heart, you can appreciate hearing The Cars followed by Cyndi Lauper followed by Rod Stewart, and you'll be singing along like an idiot as you swerve all over the 51. Even the officer who demands your license and registration might give you a pass. (Unless you're brown. Sorry, it's still Arizona.)

Many other so-called "oldies" stations just play what your stepdad wants to hear. With KOOL FM, there are no gimmicks, no bells and whistles, and nothing but the best tunes created since your grandma first drank a beer. Plus, they do a much better job than most representing ethnic, female, and queer perspectives; i.e., it's not just four white guys with guitars all the damn time. For a station that's so rooted in the past, it's refreshing that they've managed to stay so, well, KOOL.

Whether you're a visual learner, a bit of a history buff, or simply someone who wants to share old memories, you should be following Dave Driscoll's blog, Vintage Phoenix. Driscoll curates the crowd-sourced site with user-submitted historic photos of the Valley of the Sun, revealing what the metropolis once was. A quick scan of the page reveals shots of such iconic places as Turf Paradise and Mill Avenue, along with developing city streets and now-demolished hotels.

Fans are encouraged to add to the online collection by scanning their own original, unique images that are at least 25 years old and e-mailing them Driscoll's way with any available details. The sharing extends to the blog's comment section, where followers share experiences and recollections. Take a look. Chances are good you'll learn something about this ever-changing oasis' past.

The Diving Lady is the last of her kind. The famed neon sign was erected in 1960 to draw traveling folks to the Starlite Motel and its pool with a woman shown diving, in three animated stages, into a pool. In 2010, her continual high dives came to a halt (though the pool had been filled in long before) when a storm took down the three 10-foot ladies. With efforts from the Mesa Preservation Foundation and donations from the community that totaled more than $100,000, she was restored and took to the water again in April 2013. Take a drive through Mesa's main drag and check her out. She's the only operating animated neon sign in the Valley.

Hotel Valley Ho

The hotel scene in Scottsdale thrives today, for sure, but we have fond memories of bygone days. Remember the Safari Resort? Or Paradise Valley's Mountain Shadows? There's one vintage Scottsdale hotel that has more than stood the test of time — Hotel Valley Ho. Built in 1956 and revamped in the 2000s, it's a delightful mix of old and new, with enough of the vintage qualities preserved to make you feel like you just might see Zsa Zsa Gabor or Bing Crosby at the bar. The concierge can arrange a tour for just $19.56 (get it?) and while the Trader Vic's reboot didn't work out so well, the hotel restaurant, Café ZuZu, is definitely worth a stop.

He designed more than a thousand structures, many of them right here in Arizona. Frank Lloyd Wright is an international institution (in 1991, the American Institute of Architects dubbed him "the greatest architect of all time"), but he's also, in many ways, our own. The world-renowned architect, interior designer, educator and author left behind a dozen distinct buildings here, among them the Arizona Biltmore, Grady Gammage Auditorium, and that crazy concrete-and-stone First Christian Church over on Seventh Avenue. And, of course, there's Scottsdale's Taliesin West, Wright's former "architectural lab" built in 1937 and currently an esteemed school of architecture, where the designers of tomorrow continue Wright's legacy.

The Heard Museum. The Desert Botanical Garden. The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. And our own New Times Building. If you've seen them, you've seen the notable design and renovation work of architect John Douglas. Eighty-five national and local design awards attest to his success with creating buildings both beautiful and unusual (like the North Mountain Visitors Center, with its stunning angles of glass and chrome). Douglas' shtick is designing buildings that are both forward-thinking and yet make reference to our architectural history. His work, in short, makes us all look better.

A nearly two-mile stretch on Old Litchfield Road, between Indian School Road and Bird Lane in the West Valley, is guarded by palm and citrus trees standing like attentive soldiers on a carpet of grass. It's a slow-moving street of elegant brick homes with deep setbacks, shrouded with trees. Many of the homes with red-tile rooftops share a common backyard — a golf course and lake. It's worth a drive during a stay-cation at the Wigwam or just during an exploration drive into the wild West. Old Litchfield takes you past upscale shops, sushi restaurants, the Wigwam Resort, and a spa, but makes room for the stuff of life — an elementary school, a library and community swimming pool, and several churches.

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