I first discovered Michael Monti's "100 South Mill Avenue" blog after he dropped some praise on my scans of an old menu from his family's La Casa Vieja restaurant. "As a restaurateur and history buff," He wrote, "I can assure you that these will be appreciated as a goldmine of nostalgia and useful information about trends in dining and pricing." Sentiments after my own heart. Michael writes from the vantage point of both a restaurant entrepreneur and a steward of Phoenix's cultural history. His family happens to do business in one of the area's most cherished landmarks.
Built in 1871 near the banks of the Salt River, the Monti's La Casa Vieja was part of a compound that included a ferry service as well as a flour mill. According to its web site, the restaurant is the oldest continually occupied structure in the Phoenix area. Monti is uniquely positioned to report on ongoing efforts to protect Phoenix architectural history in the face of both encroaching developmental opportunism and an increasingly challenging economic landscape. For his part, Michael Monti's love of local history is tempered by a sensitivity to the prerogatives of the business community to which he belongs.
His dual perspective is on display in his recent article about the Hayden Flour Mill, which still stands, right across the street from his restaurant. Despite his appreciation for the boarded up "eyesore," he none the less defends the current plan underway to annex the older structure to a hideous modern box of glass and steel, which he insists is the best way to preserve the structure without blighting the surrounding area. Still smarting from the fight to save his own structure, Monti doesn't have the luxury of bloggers and print journalists, who view any such developmental activity as an abomination.
We've written on this subject before, and must be included among the ranks of hand-wringers. As a life-long Phoenix resident, I still remember when orange groves and dairy farms occupied spaces now filled with tract houses and strip malls. I never venture into town any more without my camera on hand to document an old friend before it gets a visit from the wrecking ball.
The cards this collection are souvenirs of a Phoenix from almost 60 years ago. You can just barely make out Hayden Mill in the postcard below depicting downtown postwar Tempe. It's the white smudge clear at the end of the right side of the street. Followers of more recent history will find the view of the Central Avenue post office more interesting. It was at this location that longtime Phoenix celebrity Cris Kirkwood beat up a security guard, gaining in the process a prison sentence and bullet in his back.