I tend to steer clear of downtown Phoenix these days. It seems every time I venture down there, I discover another of my old favorites consigned to the scrap heap or worse, a target for "renovation." The cheerfully run-down squalorous downtown Phoenix of my childhood is all but gone, a victim of the kind of people who have always complained that there's not enough to "do" in Phoenix. Our downtown has never reflected the cultural aspirations of these folks who envision a shiny urban entertainment mecca full of fun for the whole family and free from spontaneous structural failure and those annoying homeless people. But now that they're finally getting their way, I hardly recognize the place any more.
My wife and I don't have much reason to go downtown very often, aside from the odd sporting event or circus protest. But she dragged me to a particularly galling theatrical performance one evening recently, and afterward we were restless from sitting on our hands for two hours. The night was warm and pleasant, and somehow, my wife got the notion that we might find something open up the street. So she forewent her usual fear of the empty after-hours desolation of the area and suggested we walk a little. As luck would have it, the Irish bar in the Hotel San Carlos was still open. While we drank beer and ate french fries, a group of college football fans watched the home team finish up a game across town.
As we headed back towards our car, we saw the old Professional Building at Central and Monroe, sitting empty as it has for the past two decades. But something made me stop and cross the street. As my wife's paranoia began to reawaken, I peered conspicuously through the cracks in the boarded up windows. Sure enough, the ground floor showed signs of being recently gutted. As I looked left and right for some sort of posted zoning documentation, my wife began to make noises like it was time to go. When I began to move around the corner and towards the back alley, she grabbed my arm and hurried me towards the parking garage.
Fearing the worst, I returned home and hit the net. Sure enough, renovation was indeed slated to occur. Our once proud bedrock of former financial stability will soon be a holding space for upscale lodgers besotted with gourmet chocolate and high-end champagne. What's more, I also discovered the old Hanny's Building was undergoing a similar fate. I admit, I greeted this news with mixed emotions -- I didn't even know the Hanny's Building was still standing (I told you: I don't go downtown much any more).
Don't get me wrong. I'm delighted that these wonderful old giants will not be sacrificed to make way for downtown's "invigoration." I hate to see what to me represents an important part of my city's past scraped away just because a theater or fast food chain is desperate to maintain the unrealistic runaway growth they've conned their stockholders into expecting. But I'd rather these beautiful buildings stand abandoned forever than be thrown under the wheels of a doomed business plan. But that seems to be the way things inevitably go.
Anyway, the next chance I got, I grabbed my trusty point-and-shoot and went downtown. I need to start doing that a lot more.