Thirty years ago, then-mayor of Scottsdale Herb Drinkwater would take Michael J. Fox – no, not that Michael J. Fox – out in his Jeep to look at property to the north of downtown Scottsdale, “which, to the north then, was like Shea Boulevard,” Fox remembers. As director of the Heard Museum, and a guy who’d launched art institutions in Berkeley and in Flagstaff, Fox was known as a development whiz. Meanwhile, Drinkwater was enamored with the idea of developing a museum dedicated to the art and history of the American West, and wanted to share his vision with Fox.
The two talked about art, economics and infrastructure as they scouted potential locations in the dusty, undeveloped desert for Drinkwater’s dream museum, which he envisioned as a bastion of Scottsdale’s thriving arts scene and a major economic draw for the growing city. He’d already lured the Princess resort and the Mayo Clinic to the “West’s Most Western Town,” and wanted to complete his civic hat trick with an institution that would honor Scottsdale’s origins and the legacy of the West.
Back in Scottsdale proper, a coterie of council members, gallery owners and art collectors banded together to support Drinkwater’s museum designs. But for one reason or another, the trigger was never pulled, and the project languished in development limbo for decades. Drinkwater died in 1997, 10 years before the spark was reignited by Fox and a reenergized board of trustees. They were poised to realize Drinkwater’s dream, but then the recession hit in 2008.
In 2013, things once again picked up momentum. Fox had amassed an impressive group of West-based collectors willing to loan their collections to the museum, which had expanded its scope beyond Arizona and the Southwest to