Friday, August 22, 2014

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Decades of Thunder

PHM0214Flash-2-4Turning the corner on 50, Phoenix International Raceway looks back on its long lap from nowhere to NASCAR.

These days, Mike McComb only sees Phoenix International Raceway on TV – every March and November, when NASCAR rolls into Avondale and splashes the picturesque foothills of the Estrella Mountains across the screens of every sports bar in America. “It’s crazy now,” he says. “I see them do the fly-over shots on TV, and I can’t believe how big it’s grown. I don’t know if I could handle the crowds.”

But back in the ‘80s, when it was surrounded by more tumbleweeds than tailgaters, McComb lived at Phoenix International Raceway. Literally. “I lived in a trailer in the parking lot outside of turn one,” says the Tempe firefighter, who worked as the track’s maintenance man and facilities coordinator from 1982 to 1994. “I swept the track and made sure everything was good for the drivers. Then when they built the suites near turn one, they gave me an apartment in that building, and I lived there for about eight years. It was real nice!”

 

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Goldwater’s Firewater

Prohibition created classy Phoenix speakeasies like the Arizona Biltmore’s Mystery Room – and also rough and tumble gin joints like the Joyland and Palms dance halls near 35th and Van Buren streets, then outside city limits. These notorious “pleasure resorts” were raided by undercover federal agents for “dispensing liquor to young women and getting them debauched,” according to a 1927 Arizona Republican article. Despite such raids, speakeasies continued to proliferate.

 

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Clandestine Cocktails

The Arizona Biltmore’s Mystery Room recreates the Prohibition-era speakeasy where Jazz Age resort guests once secretly raised their glasses.


O n the heels of the Gatsby craze, the glamour and booze-fueled exuberance of the Roaring ‘20s are back in full swing at the Arizona Biltmore, where the resort’s long-derelict speakeasy reopened this past summer after an 80-year hiatus. Whispering the secret phrase opens the door to a hidden space located in the resort’s main building, where Prohibition-era guests surreptitiously swilled liquor from a bar masquerading as a bookcase.

 

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Spirit House

Of all the historic buildings at Heritage Square, the Silva House – with its decidedly free-spirited atmosphere – would probably most please its original owners. Built in 1900 by Phoenix liquor dealer A.F.C. Kirchoff, the neoclassical bungalow currently houses the Rose and Crown, a nightspot featuring traditional pub grub, libations, and, allegedly, spirits of a different type. “It’s a pretty unique place,” pub employee Chris Ceimo says. “People have even reported seeing apparitions and stuff moving around.”

 

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Spoils of War

Every Halloween season, thousands of faux flesh-eating ghouls overrun Heritage Square in Downtown Phoenix for the Zombie Walk. But most Phoenicians know there’s better eating beyond “braaains” here, including the Japanese delicacies at Nobuo at Teeter House and the wood-roasted charms of Pizzeria Bianco. What many Phoenicians may not know is how one Phoenix mayor’s support for President Nixon’s exit strategy from Vietnam helped fund this vibrant city square.

 

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Mission Impossible

A new PBS documentary shines divine light on the Spanish priests and colonists who first settled the American Southwest.

The first explorers to put down roots in what would become Arizona didn’t arrive on wagon trains yelling, “Westward Ho!” Long before the earliest English-speaking, fur-trapping mountain men entered the future state in 1825, Bible-toting Spanish pioneers had migrated for centuries from another compass point.

 

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Unfiltered Camels

For a brief spell in the 1800s, the drought-resistant beasts took their lumps in the Arizona heat.It’s not surprising that the big reddish-brown mountain looming over East Phoenix was given the name Camelback. To be sure, Arizona can put one in a camel-like state of mind: obstinate, old-fashioned, comfortable in the heat, transplants from somewhere else. Where stereotype is concerned, camels seem like natural Zonies.

It’s not surprising that the big reddish-brown mountain looming over East Phoenix was given the name Camelback. To be sure, Arizona can put one in a camel-like state of mind: obstinate, old-fashioned, comfortable in the heat, transplants from somewhere else. Where stereotype is concerned, camels seem like natural Zonies.

 

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