Saturday, April 18, 2015


Fit-ting Legacy

PHM 500x500 FPOThe Downtown YMCA has undergone more than $32 million in renovations, but its egalitarian vision has changed little since 1892.

As one of the most
“ancient” things in the comparatively young city of Phoenix, the mid-century Downtown YMCA building has long been a beacon for those in search of a pick-up basketball game or iron to pump. But aside from the old red brick facade, the original Y is almost unrecognizable after recent facility upgrades, including the addition of the Sun Devil Fitness Complex and posh ASU athletics wing, with its state-of-the-art equipment and stunning rooftop pool. One thing that hasn’t changed with the remarkable facelift, however, is the Downtown YMCA’s century-old mission of providing Phoenicians with a healthy environment for mind, body and spirit.

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Musical Racquet

When Elton John had staff lug an upright piano to center court, graduates of the week-long clinic at John Gardiner's Tennis Ranch probably suspected they wouldn't be treated to a traditional rendition of "Pomp and Circumstance." As his fellow tennis alumni sipped champagne, John performed "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," perhaps to get competitive juices flowing for the afternoon's matches. "Elton was just crazy about tennis," Horst Falger says. "He spent lots of time here and gave us a wonderful surprise once with an impromptu concert. When he was later interviewed on the TV show 60 Minutes, he was wearing our logo on his jacket. Our phone rang off the hook for a week."

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Swinging Sanctuary

PHM0314Flash-4Now a world-class resort, John Gardiner's Tennis Ranch on Camelback Mountain courted the rich and famous during the sport's 1970s boom.

Most of us know the phrase "if walls could talk," but if the ceiling of the recently renovated Jade Bar at Sanctuary Resort and Spa in Paradise Valley could talk, the walls would listen along with the rest of us. That's because the wooden slats overhead came from the courts of the John Gardiner Tennis Ranch, which stood on the site of what is now Sanctuary until 2000.

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Tough Hooker

Wrestler Lou Thesz's AZ connection.

Back when professional wrestling was considered more sport than theatrics, the man to beat was six-time world champion Lou Thesz. A strong, lightning-quick athlete who learned wrestling from his Hungarian father, Thesz made his professional debut as a teenager in St. Louis in 1932. Five years later, he became world champion and was famous for "hooking," or stretching his opponent with painful holds. Sensing the sport's evolution, he tweaked his grappling style for television but kept his dignity. "My gimmick is wrestling," Thesz wrote in his autobiography, Hooker.

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Punch Drunk

Tony DeMarco's fame as a former world boxing champ made his lounge on Camelback Road a thriving hangout in the 1970s.

Messing with the bartender is seldom a good idea, but it's especially inadvisable when the guy mixing cocktails was an illustrious prizefighter with a legendary left hook. Not that renowned welterweight Tony DeMarco ever used it at the Living Room Lounge, his now-defunct Phoenix piano bar. Known for his friendliness and charm, DeMarco spent 15 years ensuring his nightclub lived up to its motto, "Where Good People Meet."

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Victory Laps

Some of the most famous names in racing have taken the checkered flag at Phoenix International Raceway. Here’s a handful.

1966: Mario Andretti wins his second IndyCar championship
1970: Steve McQueen wins the Arizona Region SCCA race
1990: Dale Earnhardt wins the Checker 500 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race
1997: Tony Stewart wins his first Copper World Classic
2007: Jeff Gordon wins the SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500
2009: Jimmie Johnson wins the Checker Auto Parts 500

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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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