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Mad Men in Midtown
November, 2011, Page 123
Ed Lane, owner of EB Lane advertising agency, was one of Phoenix’s own Mad Men in the 1960s.
Home to the Valley’s first high-rise residences and the late, great Phoenix Playboy Club, midtown was the most swinging neighborhood in Phoenix back in the sleek ’60s. Today, new generations are discovering the joys of our most urban enclave.
Martinis, Muscle Cars & Murder
Stretching from the base of South Mountain until it fades into the foothills of the North Mountain Preserve, Central Avenue has always been Phoenix’s signature streetscape. And in the swinging 1960s, no section of this mighty thoroughfare sizzled like midtown. Back then, teenagers cruised Central Avenue and parked their souped-up cars at the world’s first McDonald’s franchise, which opened on the southwest corner of Central Avenue and Indian School Road in 1953, and sipped milkshakes beneath the restaurant empire’s first iconic, golden neon arches.
Their parents, meanwhile, were dining and drinking inside the dozens of smoke-fogged watering holes and sumptuous supper clubs studding both sides of midtown’s Central Corridor. Dressed to the nines and driving cars the size of aircraft carriers, the Valley’s movers and shakers descended upon hotspots such as Durant’s, the iconic steakhouse that’s resided on the northeast corner of Central and Virginia avenues since 1950.
“Everyone was at Durant’s,” says Josephine Alcazar, a midtown native and co-owner of the Russo and Steele car auction. “You’d have the mayor sitting right next to the biggest crook in town.”
From left: Midtown played host to swank apartments such as The Towers and Regency House
Crooks such as John Henry Adamson, who held court at another longtime midtown hangout, the Ivanhoe Cocktail Lounge, until he was convicted of planting the car bomb that killed The Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles in the parking lot of the Hotel Clarendon (now the Clarendon Hotel) in 1976. And then there was midtown’s most infamous hotspot, the Phoenix Playboy Club, which jet-setted into midtown in the early 1960s for a two-decade run.
“Midtown really was a little like Mad Men back then, only on McDowell Road versus Madison Avenue,” says Beau Lane, who runs the midtown-based EB Lane advertising agency, referring to the popular AMC TV show based in 1960s New York City’s advertising world, with its hard-drinking, chain-smoking, immaculately-dressed title characters.
Now, following decades of decline as developers and wealthy residents fled to the city’s desert outskirts, midtown Phoenix has again become one of the Valley’s most attractive addresses.
The pool at the Al Beadle-designed Moroccan apartments on Third Avenue in the 1960s
Everything’s Waiting for You, Midtown
Bounded approximately by Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street, and running from the I-10 north to Camelback Road, midtown is nothing if not eclectic. Single-family homes dating to the turn of the century stand in the shadows of soaring glass- and steel-lined skyscrapers. Wide streets slice through compact, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods that were platted back when businesspeople commuted to Downtown via electric streetcars.
Ironically, the modern Light Rail system has helped restore some of the area’s bygone urban cachet. “Midtown has more Light Rail stops than anywhere else, almost one every mile,” says Don Keuth, president of the Phoenix Community Alliance, noting that midtown is one of the few places in the Valley that offers a true urban live/work/play lifestyle.
The resurgence is not being led solely by hipsters looking for an alternative to cookie-cutter suburban sprawl. Many of the area’s most ardent proponents are Baby Boomers and empty nesters drawn by midtown’s proximity to world-class museums and performing arts venues. Adding to the charm, the area is brimming with mom-and-pop boutiques, funky furniture stores, old-school steakhouses, honest-to-goodness soda fountains, so-hip-it-hurts coffee shops and trendy restaurants. Midtown’s hearty appetite for food-forward restaurants has enticed Valley culinary royalty Chris Bianco, Michael DeMaria and the owners of Postino Wine Café to all set up shop over the past few years.
Combined with the recent revitalization of uptown – midtown’s newer, flatter and more traditionally suburban sibling just to the north – this once-neglected area is now home to the Valley’s most vibrant dining and shopping scenes.
And it all started with a simple little strip mall.
Designers Jimmie Nunn and Ross Jensen (above right) stand in the vault of The Arizona Bank (above left), now the Vig Uptown
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