things to do
secrets of the city
Things To Do
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Things To Do
Secrets of the City
May, 2012, Page 84
Tired of the tried-and-true? Does the above-board leave you feeling, well, bored? Then join us for a tour of the Valley’s hidden gems, secret shops, infamous haunts and unseen underbelly. From extra-menu eats to suburban moonshiners, we throw back the covers on the uncoverable.
How better to begin our exploration of “undergound” Phoenix than to look, literally, underground? The Valley is not an obvious hotbed for subterranean adventure – after all, we have that troublesome, cement-like layer of caliche under our feet, which is why so few of us have basements and underground abattoirs and the like. Still, where there’s a will – and perhaps a Caterpillar 420EST backhoe loader – there’s a way. So join us in taking a peek under the Valley’s sun-drenched surface. And bring your flashlight.
The Westward Ho tunnel:
So-called “urban explorers” – i.e. city-folk who relish going places they shouldn’t – went into a tizzy when Valley Metro crews unearthed a 4-by-5-foot tunnel near the Westward Ho during Light Rail construction. Believed to be part of a primitive air-return system for the 85-year-old building’s original cooling unit, the tunnel terminates somewhere in the Ho’s basement and remains the off-limits Golden Fleece of Phoenix-area urban exploration. No truth to the rumor that Al Capone’s car is buried there.
Furtively drilled into North Mountain, this high-security storage facility is the closest thing the Valley has to NORAD. Reinforced to protect against pesky electromagnetic pulses and bunker-buster bombs, the Vault provides secure storage for personal valuables and business backup data, but they aren’t keen on publicity. “We get offers [for interviews] all the time,” the owner told us. “You couldn’t really offer me anything.” 11820 N. Cave Creek Rd., Phoenix, 602-943-9796,
The mayor’s underground escape tunnel:
Representatives of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton will neither confirm nor deny the existence of an underground service tunnel that connects City Hall with nearby buildings and – we assume – could be used as an escape route should the city be overrun by zombies, Occupiers or Tea Partiers. Ex-mayor Skip Rimsza is more candid: “I imagine it’s a service tunnel for the chilling system.”
The Gold Spot
For more than a half century, the Gold Spot Bowling Alley lay under Central Avenue and Pierce Streets, an oft-discussed but rarely seen piece of Phoenix lore. The underground edifice hosted bowlers and night owls until 1950, when it was closed and largely forgotten by everybody but the most determined of urban explorers and spelunkers, who found access points via tunnels below the Westward Ho and missing panels of sidewalk glass that once provided light for the subterranean bowlers. There wasn’t much left to see, they say, except for a few lane grooves painted on the floor and a bowling pin-mural on the wall. In 2008, just before construction of the METRO Light Rail was completed, the last known access point to the bowling alley was filled with concrete, forever burying the elusive G Spot.
UFO landing in Dreamy Draw
Roswell, New Mexico has a stronger brand as a UFO rest stop, but the Valley does pretty well as a recognized close-encounter zone. Everyone knows about the fabled “Phoenix lights” of 1997; less celebrated is the alleged flying saucer buried under Dreamy Draw Dam. Late in 1947, the story goes, a malfunctioning alien craft ploughed into the side of Squaw Peak (now Piestewa Peak), leaving a spectacular pile of wreckage. Naturally, the gov’mint caught wind. Instead of hauling off the wreckage – they already had a perfectly good UFO sequestered up in Area 51, remember – the Army allegedly simply dumped a bunch of concrete on top of the craft, named it Dreamy Draw Dam, and called it a day. Modern UFOologists claim the dam serves no discernible purpose and is clearly an E.T. mausoleum. Maricopa County counters that the dam wasn’t even built until 1973. One of them is grotesquely misinformed. 2421 E. Northern Ave., Phoenix, 602-262-7901,
Other totally unsubstantiated urban legends...
They say gold is buried in them thar Sierra Estrella hills. In fact, locals tell no fewer than half a dozen separate tall tales involving illicit treasure secreted somewhere in the South Phoenix mountain range. The most persistent of the legends involves a stash of gold in a cave near Montezuma Head, made semi-credible by the existence of a 19th century Spanish gold mine in the area. Modern treasure hunters are encouraged to “look for the old stone house.” 14805 W. Vineyard Ave., Goodyear, 623-932-3811,
Birthplace of Modern Satanism?
Though some sources – including, ahem, Wikipedia – claim that Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey went to high school in Globe and may have spent time in the Valley as a young man, such legends are farce, according to Church of Satan High Priest Peter H. Gilmore. “His only time in Arizona was passing through briefly when he was on tour with the Clyde-Beatty circus,” Gilmore told us recently, before ending the conversation with a cheery, “Best wishes!”
WILL IT PLAY IN PEORIA?
Did you know the Valley is a popular proving ground for Hollywood filmmakers? When preparing a would-be blockbuster for release, studios commonly enlist “test audiences” to gauge its commercial potential – if something about the movie rubs an audience the wrong way, the filmmakers might cut or reshoot it. According to insiders, the Valley is a common locale for test-screenings. “There’s a fair amount here,” one Valley-based studio rep says. “We have a kind of middle-America melting pot and we’re close to L.A.” Studio hits like Transformers and Tropic Thunder were tested in the Valley – as were box office pigs like Jersey Girl and 6 Days, 7 Nights. If you want to attend a test screening, there’s only one proven method for getting an invite: See a lot of movies. Marketers typically recruit their audiences from cinema lobbies. And keep your eyes peeled at the show itself – stars and directors often observe test-screenings from the back row of the theater.
Free Museum Days!
Phoenix Art Museum
: Wednesdays, 3-9 p.m.; first Friday of the month, 6-10 p.m.; 1625 N. Central Ave., 602-257-1222,
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
: Thursdays, 12-8 p.m.; 7374 E. Second St., 480-874-4666,
Arizona Museum for Youth
: First Sunday of every month, 12-5 p.m.; 35 N. Robson, Mesa, 480-644-2467,
Children’s Museum of Phoenix
: First Friday of every month; 215 N. Seventh St., 602-253-0501,
Always Free Museums
Arizona Capitol Museum
: 1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix, 602-926-3620,
Arizona Military Museum
: 5636 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 602-267-2676,
ASU Art Museum
: 51 E. 10th St., Tempe, 480-965-2787,
: 178 E. Commonwealth Ave., Chandler, 480-782-2717,
Mesa Contemporary Arts
: 1 E. Main St., Mesa, 480-644-6560,
Phoenix Trolley Museum
: (open Saturdays or by appointment October through May) 25 W. Culver St., Phoenix, 602-254-0307,
Shemer Art Center & Museum
: 5005 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-262-4727,
Tempe Historical Museum
: 809 E. Southern Ave., Tempe, 480-350-5100,
Elvis Memorial Chapel
: It’s not free, but it is secret, and it won’t cost you a hunk, a hunk of burning change. Located at the Superstition Mountain Museum (4087 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction, 480-983-4888,
), the chapel (available for weddings) and museum showcases memorabilia from movies filmed at Apacheland Movie Ranch, including Charro, starring Elvis Presley.
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