Phoenix’s Insane Asylum Drove Tucsonans Crazy

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An early-twentieth century hand colored postcard depicting a seemingly idyllic scene on the grounds of the Phoenix asylum.
Image credit: Author’s collection.

Tucsonans Go Crazy Over Phoenix’s Insane Asylum

March of 1885 was a momentous month for Arizona’s Thirteenth Territorial Legislature, a group known to history as the “Thieving Thirteenth.” The legislative body described in a March 28th, 1885 Arizona Weekly Citizen article as “not excelled in its provisions for a first-class steal from the Territory” passed bills authorizing the establishment of a teachers college in the then small town of Tempe and a university in Tucson, the most populous city in Arizona at the time. The teachers college, initially named Tempe Normal School but now known as Arizona State University, received an appropriation of $5,000 while Tucson’s university brought that city $25,000 in funding. Nonetheless, Tucsonans were both disappointed with and outraged by the gift the territory’s solons bestowed upon them. In place of showing gratitude for his town’s new institution of higher education, the editor of a Tucson paper decried the Phoenix area’s capture of “the plum of the legislature pie” with “emoluments [amounting] to almost half a million” and presciently predicted that C. C. Stephens, one of Tucson’s legislators, “will be insulted when he returns.”

Why were Tucsonans so upset with their haul from the Thieving Thirteenth? Because their prize proved to be a university that the city was said to “not care a fig about.” Instead, residents of the Old Pueblo coveted Phoenix’s big score – the territorial insane asylum now known as the Arizona State Hospital and the $100,000 appropriation associated with that facility. Angry about losing this well-funded institution to the relatively new and still rather small city of Phoenix, Tucson newspaper editors wrote scathing pieces belittling the future capital city and cursing its good fortune. Southern Arizona journalists continued to attack Phoenix’s victory for several years after the 1885 legislative session adjourned sine die, as demonstrated by an August 3rd, 1889 Arizona Sentinel article expressing concern that “the Great Salt River [V]alley” was “no place for the insane” due to its stifling heat. While calling attention to “the poor suffering humanity that [sweltered] within” the asylum, the piece altogether disregarded the well-being of sane Phoenicians and conveniently overlooked Tucson’s high summer temperatures.

In the end, however, Tucsonans came to love their university, which now boasts enrollment of more than 40,000 students and an annual budget exceeding $450,000,000. With approximately 60,000 students attending courses in Tempe alone, the once-modest Normal School now lays claim to the title of largest public university campus in the United States. Phoenix’s asylum, the so-called plum of the 1885 legislative session, is now largely unknown to most Arizonans and operates on a budget of just $30,000,000 – far smaller than that of the University of Arizona. So, it seems that the much maligned C. C. Stephens has been vindicated – something likely to be deemed crazy by a Tucsonan of 1885.


Arizona’s Difficult Path to Statehood

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“Waiting for Their Stars” by Udo Keppler. Oklahoma gained statehood on November 16, 1907, thereby gaining a place on the flag effective July 4th, 1908. New Mexico and Arizona did not achieve statehood until January 6th and February 14th, 1912, respectively. As such, New Mexico is represented by the 47th star and Arizona is represented by the 48th star.

Arizona became a state on this date 102 years ago. I had the pleasure of discussing our long and arduous path to statehood on today’s edition of 91.5 KJZZ’s “The Show.”

A link to Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez’s “The Show” segment regarding our journey from territory to state can be found below.


Arizona’s Television Industry

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A mid-century KGUN promotional piece touting the station’s ownership of “the tallest tower in Arizona.”

Fifty years ago today, 73 million Americans tuned into The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Undoubtedly, a large number of Arizonans contributed to this record-breaking viewership figure by watching the show on KOOL (channel 10) in Phoenix and KOLD (channel 13) in Tucson, then the state’s CBS affiliates. Although both KOOL and KOLD – both of which no broadcast under different call letters – were early entrants in Arizona’s television market, Phoenix’s KPHO (channel 5) was the first Arizona-based station to broadcast television signals to Grand Canyon State residents.

KPHO first transmitted programming on December 4th, 1949, marking the beginning of a long legacy carried on by the station to this very day. While initially affiliated with all three major networks, maturation of the Phoenix television industry resulted in the channel operating independent of an affiliate for many years prior to its 1994 transition back to CBS. Despite the changes in network affiliation, the channel’s earliest days are still reflected in its still-in-use KPHO call letters and its original 1949 transmitter tower perched atop Phoenix’s Westward Ho building more than five decades after its replacement by a tower at the summit of Mount Suppoa in the South Mountains. KOOL and KOLD, the Arizona CBS affiliates that registered unprecedented ratings on the night of February 9th, 1964, both came online in the 1950s.

Savvy businessman Gene Autry, better known to many as a famous Hollywood cowboy, Christmas crooner, and onetime owner of the California Angels, held stakes in both KOOL and KOLD. Tucson’s KOLD – originally known as KOPO – came online in early 1953. KOPO was renamed KOLD in 1957 due to the call sign’s similarity to that of KOOL, its Phoenix-based sister station that first broadcast in late 1953. Other Arizona television stations first transmitting in the 1950s include Phoenix’s KTVK (channel 3) and Tucson’s KDWI (channel 9), which is now KGUN. Notably, KTVK was co-founded by Ernest McFarland, former U.S. Senator, Arizona Governor, and jurist popularly referred to as the “Father of the G.I. Bill.”

The big names have long since left the local television business, which is now largely controlled by large, out-of-state corporations vying to maximize profitability in a highly competitive environment that pits their stations against cable networks and Internet sources in addition to their local competitors. This situation differs greatly from the early years of Arizona television that were characterized by a significant amount of local programming (any Wallace & Ladmo fans out there?) and a good-natured race to claim superlatives for promotional purposes. These much-touted achievements include KPHO’s title of first station in the state, KTVK’s onetime slogan of “Arizona’s First Color Television Station,” KOLD’s tagline of “Arizona’s Color Station” stemming from its first-in-market color capabilities, and KGUN’s boast of having “the tallest tower in Arizona.” Of course, for legions of screaming teenage television viewers glued to the tube fifty years ago tonight, network affiliation trumped any of the superlatives claimed by Arizona stations. By virtue of serving as CBS affiliates and, by extension, the local home of The Ed Sullivan Show, KOOL and KOLD won a coveted spot in the memories of many excited Baby Boomers.

Arizona’s Papago Saguaro National Monument

Arizona is Home to the First-Ever Delisted National Monument

Arizona is home to numerous famous and well-visited National Parks and National Monuments, including the majestic Grand Canyon National Park, the historic Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, and the other-worldly landscapes of Petrified Forest National Park. Notably, the state is also home to what once was Papago Saguaro National Monument, the first ever National Monument to be abolished.

President Woodrow Wilson signed Papago Saguaro NM into existence via a proclamation on January 31st, 1914 – one-hundred years ago last Friday – setting aside approximately 2,050 acres of federally-owned desert land significant for its “splendid examples of the giant and many other species of cacti” and “numerous prehistoric pictographs.” The presence of several Native American petroglyphs and the natural beauty of the area’s Sonoran Desert flora and red rock buttes made the site an obvious choice for designation and the protection such status affords. However, neglect and conflicting ideas regarding proper land usage combined to ensure that Papago Saguaro National Monument did not last.

The area now known as Papago Park has long proved tempting to would-be homesteaders and profiteers alike. Late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Valley residents filed numerous homestead and mining claims within the boundaries of the present-day park. While, in theory, declaring the site a National Monument protected it from such usage, many still aimed to use the land in an entirely different manner than envisioned by President Wilson. Prior to the area being designated a National Monument, the Salt River Valley Water Users’ Association constructed the New Crosscut Canal and a hydropower plant in close proximity to the soon-to-be-declared park. Following Wilson’s 1914 proclamation creating Papago Saguaro NM, requests were made to sink exploratory oil wells on the land, clear an airstrip to provide access by plane, extract shale deposits for use in cement to be manufactured on-site, and to use the park in several other ways contrary to its intended purpose. While most such proposals were denied, the cement plant did come to fruition.

Use – or misuse, rather – of the land further compromised its appeal. The KKK staged a 1922 rally in the monument, numerous Phoenix businesses saw fit to paint advertisements on the walls of the iconic Hole-in-the-Rock, one group built a picnic table inside the opening of another butte, and many are thought to have pilfered cacti from the park for their own use. Limited conservation funds, misuse by local park-goers, and the monument’s relative remoteness and low out-of-state visitorship figures compounded the many other challenges federal officials faced in overseeing Papago Saguaro, making its status as a National Monument untenable.

Ironically, while Ralph Cameron, Carl Hayden, and others had fought in Congress to set aside the land surrounding the red rock buttes of today’s Papago Park less than two decades earlier, 1929 saw Arizona Congressman Lewis W. Douglas introduce legislation to abolish the National Monument and transfer ownership, for a small fee, to the state of Arizona. Papago Saguaro National Monument was abolished on April 7th, 1930, with the land turned over to the state government. No longer a federal property, the land was available for a greater number of uses. In the years following its delisting, a bass hatchery, Governor Hunt’s white pyramidal tomb, a Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps camp, and a World War II prisoner of war camp were added to the grounds of the former National Monument. After the state sold the bulk of the park to the city of Phoenix in 1959, the land gained a golf course and a zoo, adding to the Desert Botanical Garden established by Gertrude Webster in 1939. Although classified as parkland governed by federal, state, or local authorities for decades, some continue to suggest differing uses for the land, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s idea for a new state capitol to be called Pro Bono Publico and constructed in the middle of the park, a developer’s scheme to erect a 600-foot-tall saguaro cactus-shaped, neon-lined observation tower in the park, or other, more recent proposals.

“Summer Days All Winter” – Arizona’s Climate


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As residents of much of the country are still digging out from the recent polar vortex and its associated snow, ice, and Arctic temperatures, those of us in central and southern Arizona are enjoying the balmy weather that passes for … Continue reading