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.

Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” – Is There An Arizona Biltmore Connection?

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A vintage postcard showing the Arizona Biltmore pool alongside which Irving Berlin reputedly penned “White Christmas.”

Having sold more than 130 million copies since its initial release, Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is the best-selling Christmas song of all time, as well as one of the all-time best-selling songs of any genre. Was this holiday classic written poolside at the Arizona Biltmore, as claimed by the resort and several others who have looked into the matter? While Berlin was known to stay at the Biltmore, and, according to a January 27th, 1939 Arizona Republic article, drafted the music for “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Carefree,” and “Second Fiddle” (originally titled “When Winter Comes”) at the hotel, it’s unlikely that he composed the winter hit crooned by Crosby and others while vacationing at the “Jewel of the Desert.”

The relatively unknown first sixteen measures of “White Christmas” serve as evidence of the song’s probable origin outside of the Grand Canyon State. Referencing not the Valley of the Sun, but rather, the affluent California hamlet of Beverly Hills, the often-omitted introductory section sets the scene for the rest of the number. As detailed in Jody Rosen’s “White Christmas: The Story of an American Song,” Berlin likely penned – or at least conceptualized – the iconic holiday song during a 1937 Christmas stay at the famed Beverly Hills Hotel, a setting remarkably different from the many cold and dreary New York Christmases to which Berlin was accustomed. Later in life, Berlin offered several radically different stories as to when and where he authored “White Christmas,” arguably the best-known and most-loved song in his repertoire, although none of his recollections involve the Arizona Biltmore. That a book co-authored by his daughter raises the possibility of the tune having been first scrawled while Berlin enjoyed the hospitality of the Biltmore staff, even when paired with his fondness for the resort and his creative history while a Biltmore guest, is insufficient evidence. Rather, it seems that the tale of the nation’s Christmas standard having been inspired by a warm and sunny Phoenix Christmas is nothing more than an highly questionable and overly optimistic account repeated, and possibly wholeheartedly believed, by enthusiastic resort marketers and staffers.

Indeed, the lack of evidence relating specifically to the song and its supposed genesis at the Biltmore indicates that this widely-held belief is incorrect, just as the notion of Frank Lloyd Wright being the architect of the record for the grand hotel is erroneous. While the “White Christmas” story and the many accounts overplaying Wright’s role in designing the grand structure ought to be cast aside, the luxurious retreat can rightfully lay claim to one bit of popular culture – the tequila sunrise. Originally offered at the Biltmore in the 1930s or 1940s, albeit in a form somewhat varied from the version we know and love today, the colorful drink boasts well-documented Biltmore roots. That, however, is a post for another day.


Santa Claus, Arizona – Postmarks From A Postage Stamp-Size Town

Santa Claus, Arizona

The Santa Claus, Arizona remailing ‘postmark,’ as applied to the back of a postcard prior to the piece being routed to the Kingman Post Office for final distribution.
Image credit: eBay

While Prescott holds the title of “Arizona’s Christmas City,” as made official by Governor Rose Mofford in December of 1989, other towns in the state can rightfully boast strong historical Yuletide associations. Christmas, Arizona, a onetime Gila County copper mining community since erased by an open pit mine operation, received its name in honor of the day on which prospectors staked the area’s first legal mineral claim. The Christmas, Arizona Post Office faced a surge of activity each winter as a result of the town’s status as a popular remailing hub. Remailing entails receiving envelopes and parcels from elsewhere and affixing a local postmark prior to sending the mail along to its final recipient. Although the now nonexistent town of Christmas lost its Post Office in 1935, a Mohave County real estate development quickly stepped in to fill the holiday postmark void.

California transplant Nina Talbot founded Santa Claus, Arizona, a Yule-themed roadside attraction and ultimately unsuccessful real estate venture, in 1937. While Richard Helbock’s booklet entitled A Checklist of Arizona Post Offices 1856-1988 does not list Santa Claus as ever having a bona fide United States Post Office, the town nonetheless managed to capitalize on its jolly appellation. Through 1961, the community’s de facto postmaster cleverly leveraged the town’s moniker by creating an unofficial postmark bearing St. Nick’s likeness. Although the uniquely named development failed as a real estate project, its North Pole-inspired name brought subsequent owners a modicum of financial success primarily through seasonal remailing operations. The now all-but-abandoned town along US 93 has long since stopped stamping letters and parcels with Kris Kringle’s image prior to forwarding the pieces on to the nearby Kingman Post Office for final handling. Instead, those hoping to gain a seasonally appropriate postmark must now route their mail through Santa Claus, Indiana, a still-popular remailing center that handles a tremendous volume of mail every December.

Coincidentally, Santa Claus, Arizona was not the only Mohave County community bearing a name that lent itself to remailing opportunities. The now-deserted town of Valentine, Arizona (named not for the holiday, but rather, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Robert Valentine), a settlement less than fifty miles east of Santa’s desert home, provided a widely-used remailing service for many years. Romantics far and wide sought Valentine postmarks for their love letters until the 1975 closure of the hamlet’s Post Office, effectively ending Arizona’s run as a remailing center.

The U.S.S. Arizona Silver Set

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A photo of the June 19th, 1915 U.S.S. Arizona launch ceremony. In addition to being christened with champagne, as is tradition, the ship launch ceremony also featured a bottle filled with water that had passed over the top of Roosevelt Dam, a structure that was then the pride of the state.

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett and other dignitaries dedicated Arizona’s newest memorial, the World War II Memorial at Wesley Bolin Plaza, earlier today. The monument features a fourteen-inch gun from the U.S.S. Arizona, which was sunk in a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor seventy-two years ago today. The Arizona is the iconic symbol of the December 7th, 1941 attack, as represented in photos and newsreels of the period and by the solemn 1962 memorial that sits above the ship’s sunken hull today. The gun now incorporated into the new memorial standing on the plaza across from the state capitol is available for display only because it had been removed for relining prior to the “date which will live in infamy,” thus saving it from destruction. The ship’s silver service is another item on display today due to its being removed from the vessel prior to that tragic Sunday in December of 1941.

The silver set was gifted to the ship by the people of Arizona, the youngest state in the Union at the time of the battleship’s June 19th, 1915 christening. Manufactured by Reed & Barton of Taunton, Massachusetts, the elegant eighty-seven piece set featured depictions of saguaros, Gila monsters, and a Grand Canyon scene alongside more traditional nautical imagery such as mermaids, shells, and Neptune. Unique among Navy silver sets, several pieces of the U.S.S. Arizona silver collection were plated with copper in tribute of the metal’s importance to the state economy.

Taken off the ship in January of 1941 as part of an effort to prepare for the likelihood of war, the silver service waited out the conflict in a Bremerton, Washington storage facility. After a relatively short period aboard the U.S.S. Tucson, the silver sat unused until Arizona Governor Howard Pyle lobbied the Navy to return the priceless set to the Grand Canyon State. The United States Navy granted Pyle’s request in 1953, returning the silver set bearing a seemingly incongruous mix of Sonoran Desert and nautical imagery to Arizona, where it can now be viewed at the Arizona State Capitol Museum. To view a collection of photos documenting the silver service, please visit