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A Grand Avenue

September 23, 2009 by J Seth Anderson

Since I’m a fiction writer, I’d like to start with a short story…

Imagine a city street lined with huge, shady trees and store fronts built up to the sidewalk. Imagine an eclectic street lined with galleries, shops, restaurants, coffee houses and residential houses. Imagine a street that rebels against the grid pattern and instead of stretching due north or south, east or west, it runs parallel the railroad tracks at a 45 degree angle headed northwest. Imagine pedestrians, parks, trolleys, neighborhoods and an urban life. You live each day swallowed up by beautifully constructed brick buildings and bungalows, in a dense, pedestrian friendly environment. The sound of music, commerce, ideas and conversation fills the air as you walk (not drive) around your neighborhood. But one day, something happens and suddenly the people disappear, the houses become abandoned and fall into disrepair. You watch this diverse neighborhood with its history and vibrancy…vanish. The End.

Ok. I guess that’s not really a short story at all, is it? No, it’s more of a brief synopsis of the history of Grand Avenue. Like most of the neighborhoods in and around Downtown Phoenix, it has a fascinating history of wonderful old buildings that have long ago been forgotten. In place of a dense, urban core with healthy neighborhoods, suburbia sprouted up and grew like a weed, choking the life out of organic city growth. (To be fair, this isn’t a phenomenon unique to Phoenix.) And although I tire of using the mythical phoenix metaphor, it is quite fitting. Lower Grand Avenue is an area with so much potential; it’s an area that has begun to rise, and will continue to rise, from the ashes.

I feel askew when I’m walking along Grand Avenue on First Fridays. My internal compass tells me that I’ve fallen off the grid. I like that feeling. I like seeing streets intersect at something other than a right angle. I love the old buildings and I love how they are being reused for galleries, salons, coffee shops, bars, yoga studios, boutiques, venues for bands, etc. Jane Jacobs once said, “new ideas require old buildings.” Phoenix needs some new ideas and lucky for us, some of our old buildings have been preserved.

Paisley_tourGrand Avenue is where the Paisley Violin Cafe is located. It is one of my favorite places in Phoenix. The first time I went, I was convinced I had passed through a portal that transported me to a place where I used to hang out when I lived in Moscow. The Paisley Violin is in an old building that’s been around since 1925 that has been home to a variety of businesses including a grocery store, furniture store and a vet. The Paisley Violin moved to this location in 2004 and has six, small World War II cottages in the back patio, each one home to a different business. This adaptive re-use of what already exists is what will make Phoenix a better city.

On Saturday, Sept. 26, the first ever Grand Avenue Festival will take place to raise awareness of this part of town and focus on the flourishing art and commercial district that has been growing. The community is invited to celebrate the culture, art and history of Lower Grand Avenue. There is a walking tour that will focus on six adaptive re-use projects along the street. I like being outside, I like old buildings, I like learning history, so you can bet I’ll be there.

Besides the walking tour, the festival will have fashion shows and live music performances. The weather has been absolutely delightfully fabulous the last few days and there is no reason to not be outside, breathing fresh air and exploring your city. If anyone wants to meet up for a coffee or a beer or something, shoot me an email. I got tickets for the walking tour at 9:30 a.m. See you there!


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