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Community Commentary Featured Fara Illich March 16, 2010

The Sahara Motor Inn, later called the Ramada Inn, is an urban oasis that rose from the sand like a mirage in Downtown Phoenix, complete with a sparking pool, restaurant, cafe, bar, 175 guest rooms, gift shop, two large terrace suites for hosting parties and meetings, and two apartment penthouses. There are also 8 possible spaces for retail. These mini-resorts defined Phoenix in the 1950s by bringing resort-style amenities to the middle class. These mini resorts even attracted celebrities. Marilyn Monroe herself lodged in one of the penthouse suites in the Sahara while filming “Bus Stop.” During the late 50’s people from all over the country passed through Phoenix and many of these people spent the night in one of these mini resorts. They experienced a taste of living in the desert, fell in love with Phoenix, and then moved here.

My grandmother is one of these people.
RamadaBy happenstance in May 1958 she was passing through Phoenix with her two young kids and they checked in at the Sahara. As the sun set, it melted the colors of the sky into a glorious Phoenix sunset. The yellow, orange, and red and every color in between  blazed and singed the clouds. My grandma said she had never seen anything like it and as she sat poolside at the Sahara, breathing in the scent of orange blossoms while listening to the rustling of the palm trees and watching her kids splash around in the cool water, she promised herself she would move to Phoenix.
“I didn’t know when, and I didn’t know how, but I knew I would,” she told me.
She moved to Phoenix in 1961 and has been here ever since. The Sahara, and many other resorts like it (that have been razed) were instrumental in shaping Phoenix in the middle of the 20th Century.
The Sahara was built by Del Webb, the namesake for ASU’s own School of Construction which boasts of its collaboration that creates ASU’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. ASU claims to be “the model of sustainability” and the City promotes sustainable development, but in razing the Ramada, there is nothing that is sustainable, Earth-friendly, or revitalizing. 
We all know that the most sustainable building is the building that is already built. The historic A.E. England building was nearly demolished to make way for the Civic Space Park but people like me and the Downtown Voices Coalition and the Historic Preservation Bond Committee and Commission fought to save that part of our history. We’ll fight to save the Ramada Inn as well.
Mid-century buildings are the next set of historic properties and Phoenix has not learned that tearing them down is bad. If the city never learns from the past, they will repeat it. It’s about to repeat now if Phoenix razes this building for another parking lot. Phoenix, you must stop destroying your history for parking lots!
The Ramada Inn has potential to bring in a constant stream of revenue and value to the city that a parking lot never will. Never. A parking lot does not make a city. It only creates vacant blight that plagues the eye.
Think “Long Term” Phoenix. You say you need more parking for the Sheraton. But if you tear down the Ramada to make a parking lot and then let ASU build something on that site “in the future” you’re still going to have a parking problem at the Sheraton. What will you tear down then?
Phoenix, use the assets that already exist Downtown to your advantage and the city will be infinitely better because of it.