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Adam Diaz, downtown Phoenix advocate, dies at 100

Adam Diaz, Phoenix's first Latino city council member, and family

[Source: Connie Cone Sexton, Arizona Republic] — An interviewer once asked Adam Diaz why, at age 77, he continued to be so politically and socially involved.  Why not just take up bowling or golf?  Diaz politely discounted the suggestion.  “My time is limited,” he responded.  “Every day you get up is a bonus day.  But having a goal keeps you young.  It helps keep you alive and vital.”  His positive attitude paid off.  Diaz died Friday.  He was 100.

Diaz led an accomplished life.  A highlight reel would include, of course, being the first Latino councilman of Phoenix.  He served four years, starting in the 1950s.  One year, he was vice mayor.  He later spent five years on the Phoenix Elementary School District board.  He championed downtown Phoenix decades before it was the hip thing to do.  He pushed for historic preservation and pushed even harder for preserving the spirit and legacy of the Hispanic people.  He helped establish Friendly House, helping the poor.  He was a board member for Chicanos Por La Causa.  President Bill Clinton tapped him for his Task Force on Aging.

Accolades and honors followed his every project.  But he would point to the two things that made him strong: his family and his community.  He embraced Phoenix with warmth and pride.  He sought improvements for all but was a constant advocate for the Latino community, especially in south Phoenix.  He lived there most of his life.  He lived during the years when Hispanics were not welcome by many to live north of Van Buren Street and were prohibited from going to certain schools.

Diaz’s gentle nature became passionate about bringing change and taking on responsibility for getting things done.  It had been that way since the death of his father when he was just 13.  He went to work as a delivery boy for Western Union, then as an elevator operator in one of the buildings owned by prominent Phoenix businessman George Luhrs.  Diaz was popular, engaging.  Luhrs took him under his wing, eventually making him a building manager.  The job put him in the path of many early Phoenix movers and shakers.  Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater became a friend and urged him to run for the City Council.

Diaz’s daughter, Sally Feight, said he liked being on the council because it gave him greater access to knowing the community’s needs.  “He really was a man of the people,” she said.  Granddaughter Lisa Urias said he never retreated into old age, adding, “every morning he would say, ‘Que bonito el dia’ (What a beautiful day).  He loved life so much.”

The New York Times spends 36 hours in Phoenix

Downtown Phoenix at night (David Kadlubowski, New York Times)

[Source: Randal Archibold, New York Times] — Like the myth behind its namesake, Phoenix seems to have come out of nowhere to rank as the nation’s fifth largest city. Even long-timers have a tough time explaining the city’s appeal. Phoenix has left no firm mark in pop culture, aside from a bit role in the opening shot of “Psycho.”

The list of famous area residents is rather short: Barry Goldwater, John McCain, Jordin Sparks are among the better known.  And the city is an inferno in the summer.  The other nine months of the year, however, are gorgeous and sunny, making it a perfect time to visit the city’s new bounty of top-notch golf courses, fashionable resorts, eye-opening museums, and cool night life.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Downtown Phoenix’s Westward Ho once hosted rich and famous

[Source: Maria Konopken, Casa Grande Valley Newspapers, Inc.] — The Westward Ho’s pool, shimmering outside Reynaldo Torres’ door, once was a place where Marilyn Monroe swam, Elizabeth Taylor sunbathed, and Paul Newman filmed a scene heaving a television from a balcony. The lobby of the former hotel still has grand touches, including tiled pillars supporting a soaring ceiling, from the days when Torres would see U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater and Valley socialites heading to events, dinners, or drinks.  “The hotel was always really busy with people coming in and out,” Torres said.  “You never knew who was staying here; that was the exciting part.”

Torres saw the Westward Ho’s former glory from his position as a janitor here during the 1960s.  But the rich and famous have long since left, and now Torres is one of about 300 low-income senior citizens who call it home.  The Westward Ho, with its 268-foot television tower, which no longer is used, is an iconic part of the downtown skyline.  And it remains a place of memories for many Arizonans who came here for wedding receptions, fine meals, and entertainment before it closed in 1979.  “It was full of character, rich in history and rife with personality,” said Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s state historian.  “It is where the rich and the famous came to play.”

At 16 stories, the Westward Ho was the tallest hotel in Phoenix when it opened in 1928.  At the time, it boasted a room rate of $2; most of its competitors charged 25 cents a night.  The hotel’s stature and star-studded clientele have led to legends and ghost stories.  Trimble said he doubts a claim made by some that Al Capone’s car was buried by a cave-in in the Westward Ho’s now-closed underground parking garage and is still down there.  Another legend, Trimble said, has Monroe making late-night swims without a bathing suit.  Like other establishments downtown, the Westward Ho suffered as residents and visitors were attracted to other places in the Valley.  “People didn’t want to be downtown so much anymore; the action wasn’t downtown,” Trimble said.  “You had golf courses and all of these things on these resorts.  There was just more to do.”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

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