Blog Archives

First Fridays art walk expands to downtown Phoenix’s Heritage Square

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Circa 1900 in downtown Phoenix's Heritage Square.

[Source: Rebecca Clark, Special to the Arizona Republic] — On the nights of the First Fridays art walk, the normally quiet streets of downtown Phoenix are packed with nouveau hippies offering free hugs, Scientology protesters next to Scientology promoters, and street vendors selling everything from aprons to jewelry.  Men and women of all ages, all walks of life and from all over the Valley are drawn in by fire breathers, live bands and, of course, art.  But sometimes, amid the blocks of mayhem near the Roosevelt Row arts and shopping district, the night can seem less about art and more about an “art scene.”

That’s why Artlink, a non-profit downtown Phoenix arts organization, has partnered with the Rosson House Foundation and Phoenix artist Sean Deckert to bring a calmer, quieter, completely art-focused element to First Fridays in Heritage & Science Park, south of the Roosevelt Row area.  “People who come to downtown only for First Fridays get the wrong idea,” said Deckert, who is program coordinator and co-curator of the First Friday expansion to Heritage Square.  “On First Fridays, it is like the state fair has come to town.  There are people selling ice cream cones and T-shirts, and amidst all of that, there is an artist showing and trying to sell his own work.”

That’s why vendors and certain kinds of street performers will not be allowed in the intimate historic space near the Arizona Science Center and Pizzeria Bianco.  Instead there will be an outdoor gallery showing six to 10 artists each month, and Deckert said that number will increase as the area develops a reputation for art.  [Note: Read the full article at First Fridays art walk expands to downtown Phoenix’s Heritage Square.]

A growing appetite for downtown Phoenix dining

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Sens, Downtown Phoenix (photo source: Cam Riley)

[Source: Howard Seftel and Megan Finnerty, Arizona Republic] — Looking past the current economic downturn, optimistic restaurateurs believe downtown Phoenix is poised to compete in the next few years with Scottsdale as a dining destination.  The momentum has been jump-started by a group of independent chefs and entrepreneurs who believe in the area’s potential.  They, in turn, have inspired a fresh wave of high-profile names with big plans to rush in and stake a downtown claim.

New arrivals say downtown Phoenix has reached a tipping point, energized in part by light rail and the Arizona State University campus.  But some warn that the Valley has seen this sort of hopeful restaurant hype fail to live up to its promise before, pointing to troubles on Mill Avenue in Tempe and developments such as downtown Phoenix’s Arizona Center and the Mercado that never flourished.  Others think downtown’s residential core is still not strong enough to support a restaurant community.

Meanwhile, CityScape is accelerating the downtown dining buzz.  Fifteen restaurants are planned for the sprawling residential, commercial and retail complex set to open in 2010.  Developers are targeting local chefs in hopes of complementing the fledgling dining scene, not squashing it.  Although downtown had seen scattered individual successes in the past, like the wood-fired pizza at Pizzeria Bianco and classy comfort food of Matt’s Big Breakfast, their popularity didn’t create a movement.  Winning national acclaim meant they became just as much tourist destinations as local joints.  Now, however, chefs and restaurant owners are relocating from other parts of the Valley or opening additional locations.

Metro light rail, ASU’s downtown campus, the Downtown Phoenix Public Market and new residents are creating buzz for the area, they say.  “It’s the spot to be,” said Linda Nguyen, whose bustling, 4-month-old Moira Sushi Bar & Kitchen offers Japanese fare.  She considered Tempe and Scottsdale before opening in a space on East McKinley Street.  [Note: Read the full article at A growing appetite for downtown Phoenix dining]

How a historic downtown Phoenix shop became a famed pizzeria

Pizza Bianco, downtown Phoenix

[Source: Richard Ruelas, Arizona Republic] — In a downtown Phoenix block full of historic buildings, the Baird Machine Shop might be the richest one.  And it is a story that continues to be written.  The 1928 square, brick building was one of several buildings from Phoenix’s original townsite days that was spared demolition by a Phoenix mayor.  Another man, who would become Phoenix mayor, had the vision that the building could become an iconic restaurant that would draw tourists from around the nation.

That second mayor, Phil Gordon, might have been ahead of his time by proposing the restaurant in the late 1980s.  But his vision came true, as the Baird Machine Shop houses the nationally renowned Pizzeria Bianco.  “I just always knew there would be that attraction to the physical uniqueness of the building,” Gordon said of his 1987 proposal to remodel and revitalize the Baird building.  “We saw the potential of (Heritage Square) being so unique,” he said.

So did then-Phoenix Mayor John Driggs.  When he took office in 1970, he decided to save the buildings that still remained from Block 14, one of the first created in the city that still had original buildings on it.  The Rosson House, which Driggs remembered seeing as a child, had been subdivided into apartments and had air-conditioning units hanging from its windows, said Darla Harmon, executive director at the Rosson House Museum.

The Baird Machine Shop, whose previous tenant was Milt Ponder’s Sign Shop, was one of the buildings bought by the city.  It was just luck that a deal didn’t go through that would have leveled the old structures, Harmon said.  “We’re a great place to put a parking garage, don’t you think?” she said. “(Developers) were looking around licking their lips.”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]