Category Archives: History

John F. Kennedy Jr., Arizona Highways Fan

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 4.05.45 PMA while back, we received a scanned copy of this September 1995 letter to Lee and Sharon Young of Western Junk in Holbrook. Apparently, the son of the 35th president was a fan of Arizona Highways. Click the letter to enlarge it, or here’s a full transcript:


Dear Lee & Sharon:

Just a quick note to say hello and to thank you again as I sit here reading my Arizona Highways October issue. The only problem I have with the magazine is every time I read it I wonder what the heck I’m doing on the East Coast! Hope to be out there again soon. Hope you are both well.

John Kennedy

We always love to hear about noteworthy people reading our magazine, so if you know of other correspondence like this, please let us know!


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ASU Gammage Celebrates 50th Anniversary

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More than 50 years ago, famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright walked the Arizona State University campus in Tempe with then-ASU President Grady Gammage. At the time, Gammage was looking for a way to make ASU a cultural center for the Phoenix area. Wright, meanwhile, had recently designed an opera house for Iraq’s King Faisal II, but the king had been assassinated before the building could be constructed, and Wright was looking for a new use for the design.

At one point, Wright put down his cane and said he had found the place where he would build a building with outstretched arms that said, “Welcome to ASU.”

That building became Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium, which begins its 50th-anniversary season this month. Neither Gammage nor Wright lived to see the building completed, but Colleen Jennings-Roggensack says both would be proud of how the building (since rebranded as ASU Gammage) has evolved.

“What’s happened in the last 50 years is exactly what they thought would happen,” says Jennings-Roggensack, who has been ASU Gammage’s executive director since 1991. “It’s become the leading cultural center in the Southwest and the leading Broadway touring house in the country.”

Interestingly, she adds, Wright once said that all of his buildings should fall down after 50 years. But thanks to Gammage’s continuing evolution, it’s remained relevant and become an important part of the identity of ASU and the Phoenix area. That’s even more remarkable when you consider that the venue receives no financial support from the university.

Jennings-Roggensack helped bring Broadway shows to Gammage; the first time The Phantom of the Opera came there, it sold out in seven minutes. That change required extensive renovations to the Gammage stage, as well as the addition of ramp systems and accessible seating for disabled patrons. A national study showed that Broadway shows at Gammage pump $50 million into the local economy each year, Jennings-Roggensack says.

Gammage has been a place for political theater, too: A 2004 presidential debate between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry was held there. Before that, in 1998, 30 sitting U.S. senators and former first lady Nancy Reagan came to Gammage for the funeral of Arizona’s Sen. Barry Goldwater. And President Bill Clinton first gave his “Bridge to the Future” speech from one of Gammage’s trademark arms.

Jennings-Roggensack also includes a less famous event among her favorite Gammage moments. At a Camp Broadway event in the venue’s lobby, she met a young girl who told her that her grandfather, who also was attending the event, had been one of the building’s construction workers. “I went over and met him,” she says, “and he said that he was one of the workers, but he had never been inside Gammage. I took them into the house and had them sit down, and I had their granddaughter get up on stage. She sang The Star-Spangled Banner. And we cried.”

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, ASU Gammage is hosting three residency projects:

  • A developmental workshop on BASETRACK, a multimedia performance based on the real worlds of modern-day Marines and their families;
  • Another developmental workshop on Lemon Andersen’s ToasT, a new play about Willie Green, a.k.a. “Dolomite”; and
  • A residency by Aaron Landsman, an actor, writer and director who has performed around the world.

There’s plenty more to say about ASU Gammage, but it’s a venue that you really should experience for yourself. For information about upcoming shows and other events, call 480-965-3434 or visit

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San Xavier Mission School Turns 150

Tim Van Den Berg | San Xavier del Bac

Tim Van Den Berg | Mission San Xavier del Bac

The school at Mission San Xavier del Bac is celebrating its 150th year of operation this school year. San Xavier Mission School, located on the west side of the mission, opened in 1864 and serves students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

The school’s students are primarily from the Tohono O’odham Nation, but some are from the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and other areas surrounding the mission. The nuns who operate the school are Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity from Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Karen Faber, a teacher at the school, says in an email that the school is “the oldest business in the southern corridor of Arizona.” She adds that the school’s sesquicentennial “is something to celebrate and should be shared with the rest of the nation.”

The mission itself was founded by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in 1692. It’s a popular tourist attraction near Tucson.


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Happy Birthday, Smokey Bear!

Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

Seventy years ago today, the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council settled on a mascot for their fire-prevention efforts. On August 9, 1944, Smokey Bear was born.

A few things you might not know about Smokey:

  • Smokey’s famous slogan, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires,” was adopted in 1947. Today, it’s the more inclusive “Only YOU can prevent wildfires.”
  • His proper name is Smokey Bear, not Smokey the Bear. The “the” was added by songwriters to help with the rhythm of Smokey’s song.
  • Before Smokey came along, Disney loaned the Bambi character to the Forest Service for use as a fire-prevention spokesman.

To celebrate Smokey turning 70, why not take his pledge to be smart in the outdoors and do your part to avoid starting wildfires? We think he’d appreciate it.


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History on Display at Riordan Mansion on Monday

Courtesy of Riordan Mansion State Historic Park

Courtesy of Riordan Mansion State Historic Park

Flagstaff’s Riordan Mansion turns 110 this year, and the historic building is celebrating that anniversary Monday, August 11, with a “Brown Bag Lecture” about the property’s history.

If you’re in the area then, bring your lunch and head to Riordan Mansion State Historic Park, 409 W. Riordan Road, at noon. Dessert will be provided.

Riordan Mansion includes two nearly identical homes built by brothers Michael and Timothy Riordan, members of a prominent Flagstaff family that was involved in lumber, railroads, ranching and politics. The homes are connected by a “rendezvous room,” and altogether, they contain 13,000 square feet of space. The mansion opened as a state park in 1983.

If you can’t make it this time, don’t worry! The park holds lectures on the second Monday of each month.

For more information, visit the park’s website.

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Q&A: History Buffs Fight to Save 1930s Building on State Fairgrounds

WPA Administration Building | Courtesy of Will Novak, Phoenix Historic Neighborhood Coalition

WPA Administration Building | Courtesy of Will Novak, Phoenix Historic Neighborhood Coalition

As you might have heard last week, plans to demolish a 1930s-era building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds are on hold after preservation activists intervened on its behalf. The fate of the building, known variously as the State Fair Civic Building and the WPA Administration Building, is now in limbo pending a hearing today (Tuesday, July 22) at the fairgrounds.

What makes this building worthy of preservation? We reached out to Vincent Murray, a historian with Arizona Historical Research, for more information about its past and why some believe it should be preserved. If you’d like to attend today’s meeting, it’s at 4 p.m. in the second-floor Board Room in the Arizona Coliseum, 1826 W. McDowell Road in Phoenix. (Stop by the Arizona Highways gift shop while you’re in the area!)

Q: Tell us a little about the history of the building.
A: The WPA Administration Building was built in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration as its state headquarters. The WPA was a New Deal agency that provided employment and other services for millions of Americans, including tens of thousands of Arizonans (our population was less than half a million at the time). When the program ended in 1943, the building was used as the headquarters for AiResearch, one of Arizona’s early technology industries, and as exhibit space. This latter use is why it is sometimes referred as the Florticulture, Horticulture and Civic Building.

Q: What state is the building in currently?
A: The building hasn’t been well maintained. While state agencies are required by law to maintain and preserve historic buildings, the Arizona Exposition and State Fair Commission has been negligent in their duties. So, the building is in need of a new roof, as well as some minor structural repairs. Instead of performing the repairs, as required by law, the commission has decided to demolish the building. This decision was made without consultation of the State Historic Preservation Officer, which is also required by law. Had they followed the letter and intent of Arizona’s historic-preservation laws, they would have discovered that the cost for restoration was a fraction of their current $800,000 quote. They also would have a better idea of how the preservation of the building may qualify for tax incentives, its adaptive use and its potential for a return on an investment.

Q: What, in particular, makes this building worthy of being preserved, rather than demolished?
A: While we see a lot of the results of the WPA programs in Arizona, such as the park structures and sidewalks with the recognizable oval WPA stamp, and books, oral histories, artwork, etc., these are the results of the people who worked for the agency. But there is nothing that represents the human element, the decision-making process. This is where the direction for those efforts was located, the headquarters for the programs. Also, in keeping with the local support effort, this building was designed to be used as exhibit space after the end of the programs and the lease with the state.

Q: How can people get more information about, or contribute to, the preservation effort?
A: The Arizona Preservation Foundation has a website, You can find information and updates about the building under “endangered properties.” Not all old buildings need to be saved, but if we take the time to look into the history of places and think outside of the box on how places can be used for other purposes, we often see that demolition isn’t the best route, that alternatives really do make sense.


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