By Joan Fudala
If attending outdoor events or just relaxing at Scottsdale’s Civic Center has been your thing, you may have to put your plans on hold for the next year.
From October 2021 through December 2022, much of Scottsdale’s Civic Center is undergoing a significant transformation. While indoor activities at City Hall, Civic Center Library, the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, SMoCA and the many businesses surrounding Civic Center will continue their operations, major otudoor events will be on hiatus.
Now is the perfect time to look back at Scottsdale’s 53 years of activities.
• Today’s Scottsdale Civic Center (formerly called Civic Center Mall) is generally bounded by Brown Avenue to the west, Indian School to the north, 75th Street to the east and Second Street to the south in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale.
• Prior to Civic Center Mall (between 1968 and 1975), the area was a neighborhood of modest homes and a few businesses and restaurants.
• On the west side, Scottsdale Grammar School opened for the 1909-10 school year. As the only “public” building in the small, unincorporated town of Scottsdale (until Scottsdale High opened in 1923), school, civic, religious and cultural events were held outdoors on the school grounds. It operated as a school until the early 1950s, then served as town hall and the library. When the former schoolhouse was threatened with demolition in 1968, the Scottsdale Historical Society (SHS) formed to “Save the Little Red Schoolhouse.” Today the building houses the Scottsdale Historical Museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Numerous SHS events have taken place on its patio, from old-fashioned picnics to pancake breakfasts and the annual Winfield Scott/Founders Day party.
• The historic Adobe House — built circa 1897 by the Blount family and used as a guest ranch for decades — became the volunteer-run Civic Coordinating Council’s Scottsdale Community Center and public library in the early 1950s. Children’s library programs were held outdoors in the area around the Adobe House, now where the Civic Center Library parking garage is located. A municipal swimming pool opened on the grounds in 1960. The community center, library and pool became part of the newly created Scottsdale Parks and Recreation Department in the early 1960s.
• Although Scottsdale voters rejected the first bond issue to fund a proposed Scottsdale Civic Center in 1965, they approved a $2.4 million bond issue in 1966. The concept, stemming from the citizen-driven Scottsdale Town Enrichment Program, was to create an indoor/outdoor public space that would include a new city hall, a new public library, landscaped park-like grounds, and future plans for additional land for public facilities and uses.
• A citizen committee selected Arizona architect Bennie Gonzales to design the Civic Center. Situated on 14 acres of what is the east side of today’s Civic Center, he planned a 36,000-square-foot city hall and a 39,000-square-foot public library in a contemporary Southwest style.
• Citizens on Scottsdale’s Fine Arts Commission facilitated the first pieces of outdoor public art for the new Civic Center, including “Don Quixote” (Dale Wright), “Mother and Child” (John Henry Waddell), “Woman and Fish” (Abbott Pattison) and “An Abstraction” (R. Phillips Sanderson, later moved to Via Linda Senior Center). Scottsdale students collected coins in May 1968 to fund the Children’s Fountain, also called the Fountain of Youth, for the Civic Center.
• The city hosted a grand dedication for its new Civic Center in October 1968, highlighted by a mariachi-led procession down Main Street to the new city hall and a performance by Arizona balladeer Dolan Ellis.
• Civic Center’s beautifully landscaped grounds, lagoons and fountains became the backdrop for fashion photo shoots.
• The first Scottsdale’s All Indian Days was staged outdoors at the Civic Center in 1969 and brought Native American performers from many communities throughout the Southwest to Scottsdale.
• October Fairs, a carnival sponsored by the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce on Civic Center Mall in the 1970s, benefited local nonprofit groups.
• In 1971 the Scottsdale Fine Arts Commission hosted the first Scottsdale Arts Festival. From February 12 to March 14, multiple events were staged in various venues throughout Scottsdale but particularly on the Civic Center’s outdoor spaces. Featured at events were longtime Scottsdale resident artists Philip Curtis, William Schimmel, Paolo Soleri, Agnese Udinotti, Walter Bohl and several others. It has continued to be held as a three-day outdoor event on Civic Center Mall in March (except the past two years of COVID-19 cancellations).
• On October 15, 1972, the city of Scottsdale dedicated an amphitheater between the library and City Hall; Jerry Van Dyke was the featured entertainer. Scottsdale Arts has sponsored numerous outdoor concerts at the site.
• After helping to ensure its preservation and renovating its interior and exterior, the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce moved into the 1909-vintage Little Red Schoolhouse in 1973, operating its offices and visitors center there until 1991. Many chamber events, from new member orientations to mixers, were held on the patio in front.
• Main Street was permanently closed east of Brown Avenue in 1973 to facilitate construction of the west side of Civic Center Mall, which was dedicated in November 1974. The west side of the mall included the Mercado Verde shop and restaurant spaces, which opened in 1977.
• An entire weekend of events in November 1973 celebrated installation of Louise Nevelson’s “Windows to the West” Corten steel public art sculpture on the east side of Scottsdale Civic Center.
• In 1978, the Scottsdale League for the Arts began its annual Scottsdale Culinary Festival. Proceeds from the event have supported local arts nonprofit organizations; the event also provided new exposure for Scottsdale’s talented chefs and variety of restaurants.
• Among countless other events “on the mall” — Night Run for the Arts, CultureQuest and Native Trails, Sunday A’Fairs, GreekFest, VisionFest, Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies at The Chaplain statue behind City Hall, events celebrating Spring Training, 1993 America-Japan Week events, weddings in the rose garden, holiday tree lightings at Brown & Main, a 1973 Parks & Rec Department-sponsored ski class at Civic Center (tons of ice brought in and pulverized for snow), TreeCity USA ceremonies, Scottsdale’s Golden Rule City events (2017 and 2021), and the January 2021 outdoor swearing-in of Mayor David Ortega and three new councilmembers, all in masks, to adhere to COVID-19 protocols.
• Many improvements have been made to the Civic Center area since 1968: the Center for the Performing Arts opened in October 1975; the (Maxine & Jonathan) Marshall Rose Garden was dedicated in 1974; a Doubletree Inn opened in 1975 (after many branding changes, it is now The Saguaro); the Civic Center Senior Center opened on Second Street in 1976; and the Civic Center Boulevard (renamed Drinkwater Boulevard in 2000) overpass, linking the east and west sides of Civic Center Mall, was dedicated in January 1986. The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art opened in February 1999 in a former movie theater.
• Scottsdale Public Art and citizen groups have funded/installed additional outdoor art around Civic Center, including: Jose Bermudez’s “Mountains and Rainbows” (1976), Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” sculpture (2002), Clyde Ross Morgan’s “Mayor Herbert Herb Drinkwater and “His Dog Sadie” (2003), George Ann Tognoni’s “The Yearlings” (1986) and her “Winfield Scott, Helen and Old Maude” (2007); Kenji Umeda’s “Allurement of a Journey,” which was dedicated to the late Scottsdale artist Lew Davis (1980); Gary Slater’s “Right Angle Variations” (1975); and the U.S. Marine Corps mural (2015). In 1990, the Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian House was built on Civic Center Mall and open for several months for public tours.
• The Richard Mayer Memorial Garden — just north of City Hall and dedicated in 1969 — contains tributes to Scottsdale’s first mayor, Malcolm White; to Scottsdale’s Sister Cities; and to other Scottsdale milestones and personalities. A bench dedicated to Bill Jenkins, who served as mayor from 1974 to 1980, is also adjacent to City Hall.
• To accommodate all those coming to events, businesses and public buildings at Civic Center, two parking garages were built — one on the west side in 1974 (designed by Taliesin Architects) and one between Civic Center Library and the ballpark in 1985.
• Remember the municipal court/police building just west of the Little Red Schoolhouse, dedicated on June 25, 1961, and closed in the 1970s? City council meetings and other public hearings were held there until the new city hall opened in 1968.
• Remember Civic Center-area eateries like Tico Taco, China Lil’s, the Old Corral, Chez Louis, Pepin, Backstage, Orange Table, Blue Moose and Pure Sushi? And hurrah for the longevity of Los Olivos, as well as AZ/88 and its outdoor patio overlooking Civic Center.
• Remember the swans in the City Hall pond, Winnie and Pooh, and their offspring Christopher and Robin?
• Remember Jed Nolan’s Music Hall and the UA Cinema/dollar movies?
• Remember the bad storm in September 1998 that knocked over many Civic Center trees?
• Remember driving up to the box office at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, with its windows on the northeast side of the building, facing the mall? Coming attractions were featured on a huge marquee above box office windows.
• Remember the School for the Blind on the grounds of the community center? It was generously supported by the Scottsdale Jaycees before moving to Phoenix.
Surely you have many memories of your own of outdoor activities in the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall area. Look forward to making many more after the renovation!