Old Images of Phoenix, Arizona

vintage film and old photos of Phoenix Arizona

Glimpse history through old images of Phoenix, Arizona.

Take a step back in time with these vintage films and old photos of Phoenix Arizona. It’s always interesting to learn about the past, and amazing to see how much the city has changed over the years.

The site at Pueblo Grande preserves the remains of an ancient native settlement where the first irrigation project in the valley made it a good place to live many centuries ago. Modern settlement began in 1867, expanding so quickly that by 1881 Phoenix became a city. Cotton, citrus, cattle, climate, and copper formed the backbone of the city’s economy up until the era of World War II.

Old Photos of Phoenix

1885 Illustrated Map 

A close look at a beautiful bird’s eye view of the small city, made in 1885.

Street names and even telegraph poles appear, along with horses and carriages. The map is surrounded by close up illustrations, including the schoolhouse, Gregory House, and the head of the Canal. The map shows the various canals across the landscape.

Phoenix Arizona History and Cartograph (1885) – Bravura Media Company on YouTube

Old Photos of Phoenix Az

A wide range of locations and decades appear in these old photos of the city through time. In some, women wear long skirts down to the ground and traffic consists solely of horses and carts. Others show neon signs and gleaming cars of a busy technicolour street.

Phoenix, Arizona Historical Images – Brad Hall on YouTube

1950s Phoenix vs Today

In the 1950s, a drive through downtown Arizona was recorded on black and white film. Further clips were taken on individual buildings.

In this short video, we see the 1950s film set against the same locations in 2015. You instantly see how buildings have changed in appearance and use, or even disappeared. 

The final segment is a clip from a 1962 film. These scenes are set in Central Avenue and First Street at night. The boy runs away from a strange man – things weren’t so innocent in the old days as we sometimes imagine. The stores he looks at are small businesses, probably run by local families. 

Downtown Phoenix in 1950’s and Present Day – Hector Raul Primero on YouTube

Old Photos of Phoenix That Nearly Got Destroyed!

“History of the Old Phoenix” is presented by Brad Hall of Glendale Community College. 

Back in 1992, Brad worked for Valley National Bank when they cleared out their old photos. He asked if he could keep them rather than put them out in the dumpster. 

Within ten years he’d started putting these amazing old images online, and has continued to do so ever since.

One of his favourites is the 1908 photo of Washington Street looking West. The buildings along the unpaved dirt streets were low rise, so you could still see the Capitol.

Phoenix Arizona Historical Documentary 2017 – United Destiny Entertainment on YouTube

Phoenix Arizona in the 1960s

When this programme was made in the 1960s, the population of Arizona was booming. The narrator suggests that the city may soon have a population bigger than Boston or Phildelphi. In just 10 years the population exploded by 400%.

The Biltmore hotel opened only for ‘the Season’, which was early autumn through to late Spring. It was one of the most prestigious hotels in America, surrounded by an affluent housing development. Today the Arizona Biltmore is a Waldorf Astoria Resort.

We see the botanical garden, meet a family of rock hunters, and listen to a lady quietly explain why they retired to the city, as her husband stands silently by. It opens a segment about the popularity of the Sun City for retired people. 

Young people attend the university. But the film is more interested in the new desert architecture of both the university and local churches. Then we take a look at some unique homes. Next it’s a look at retail architecture and a visit to the Lulu Belle.

“Youngsters really flip when they meet the Chief”, we are told. The scenes at the Children’s Zoo and Cave Creek are rather curious.

The airport was the “second or third” busiest airport in the country, because of the large number of private planes.

Throughout the programme, it feels very much like a small desert town rather than a booming modern city.

Valley of the Sun, 1960s – travelfilmarchive on YouTube

Phoenix’s Lost Buildings

Robert Melikian, whose family owns and operates the historic Hotel San Carlos in downtown Phoenix, is the author of “Vanishing Phoenix.” In this TV segment, he visits the Mae West Suite in his family hotel, which is a rare historical building in a landscape dominated by modern progress. He discusses historic preservation in the city and shares old photos of beautiful and quirky buildings now long gone.

HORIZON Eight Arizona PBS – Vanishing Phoenix – Arizona PBS on YouTube

Phoenix in the 1980s

This 1980s footage opens with a busy freeway. We see a welcome board announce the population at 770,000, as the narrator tells us it’s one of the fastest growing States in America. Then we visit the City Hall, and the ‘Dance’ sculptures.

1980s Phoenix, Arizona, Highway, Landmarks, Archive Footage – thekinolibrary on YouTube

Flooding in 1980

Only three bridges were opened at the point this news segment was broadcast, causing traffic problems.

1980 Phoenix Flooding – Rick DeBruhl on YouTube

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