top of page

History of
     3Grand Avenue

Bob Graham, Motley Design Group 

and Slow


Phoenix’s strange
  diagonal boulevard


The Grand Avenue and University Additions didn’t take off quite as the speculators hoped. The biggest problem was flooding. Cave Creek, an intermittent stream with fairly indeterminate banks, flowed south


through just about the entire area from 7th to 19thAvenues. The years after 1889 were wet ones and the Grand Avenue and University additions were regularly inundated. Eight major floods flowed through the area between 1889 and 1921. Most notably, in 1919 Cave Creek flowed down Grand Avenue and the fairgrounds were under water. In 1921 the State Capitol was flooded. 

So while a few hardy souls trusted to Providence and built in the area anyway, development in Phoenix generally shifted instead to the higher ground north of the townsite rather than going west. While a commercial center quickly arose around the intersection of Grand with 7th Avenue and Van Buren, known as “Five Points,” past Polk (one block north) there was nothing but sparse homes and empty lots until at least 1915.

Area investors continued to boost development the best they could. Hopeful that improved streetcar


servicemight do the trick, in 1905 they took up a collection of $1,000 and pledged it to the streetcar company if they would improve the line and commit to service from 7 AM to 10 PM every day at 40 minute intervals. In 1909 the streetcar company, which had reincorporated as the Phoenix Railway Company under the leadership of Murphy associate General Moses H. Sherman, did upgrade and electrify the Fairgrounds line. The streetcar was busiest when the State Fair or some other event was occurring at the fairgrounds. The rest of the time, the sporadic development between Five Points and Six Points barely justified the cost of operation. 

The Rise of Commerce
and Tourism

The threat of flooding finally abated in 1923 with the construction of Cave Creek Dam. Development in the Grand Avenue area sputtered to life in anticipation its completion, with commercial development creeping north of Five Points, and Six Points becoming more established as a business node on the north end. In between, Grand slowly infilled with a mixture of businesses


and residences.The Great Depression was a time of transition along Grand Avenue, as it was during this period that automobile travel was in ascendance.  Tourist camps began to spring up at the end of the 1920s to cater to the rising tide of motorists looking for cheap accommodations. Since the Grand Avenue addition was on the outskirts of town (the city limits were at 19th & McDowell for years), and Grand was the road coming in from Los Angeles, it was the perfect place to catch weary drivers as they came into town. Anyone with extra land could easily establish a camp, only needing to provide campsites and common toilet and shower facilities. 

In 1932, Grand Avenue was designated part of U.S. Route 60, reflecting the growth in auto travel. (It was later to receive the additional designations as U.S. 89 and S.R. 93.) As the Depression faded and people could afford better accommodations, many of these camps turned into Auto Courts with permanent cabins and more private facilities.  Auto courts reached their peak on Grand in about 1940, when there were at least 13 such businesses in the area. A few of these even survived into the 1960s, including the Shaughnessey Auto Court, Ideal Auto Court, and Minnie’s Auto Court.  

Other Grand Avenue businesses were a mixture of those based on the tourist trade and those providing local services. Auto repair garages, gas stations, and restaurants were numerous, but so were groceries, barber and beauty shops, hardware stores and second-hand shops.  Grand was already acquiring the eclectic texture that can be seen today. 

The Fairgrounds streetcar line was finally shut down at the height of the Depression in 1934 due to lack of ridership. Grand never did become a residential “streetcar suburb” like the northern additions, and people began to drive to the fairgrounds instead of paying to take the streetcar. The switch to driving was affecting the other streetcar lines as well, and trolley service throughout Phoenix ended in 1948.


bottom of page