Historical Development: Phoenix and the Brentwood Neighborhood
Early Phoenix: Late 1800’s to 1920
Increasing population and growth of the agricultural sector in the Salt River Valley in the late 1800’s necessitated the establishment of a town site for Phoenix. The town site finally chosen in 1870 was an unoccupied area in the north half of Section 8, T1N, R3E (Luckingham 1989); this area did not include the Brentwood neighborhood, which was northeast of the city’s original town site. In 1889, the territorial capital was moved from Prescott to Phoenix (Lykes 1993), thus ensuring the future of the fledgling town.
Access to and from the town remained difficult until the arrival of the Maricopa and Phoenix Railroad (M&P) in 1887. With the arrival of the railroad, the residents of early Phoenix became connected to the outside world in terms of commerce, industry and population movement (Luckingham 1989). The addition of the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railroad (SFP&P) in 1895 connected Phoenix to the northern transcontinental route (Jackman et al. 1999). As a result, Phoenix became the transportation hub of the Arizona Territory.
Passage of the National Reclamation Act of 1902 sought to better utilize water resources through large-scale irrigation projects from water stored behind massive dams (Zarbin 1986, 1997). Construction of the Roosevelt Dam at the confluence of the Salt River and Tonto Creek began in 1906 and the dam was in operation by 1911 (Luckingham 1989). The economic and demographic importance of Roosevelt Dam for Phoenix was significant (City of Phoenix 1994). The city’s population increased and the business/agricultural sector expanded as a result of a dependable water supply and electrical power (Luckingham 1989). Promotional campaigns by local civic leaders helped double the population of Phoenix between 1900 and 1910 (Luckingham 1989), from 5,500 to 11,134, followed by a doubling again to 29,053 by 1920 (Lykes 1993). By 1913, Phoenix had grown to encompass 3.2 square miles, but did not yet include the future Brentwood neighborhood.
Prosperity, Economic Collapse and Recovery: 1920-1941
Expansion of the city was necessary to cope with the influx of residents as a result of the successful city booster campaigns and the economic prosperity of the 1920’s. Transportation played a prominent role. The street railway system was first developed by Moses Sherman in 1887 and used a horse-drawn car for transportation. The growth of the Phoenix Street Railway Company was rapid as the trolleys were converted to electrical use in 1893 (Luckingham 1989). Promoters of real estate development used the streetcar routes to make their developments more attractive to buyers. Often, property owners had to share in the costs of extending railway lines through their neighborhoods. The Brill Line, closest to the future Brentwood Historic District, ran north/south along 10th Street between Pierce and Brill Streets, and was extended further to the north in 1913 (Hackbarth 1995).
Transportation improvements around the state played a key role in the growth of Phoenix. The Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 and its successor, the Federal Highway Act of 1921, inspired a decade-long era of intensive highway construction and improvements to existing roadways in Arizona. Federal, state and county highway improvements transformed Phoenix into a major highway transportation center between El Paso and Los Angeles, which complemented the role and expansion of the railroads at the same time. The city’s role as a transportation hub across the southwestern deserts, coupled with its own internal growth as an agricultural, business and mining center, propelled rapid population growth. Between 1920 and 1930, the city’s population grew from 29,053 to 48,118 (Lykes 1993), which in turn fueled a boom in the housing market. New subdivisions were springing up in all directions surrounding the city’s core. Between 1925 and 1927, 84 subdivisions were platted (Janus Associates, Inc. 1989).
The Brentwood area was an early beneficiary of this explosive growth; the first subdivision, McDowell Heights, was platted in 1924, followed by Brentwood and East Brentwood in 1928. Together, these three subdivisions represented a roughly four-by-four block addition to the city, with over 100 lots available to middle-income residents. Rural areas outside the Phoenix city limits were listed in the directory by mail route number; formal addresses for the immediate area surrounding the Brentwood Historic District would not appear in the city directories until about 1926. A large portion of this new neighborhood also sat atop an extensive prehistoric site, first identified as La Ciudad de Los Pueblitos by the Hemenway Southwest Archaeological Expedition of 1887-1888 (Zablon 1981). The prehistoric site was occupied between AD 700 and 1050 and was investigated as part of the Interstate 10 inner-loop construction project (Wilcox 1987; Zablon 1981). Currently, there are no known surface or open exposures of this important site in the Brentwood Historic District, but any future earth-moving activities may have the potential to impact buried cultural deposits.
The Great Depression and New Deal in Phoenix: 1932-1941
The devastating economic impact of Black Friday and the following Great Depression was slow to affect Phoenix. However, when copper values plummeted from $155.7 million in 1929 to $14.7 million in 1932, mines were shut down and workers were left jobless. Several banks in the Valley shut down, causing a cycle of lost business, sales and jobs. The effects of the Depression on the building industry was most evident between 1932 and 1936 (Luckingham 1989), but the effect on the housing industry occurred much earlier. In 1929, for example, over 900 homes were constructed in Phoenix; the following year, only 209 were constructed (Kotlanger 1983).
By 1932, the entire construction industry nearly came to a halt as a combination of job loss and unemployment, lack of business and lending capital, and shrinkage of the Phoenix economy made little demand for new housing. The last flash of housing construction in the pre-1938 Brentwood neighborhood occurred in 1930-1931 with only a few houses appearing in 1934 and 1935. Three new houses were built between 1938 and 1939, all in the newly platted Wright Davis subdivision. However, as the effects of the Great Depression waned in the late 1930’s and the country geared up for possible war, housing construction in the Brentwood neighborhood was renewed, tentatively at first in the 1940’s, then boomed once again throughout the war years.
The federal government’s economic policies helped Phoenix’s commercial interests and residents to limp along during the leanest years.
The earlier emergency aid programs under the Hoover Administration supplied relief to Phoenix and the state, but it would be the New Deal programs under the Roosevelt Administration that hastened the economic and social recovery of Phoenix. Beginning in 1933, federal aid centered on creating work for the unemployed in the form of great and small public works programs. With loans and grants, the federal government bought crops and raw goods for redistribution; work programs, such as the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Public Works Administration (PWA) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) employed thousands of workers and subsidized numerous public projects (Luckingham 1989). Work programs and loans also helped in the recovery of private industry. By 1936, with the help of federal programs and funds, the construction industry began to recover.
Programs implemented to aid residential construction included the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) and the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). These programs guaranteed loans with low down payments and long-term mortgages. Residential construction increased as potential residents took advantage of the new low terms. By the end of the Great Depression, home construction was once again reaching record levels (Kotlanger 1983), brought about in part by the influx of pre-war related industries and military bases to the Phoenix area.
Federal aid programs between 1936 and 1941 played a significant role in public improvements of Phoenix suburbs. The majority of the projects went to the PWA and the WPA (Kotlanger 1983). North Phoenix High School, constructed with PWA and WPA funds, opened in 1939. Whittier Elementary School along with North Phoenix High School were the major centers of education for children in the Brentwood neighborhood (Augusta Howe and Agnes Holst, personal communication 2002). Street improvement projects were conducted on a large scale throughout the city, including within Brentwood. Late in the 1930s, the WPA sponsored an aggressive program to construct standard size sidewalks throughout urban Phoenix. Homeowners paid ten cents per square foot for construction materials while laborers were provided by the WPA (Kotlanger 1983).
A New Era for Phoenix: World War II and the Post-War “Boom Years,” 1941-1956
When the United States formally entered the war at the end of 1941, Phoenix was well on its way to recovery. The war had prompted national defense preparation. In Phoenix, several airfields including Thunderbird Field in Glendale, Luke Field near Litchfield Park and Williams Field in Mesa were constructed. After the war began, two additional air training fields opened and throughout the course of the war, soldiers and pilots training at the fields contributed to the city’s growing economy (Luckingham 1989). Many of the military personnel also brought families while the related construction boom across the Valley brought thousands of laborers from across the country.
As a result, the city’s population expanded as people arrived looking for employment in defense industries. Goodyear Aircraft Corporation installed a plant west of Phoenix that would employ thousands of workers before war’s end. As the war progressed and the city filled with defense workers, Phoenix adopted a “Share Your Home” program to house soldiers and workers in the Valley. Housing construction boomed with the rest of the economy as is evident in Brentwood, where 58 new houses were built during the war years (according to City of Phoenix building permits, and city directory listings). The post-war years brought continued economic expansion as the military bases remained operational and enlarged and the wartime industries were converted to production for consumers, not only in the United States but also for the rebuilding effort underway in Europe and Asia (Luckingham 1989). The traditional agricultural and mining sectors experienced continued growth as well.
The building boom continued after the war, literally transforming Phoenix into a metropolis. The total value of building permits in a four-year period between 1946 and 1950 surpassed the combined value of permits between 1919 and 1941. The population in the city nearly doubled in the 1940’s and quadrupled in the 1950’s, rising from 65,414 in 1940 to 439,170 in 1960 (Lykes 1993).
Prior to 1932, residential construction in the Phoenix area was a largely private enterprise. Federal programs like the FHA and HOLC brought increasing federal sponsorship into the building industry (Kotlanger 1983; Luckingham 1989). By 1940, as residential construction recovered, economic themes in construction became predominant. Increasing home sales attributed to low-rate mortgages fueled residential construction and necessitated more economical and large-scale projects (City of Phoenix 1992). The Ranch style homes of the 1940s to 1950s mirror these demands, as well as the values of frugal Americans who lived through the Great Depression.
Between 1945 and 1950, two more subdivisions were platted in the Brentwood neighborhood to meet the rising demand for middle-income housing: Valley of the Sun (1944) and the Governor Hunt Tract (1946). The Valley of the Sun subdivision is one of the first that reflected a relatively new strategy for developers: the platting of a subdivision and building all of the houses. The Sun Valley Housing Company authorized the plat and constructed the Ranch style houses which were largely completed by 1947.
The Brentwood Historic District Subdivisions
The Brentwood Historic District consists of six original subdivisions (Table 2). Home construction in the Brentwood neighborhood reflects pre-Depression, New Deal and war/post-war expansion and stylistic patterns of residential development in Phoenix. Between 1926 and 1932, three subdivisions were platted in the district: McDowell Heights, Brentwood and East Brentwood. With economic collapse in the Valley in 1932, construction came to a virtual halt in Phoenix and the Brentwood neighborhood and the city postponed future subdivisions. This chaotic period was also characterized by periodic abandonment of houses in the area. By the late 1930’s, city officials were again promoting additional expansion, particularly northeast of the central business district (Kotlanger 1983). The Wright Davis subdivision was platted in 1938. As Phoenix emerged from the Great Depression in 1940, the Brentwood neighborhood was comprised of four well-developed subdivisions and the pace of housing construction increased dramatically during the war and the following decade.
Early households near the future Brentwood Historic District included Governor Hunt’s mansion at 1679 E. McDowell Road and Joseph Egly’s date farm at 1925 E. McDowell Road. Egly’s date farm was one of the largest in the Valley at the time. These landmarks remained a part of the growing residential district through the late 1930s. Although many of Egly’s date palms were destroyed as house construction progressed, several current homeowners claim that the date palms in their yards or along the streets are remnants of the original date farm.
In July of 1924, McDowell Heights was subdivided by L.W. and Anna Greer. The subdivision is bounded by McDowell Road to the north, 16th Street to the west, 17th Street to the east, and the Brill Street alley to the south. Because the city limits did not extend beyond 16th Street to the east or McDowell Road to the south at this time, the boundaries were marked by iron pipes. L.W. Greer began development of the subdivision shortly after platting it. An Arizona Republican article from Sunday, September 6, 192 touted, “Contractor and Rancher Building First of 16 Residences to total $68,000 in Cost on McDowell Road.” The “Contractor and Rancher” was L.W. Greer who worked in Phoenix as a plumber. The sixteen units were to range from five to six rooms and were offered at between $3,500 and $5,500. Although moderately priced, Greer marketed the homes as being “modern in every detail, with many elaborate features not found in the small home.”
In January and September of 1928, two more subdivisions were platted in the district: the Brentwood and East Brentwood subdivisions. The earliest advertisement for the Brentwood subdivision can be found in the March 4, 1928 Arizona Republican. Jesse E. Dowell listed himself as owner and developer and marketed “Moderately Priced Homes… with City Water, Gas and Electricity,” and was located between 16th and 18th Streets, Willetta and Culver Streets. Dowell advertised an open “English Cottage” model and stated, “The home now ready for inspection has it. Come out and see for yourself.” Potential buyers were told they could pick their own lots upon which Dowell would build “substantial lasting homes at prices that satisfy.” These early homes were made of brick with asphalt shingle roofs.
The April 1, 1928 Arizona Republican stated that two homes had been completed in the tract and were “valued at upwards of $4,000.” The article went on to state that four new homes were to be started that week. While moderately priced homes, they did include “modern features” such as hardwood flooring and “built in conveniences.” The success of Dowell’s development most likely spurred W.T. Machan to plat East Brentwood, just east of the initial Brentwood plat spanning 19th to 20th Streets.
East Brentwood was subdivided by W.T. Machan in September 1928. Machan also served as principal of Creighton Elementary School and later the superintendent of the Creighton School District. The William T. Machan Elementary School at 2140 E. Virginia Avenue was named in his honor. Today, the existing subdivision is bounded by Willetta Street on the north, 19th Street on the west, 20th Street to the east and the Willetta Street alley to the south. By 1932, houses were scattered throughout all three early subdivisions. These three early subdivisions form the bulk of the historic district.
The Wright Davis Tract was subdivided in 1938. The subdivision is bounded by McDowell Road to the north, 19th Street to the west, 20th Street to the east and the Brill Street alley to the south.
When the United States entered World War II on December 8, 1941, Phoenix became a major defense training and supply center. The population continued to increase as workers arrived looking for employment and soldiers arriving for deployment. A citywide housing shortage stimulated the housing industry. Numerous houses were built in the Brentwood neighborhood during the war, primarily in the Brentwood and East Brentwood sections. These houses not only reflected the economy and population expansion of the time, but also reflected the shortage of supplies; most of the houses were built in the less-ornamented and more economical Ranch style during this time period and the post-war period as well.
The Valley of the Sun Tract was subdivided in 1944 by the Sun Valley Housing Company (Attachment 5). The subdivision is located along Willetta Street between 19th and 20th Streets. Presumably, the Sun Valley Housing Company was the building contractor as well, as they were known as one of the earliest companies that specialized in complete subdivision planning and building. This trend, later fully expressed in the complete building of new “cities” by Del Webb and others (e.g. Sun City, Arizona), grew out of the war effort and the need to build as quickly, uniformly and inexpensively as possible (Luckingham 1989).
The Governor Hunt Tract, subdivided in 1946 by Virginia Hunt-Frund, Lena Ellison and Valley National Bank, is located between McDowell Road and Willetta Street, north to south and 17th Street to 18th Street, west to east. In 1916, Governor George W.P. Hunt, Arizona’s first governor, moved into his home at 1679 E. McDowell Road. For many years, Governor Hunt and his family lived at this location, surrounded by isolated farmsteads. Upon his death in 1934, ownership of the house was passed on to Mrs. Rose Marley. By 1945, Governor Hunt’s daughter, Virginia Hunt-Frund, acquired the mansion and subsequently had the property subdivided as the Governor Hunt Tract. The house was demolished sometime in 1951 for development of the Miracle Mile Shopping Center and other commercial enterprises along McDowell Road. The only significant property located in this subdivision is a church owned by the Church of God in Christ at 1725 E. Brill Street. The church was constructed between 1947 and 1949 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Between 1949 and 1978, it functioned as the First Ward of the Phoenix East Stake. In 1978, the property was acquired by the current owners who use the property for large church meetings and funerals.
Federal programs initiated through the New Deal, as well as passage of the G.I. Bill in 1946, triggered a new era of unprecedented housing construction in the post-war years. By the end of the war, phoenix was emerging as one of the largest cities in the southwest. Construction and improvements in the Brentwood Historic District reflect this growth; house construction continued at a steady pace through 1956. The socio-economic status of Brentwood at the time was best characterized as middle-income, Anglo families. According to Brentwood residents, during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Mormon families moved into the neighborhood to be closer to the new LDS church (Redfern 2002). Occupations ranged from carpenters, plumbers and teachers to doctors, ministers and government employees.
The decades following the end of World War II produced significant and permanent changes in the Brentwood neighborhood. Former Governor Hunts’ mansion at 1679 E. McDowell Road was razed for commercial development; predominantly agricultural lands were transformed into residential suburbs; construction of Interstate 10 razed buildings in the East Brentwood subdivision and construction of State Route 51 removed blocks of the neighborhood’s eastern boundary. These highways served to restrict access into the neighborhood, but Brentwood residents claim these changes benefited the neighborhood by reducing the amount of cut-through traffic (Redfern 2002). As a result of this “isolation” that inhibited large-scale commercial development, the neighborhood has retained much of its original early to mid-20th Century attributes and ambience. Although a more diverse ethnic mix of middle-income families has replaced the earlier, primarily Anglo residents, the properties themselves are little changed due to the efforts of the current residents to keep the neighborhood intact and the houses in good repair with minimal modification. Brentwood is a good example of early to mid-20th Century growth of a Phoenix neighborhood.
Historical Information provided courtesy of:
Historic Preservation Office of the City of Phoenix
200 West Washington Street
Phoenix, Arizona 85003 (602) 261-8699