All posts filed under “Culture

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The National(ist) Pastime

“America before the Civil War was still populated by a handful of veterans of the Revolutionary War and many who remembered vividly the War of 1812. The era of Anglo-American amity had not yet dawned; our country’s spiritual separation from the Mother Country, though effected by treaty in 1783, was still in process. And having baseball to rival and replace cricket was an important step in that process. Moreover when England, seeking to maintain its supply of cotton from the American South, appeared over-cordial to the Confederate cause, anti-British feeling swept the North. An America long suffering from an inferiority complex toward England now turned against cricket and embraced baseball with increased fervor.”

– John Thorn, Baseball: Our Game

Header Image: “The American National Game Of Baseball Grand Match At Elysian Fields” by Currier & Ives (via fineartamerica.com)

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That Thing About Paradise and Parking Lots

Fairly often I have meetings in downtown Phoenix, and when I do, most of the time I park in a surface lot on the corner of First and Washington streets.

It’s in a convenient location and it’s really affordable—usually $5, though inflated to $10 when there’s a sporting event or some other sort of draw. At a certain level I know that surface lots are bad for cities. I know this intuitively and experientially, and I’ve dabbled enough in New Urbanist thought to have had those intuitions and experiences reinforced. But I had never really stopped to think about what was there—on the block of land framed by First, Second, Washington, and Jefferson—before it was a nondescript slab of asphalt overseen by a couple of fee collectors in golf carts.

I stumbled upon the answer while spending some time with the book Vanishing Phoenix, a collection of old black and white photos with commentary about the city’s former architectural glory by Robert A. Melikian. (Incidentally, the book inspired a now-defunct but still interesting blog by the same name.)

As it happens, what is now the place where I park my car was once the site of Phoenix City Hall. The book includes two photos of the original building, including this one, courtesy of the private Heberlee Collection (pardon the blurriness; it’s an iPhone photo of an old photo).

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From Melikian we learn:

Construction started in November 1887 by John J. Gardiner for $15,580 and was completed in 1888. When the capitol of Arizona moved from Prescott to Phoenix in 1889, this building was used as the state house, the offices of the governor and secretary, and the legislature’s meeting place. They held their biennial sessions on city hall’s upper floor…

The description of the Phoenix City Hall in the 1950 Phoenix City Directory was that “the block of ground upon which the old city hall stood was known as the Plaza and was originally set aside by the founders of Phoenix (in perpetuity) as a place for rest and peaceful contemplation. Their laudable desire, however, was long since nullified and the ground is now used for commercial purposes.” A bell tower was added in 1905. The building was torn down around 1928.

This anecdote illustrates something profound about our cities and how they are shaped over time. What I take for granted as affordable and convenient has come at the expense of something far more valuable and far more difficult to replicate—an iconic, beautiful government building in the heart of the city, in the midst of an oasis cultivated with care “as a place for rest and peaceful contemplation.”

UPDATE: Since writing this post, I finished Vanishing Phoenix. And in the later pages of it, I learned about Fox Theatre, an ornate art deco gathering place that stood on this same block after the original City Hall building but before it became a parking lot. It opened on July 30, 1931 and was a vibrant place into the 50s, around the time people started leaving for the ‘burbs. It was razed in 1975. Over at the TRU PHX blog, an artist named Hector Primero has used Photoshop to superimpose the Fox Theatre over a photo of the intersection as it currently appears today. Incidentally, the angle here is more or less the same as the header photo above, facing southeast.

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Anyway, Joni Mitchell, over to you.

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Remember From Whence You Came

There are many perks that come with having Jay Z for an agent, I’d imagine, and one of them is that you get fantastic mini documentaries made about you, apparently. This short film about Robinson Cano, a baseball player who is a delight to watch, takes us through the streets and fields of his Dominican hometown of San Pedro de Macoris.

I know it’s really just a propaganda piece by Jay Z and his Roc Nation people, but I enjoyed it anyway. I think you might enjoy it too.

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Another Side of Bob Dylan

There are few public figures more enigmatic than Bob Dylan. Go back and watch some of the interviews he’s given over the years if you need to be reminded of just how guarded and evasive he can be. I think especially of his thoroughly uncomfortable 1965 conversation with TIME‘s Horace Judson. More recently, his own autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One, further served to mystify his devoted fans (while likewise delighting many others, of course).

Perhaps this longstanding pattern of evasiveness is the reason so many of us keep reading books and essays or watching documentaries and feature films about him in hopes of filling in some of the blanks and connecting a few more dots in his life and music.

The latest of these perspectives comes to us in from Dylan’s longtime tour manager, confidante, and traveling companion, the late Victor Maymudes. Another Side of Bob Dylan: A Personal History on the Road and off the Tracks, which is edited and co-written by Victor’s son Jason Maymudes, is based on a series of recorded memories that were taped before the elder Maymudes died suddenly in 2001.

another-sideThough Dylan and Maymudes eventually had a falling out, these are the recollections of a friend. It’s not a juicy tell-all memoir but rather a chronicle of the ordinary, as told by someone who spent a lot of time by his side.

It’s a bit disjointed at times, truth be told, and we learn more than we probably need to about portions of the author’s life that have nothing to do with Dylan. But we also pick up fascinating tidbits regarding Dylan’s life from Maymudes’ perspective—like the claim that Dylan’s motorcycle accident really amounted to a one-mile-per-hour tip-over, or the claim that Dylan tried—and failed—to personally introduce the Beatles to marijuana.

This book doesn’t paint anyone in a particularly flattering light, but neither does it go out of its way to  vilify anyone. Rather, it simply gives us another perspective on life with the man who, for my money, is the greatest songwriter of our time. And for a Dylan fan like me, that’s reason enough to pick it up.

Header photo via themillblog.com