Serving Arizona State University Online Since 1995  Current Issue: Thursday, September 21, 2006





On the cover: A walk down memory ave

 by Nicole Fuggs
 published on Thursday, September 21, 2006

Photo illustration by Tiffany Tcheng/Katie Lehman / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
This building wasn’t always home to Rula Bula, Tempe’s resident Irish pub. At one time, it was a saddle shop./issues/arts/697818
Photo courtesy of the Tempe Historical Museum
This building wasn’t always home to Rula Bula, Tempe’s resident Irish pub. At one time, it was a saddle shop.


Mill Avenue isn't just a spot for shoppers or a nightlife nexus. It's a little slice of Arizona's history. So sit back and let SPM school you on this blast from the past.

Urban Outfitters, Starbucks and Hippie Gipsy by day. Hooters, the Library and the Big Bang by night.

These are several of the iconic locations that draw students to Mill Avenue.

But contrary to popular belief, it wasn't always the brew that brought visitors to this mecca of activity.

While some people might assume that Tempe is devoid of a rich culture and history, it turns out that Mill Avenue has been a hot spot of activity for decades - dating back all the way to the late 1870s.

In fact, Mill Avenue was established as a main gathering place for Tempe residents long before ASU became a university.

By taking a look at Mill Avenue's history, it's possible to get an idea of just how much Tempe's culture has evolved over the years.

This is the history of Mill Avenue. And no, this lesson will not be followed by a pop quiz.

Mill Avenue 101: The beginning

In the Tempe Historical Museum, tall, slender boards depict blown-up photographs, accompanied by blurbs on every aspect of life in Tempe in the 1930s. From farming to kids playing in Tempe's very first swimming pool, these boards allow visitors to walk through the history of Tempe in the museum's exhibit, "Tempe in the 1930s," which runs through Jan. 25, 2007.

Museum curator John Akers says Mill Avenue played a large part in the development of the city.

Akers says Tempe residents of the early 1900s generally came to Mill Avenue for one of three reasons: they got their grain milled at Hayden's Flour Mill, they traveled on Hayden's Ferry seeking a room and a good meal at La Casa Vieja, or they needed to purchase everyday items. From horse saddles to banks to hotels, Mill Avenue blossomed as the get-it-here place for early settlers.

Before Mill Avenue was established, this area of Arizona was inhabited by the Paleo and Hohokam Indians, who congregated around the Salt River, which used to flow freely through Tempe.

But by the time city founder Charles Hayden showed up in 1866, the American Indians of the 12th and 13th centuries were long gone.

Historic homes 202: The oldest house in AZ

Michael Monti, owner of what is now Monti's La Casa Vieja restaurant (100 S. Mill Ave.), says Mill Avenue began when Hayden ran mule teams throughout the Southwest, delivering supplies for the army.

A local American Indian tribe told Hayden of a good place to cross the Salt River.

"While [Hayden] was waiting to cross the river, he thought to himself, 'Gee, I could make some money by running a ferry service and taking people across the river,''' Monti says.

Hayden established his wildly popular ferry business, attracting travelers from all over Arizona.

The area was always referred to as "Hayden's Ferry," until British Lord Darrell Duppa suggested that it reminded him of a valley in Greece called Vale of Tempe.

Hayden also built a canal from the river in order to power a flour mill where settlers could bring their grain to be ground.

Sometimes, the travelers coming over on the ferry and the workers at the Hayden Flour Mill would also need a place to stay and eat a good meal. Hayden decided to turn his house into a hotel and restaurant, which became known as La Casa Vieja.

Monti says his father bought the restaurant about 50 years ago, but he purchased it from his father in 1997.

"My dad didn't want to mess with tradition, so he wanted to keep La Casa Vieja and just added his last name to it," Monti says.

According to the Tempe Historic Preservation Office, Monti's is the oldest Euro-American building still standing in Maricopa County.

Along with this historic establishment, there are a few other buildings from the early 1900s that students and Tempe residents use today. (See "Historical hotspots quiz" sidebar.)

Street Smarts 303: Mill Avenue grows up

But Monti says since its rough-and-tumble days, Mill Avenue has undergone a "radical change."

He says in the 1960s, the street was "kind of an armpit."

Akers says that many veterans moved to Tempe after World War II, increasing the number of cars, residential areas and community shopping centers, and decreasing the activity on Mill Avenue.

But this may have been a blessing in disguise. Arizona State College was flourishing, with constant increases in the number of students and degrees offered. In 1958, the school officially became Arizona State University.

More students began moving into the area, attracted by the lower rent caused by traditional Mill Avenue shops that went out of business.

Akers says the students "opened up galleries and funky businesses and things like that."

The Tempe City Council also relocated their city hall downtown in 1969 to "reaffirm [their] commitment to the heart of Tempe," Akers adds.

Monti believes this vote changed Tempe's destiny and "brought about the rebirth of downtown Tempe. Without the government investing in Mill Avenue, the development that happened down here might not have taken place," he says.

Another major player in Tempe's rebirth was the Tempe Town Lake.

The concept for the lake evolved from a 1966 project that the then ASU College of Architecture dean proposed to his class.

In 1997, the construction for the project began, and in 1999 Tempe Town Lake opened.

"Tempe Town Lake has become the anchorage of an immense amount of development," Monti says. "The lake, the city hall and the [future] light rail have all created a unique place. All these factors create a neighborhood that you couldn't have anywhere else in the Valley."

Mill Avenue has survived several different phases throughout Tempe's history but has not lost its roots as a marketplace for diverse goods, services and entertainment. It's the place where people are drawn to for parades, festivals and demonstrations.

"Mill [Avenue] was truly an old-fashioned main street," Monti says. "Before there were fashion malls and strip malls, there were main streets or a public square. Mill [Avenue] is turning back into a main street, only on steroids."

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Mill Avenue gets its start when Charles Hayden establishes it as a spot to cross the Salt River


Charles T. Hayden builds the first structure on Mill Avenue


Hayden opens the famous flour mill


There are two stores and a population of about 100 in Tempe


"Tempe" becomes the official name of the city


The teachers' college that will one day become ASU opens


A city hall and jail are built


Mill Avenue Bridge is completed


Sun Devil Stadium is built


Hayden Flour Mill closes after 123 years of operation


Tempe population is 165,796

Historical hot spots quiz
Just in case you haven't taken enough tests lately, here's a Jeopardy-style quiz on some of Mill Avenue's most popular historical hangouts. Can you guess what current shops, restaurants and entertainment venues these timely tidbits are talking about?

1. This Irish pub has only been around for the past six years, but the building it's in was constructed in 1888 and used to be a Saddle and Harness shop.

2. This not-so-fine dining establishment is perched on the second floor of the Laird and Dines Building, which was originally a pharmacy built in 1893.

3. Brightly-colored clothes now occupy this former site of the Tempe National Bank, built in 1912 in the Egyptian Baroque Revival architectural style

4. This blast-from-the-past tourist shop used to be the old Goodwin Curio Shop, owned by former Tempe Mayor Garfield Goodwin. Hailing from 1907, it used to sell southwestern themed knick knacks.

5. The less mainstream of Mill Avenue's two movie theaters, this cinema stop was built in 1938 by Dwight "Red" Harkins with the intent to help Tempe residents escape the reality of the depression.

Continuing Education
If this primer on Mill Avenue just wasn't enough information, check out the update on Hayden Flour Mill archeology at the Tempe Historical Museum (809 E. Southern Ave.) tonight, Sept. 21, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Jails, ancient Hohokam artifacts and historical water passageways have all been discovered near the Hayden Flour Mill at the end of the Mill Avenue strip.
Investigators of the site, Victoria Vargas and Robert Stokes from Archaeological Consulting Services, will discuss these findings.

Call (480) 350-5100 for more information.

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