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Alexander J. Chandler

Alexander J. Chandler

Alexander J. Chandler

That a difference rain makes in the desert. A particularly strong monsoon storm played an important role in the birth of a Valley city, when the driving rain prevented the city’s founder from leaving the desert permanently.

Shortly after arriving in Arizona Territory from Detroit in 1887, Alexander J. Chandler was appointed territory veterinary surgeon as a part of the newly created Territorial Livestock Sanitary Commission by Gov. C. Meyer Zulick.

Despite his job, Chandler, who had earned his degree from Montreal Veterinary College in 1882, was unimpressed with the desert and had decided to leave for California.

However, a storm washed out the bridges the day he was going to leave, which forced Chandler to put off his moving plans. In being forced to stay, he noticed how the desert terrain transformed after the rain.

Realizing that the area needed water, the entrepreneurial Chandler began construction on the Consolidated Canal near Mesa in 1891. In just a few years, the canal was supplying water to Mesa and Tempe and irrigating thousands of acres of land. Nearly 20 years later, the federal government purchased the canal for $187,000 as part of a larger irrigation system.

Urban planning championed by architect Daniel Burnham, who emphasized the placement of parks and landscaped squares surrounded by monumental public buildings, influenced Chandler’s ideas for his town site. The design, completed around 1912, featured a large park surrounded by a business plaza accented by fountains, landscaped boulevards, foot-bridges across the Commonwealth Canal and imported exotic trees.

On May 17, 1912, Chandler opened the town site office. At that time, the town consisted of three wooden shacks — the town site office, a dining hall and the Morrison Grocery store — along with a billboard indicating the future site of the Hotel San Marcos.

Deed restrictions required landowners to build on their land within one year. Chandler’s Mesa Improvement Company sold developed farmland for $100 an acre. Residential lots in town were as low as $200, and business sites cost $1,200. By the end of the first day, the company logged $50,000 in sales. The Arizona Republican newspaper, which changed its name to The Arizona Republic in 1930, speculated that at least 300 people visited the town site that day.

Chandler built the San Marcos Hotel, which attracted the rich and famous from all over the world, for $250,000. Hollywood stars Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, Gloria Swanson, and Cher stayed there, as well as President Herbert Hoover and designer Christian Dior. Chandler named the resort after Friar Marcos de Niza of Mexico City. The hotel boasted amenities including golf, tennis, horseback riding and polo. It hosted afternoon teas, bridge, social gatherings and shopping.

In the 1920s, the country was booming, and the San Marcos Hotel prospered and was expanded.

Chandler’s appetite for development blossomed further as he envisioned planting the most productive citrus orchard in the world on his land. He mortgaged everything he owned for a $2 million loan from a California insurance company. He planted 1,380 acres of citrus trees 15 miles southeast of Chandler.

The Great Depression struck, which took the bank of Chandler, the San Marcos Hotel and a large portion of Chandler’s wealth down with it.

Although he lost the resort to creditors, Chandler managed to salvage enough of his fortune to live comfortably in a cottage on the hotel grounds until his death on May 8, 1950.

— Jane Eppinga. Sources: A History of Veterinary Medicine in Arizona, Phoenix Gazette, Arizona Republican.

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