Modern Flagstaff

Susan Olberding//August 15, 2014

Modern Flagstaff

Susan Olberding//August 15, 2014

Downtown Flagstaff is pictured in 2009 with the historic Hotel Monte Vista, built in 1926, keeping the growing city connected to its past.
Downtown Flagstaff is pictured in 2009 with the historic Hotel Monte Vista, built in 1926, keeping the growing city connected to its past.

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of three Times Past articles chronicling Flagstaff’s social and economic development, beginning in the 1870s. The first story “Planting the Flag in Flagstaff” ran on June 27, and the second story “Flagstaff grows up: 1920s — 1970s” ran on July 18.

Baby-boomers finishing their education and starting families sought the small-town feel of Flagstaff in the 1970s and 1980s. Well-paying jobs were scarce; so many PhD’s served drinks and waited on tables until they could find suitable employment. One of the best places to find a career was with the W.L. Gore Company that opened its Flagstaff plant in 1967. There are now two facilities in Flagstaff. Other good local employers include NAU, the Flagstaff Medical Center, and civil service.

Northern Arizona University had 14,000 students by the mid-1980s. Enrollment in 2014 is about 19,000 students, with the goal of adding even more. This increase, however, has occurred without a lot of infrastructure improvements, leading to traffic tie-ups, parking problems.

During the 1980s, downtown was in disrepair with customers preferring to go to the mall (which opened in 1979) or K-Mart for their shopping needs. Downtown merchants supported the 1990s Main Street, USA funding program to refurbish their buildings and market the historic section as a tourist destination. This salvaged the lovely sandstone and rock structures built in the early 20th century that served at one time as the best shopping in Flagstaff.  Today, downtown is a trendy target for visitors and residents.

Surrounding neighborhoods started appreciating their unique historic character and rehabilitating homes instead of bulldozing and starting over. Historic districts are now in place to monitor what renovations can occur. When the new city hall complex was being planned in the early 1970s, all the Victorian homes in the proposed site were bulldozed except one because an NAU history professor stood in front of the bulldozer. That home was saved as the token piece of the past for that block.

Flagstaff’s Pulliam Airport added commuter flights to and from Phoenix, offering an alternative to driving the 150 miles between Flagstaff and Phoenix.

Arizona Snowbowl invested in creating more ski runs and ski lifts, lodges and in the 1980s, the road to Snowbowl from Highway 180 was paved. Long before, the United States Forest Service had built a dirt road to the ski area instead of the round-about route to Hart Prairie. Before the road was paved, most skiers parked at the intersection of Highway 180 and Snowbowl Road and rode a bus to and from the ski area. Snow for skiing was either feast or famine — and the unpredictability caused Snowbowl to pursue the use of reclaimed water to make snow. A contentious fight over use of this water continues.

In the mid-1980s, Flagstaff’s population had grown enough to add a third high school named Sinagua. It converted to a middle school in 2010 as the numbers of high-school age youth declined. The term ‘Sinagua, meaning ‘without water,’ was created by Museum of Northern Arizona Director Dr. Harold S. Colton for his study of prehistoric peoples of the area.

In 1989, the Flagstaff Festival of Science began. The event features 10 days of activities at Flagstaff science venues, including the two observatories, the USFS Fort Valley Experimental Forest Station, MNA, USGS, and NAU. Nationally known speakers connected to scientific research typically kick off the event. This is the only time some of the science facilities are open to the public. This is the 25th year of this popular event that honors Flagstaff’s rich legacy and ongoing involvement in scientific research.

Flagstaff was named the first International Dark-Sky Coalition city in 2001 for its stewardship on protecting the night sky from too much light. Through the decades, astronomers have encouraged use of low-impact signage on businesses, particularly around Lowell Observatory. The US Naval Observatory’s (USNO)  researchers discovered a moon around Pluto in 1978. Currently the USNO and Lowell are collaborating on an astronomical project on Anderson Mesa, near Lake Mary.

The Flagstaff Medical Center participates in the Festival of Science with programs that explain the body and how it works. Since its 1936 opening with 25 beds, FMC has grown into a 270-bed facility with state-of-the-art equipment and highly qualified medical professionals. Critically ill patients receive specialized care in Flagstaff now instead of having to be transported elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Ponderosa Pine forest is continually monitored to ascertain how to best manage it for the future. More and more people want continual access to the forest in efforts to escape urban noise, but too often, ATVs, radios and gunshots are heard rattling through the landscape.

Forest scientists are recommending periodic fire to help the forest stay healthy. Thousands of seedlings planted in 1919 evolved into a hazardous fire situation, with what are known as ‘dog-hair thickets’ where trees are densely packed and compete for available sun and precipitation. Forest users object to campfire restrictions because of dry forests, however, several major fires have been sparked by unmonitored campfires in Flagstaff forests during the past 10 years.

Flagstaff’s altitude and open spaces have led to training opportunities for professional athletes and recreational running clubs. Flagstaff has long had hiking clubs, but many today prefer a more vigorous workout. The Flagstaff Urban Trail crisscrosses the city and surrounding area. Flagstaff is home to Grand Canyon river runners, as well.

By the mid-1980s, the population was about 45,000 and today it’s approaching 70,000. PhDs still serve drinks and wait on tables. And, after 128 years of continuously announcing their arrivals, train whistles are now silenced when traveling through Flagstaff because the noise annoyed some residents.

— SD Olberding. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons