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Phoenix’s Plaza Bandstand

Phoenix City Hall Plaza bandstand in 1901.

Phoenix City Hall Plaza bandstand in 1901.

This is a 1901 photograph of the bandstand sat City Hall Plaza, located on the block between Washington and Jefferson streets and Montezuma (First Street) and Maricopa (Second Street). The men in the photo are not identified, but written on the back of the photo is the name of J.C. Dodds. The 1903 City Directory lists Dodds as a driver for Ezra W. Thayer. That is Thayer’s hardware store across the street on Washington, and we guess Dodds is one of the men in the photograph.

In laying out the original town site, the founders of Phoenix provided for two blocks for public use – the City Hall Plaza and Courthouse Square. The latter block was between Washington and Jefferson, and Cortez (First Ave.) and Mohave (Second Ave.). Picturing the area as the center of a rapidly growing city, city fathers specified that the four streets be laid out 100 feet wide.

From the beginning, the Plaza was the center of early Phoenix life. It was where citizens met for Saturday band concerts and Sunday morning horse races, and sometimes for town meetings and mob justice.

On an August evening in 1879, following the killings of Luke Monihan and Johnny Le Barr, the residents of Phoenix took the law into their own hands. A group called the Vigilante Committee entered the jail and brought two men accused of the murder to the Plaza where they hung them from the fourth and fifth Cottonwood trees near Montezuma Street. That same evening, every “tinhorn gambler and everyone who didn’t have a decent means of support” was given a small canteen and told to get out of town. Most of the deported headed for the new town of Tombstone. After that, violence ceased to be commonplace in Phoenix.

In 1887, the Plaza was cleared to make way for a new City Hall, and the original bandstand was demolished. This photo is of the second bandstand, built at the Plaza after the new City Hall was completed. The National Guard Band played regular Sunday afternoon concerts on the new bandstand. They were directed by Dr. Francis Redewill, a member of the Redewill Music Co. family and a practicing physician.

Berr Smith described the band concerts at the bandstand in 1918, in his book What Happened To The Vacant Lot?

“At night the City Hall took on a fairyland aura, and became the most beautiful spot you could imagine. Occasionally we would stay in town to hear the band concerts, and believe me, they were something! The members of the band wore the most beautiful uniforms, all resplendent with red and gold. Everybody lolled on the grass, or squeezed into the few benches that were around under the trees… the band would swing (into) The Star-Spangled Banner as a finale. Everybody would get up, of course, and when the musicians finished, the audience was already on its feet and moving toward the streetcar stop.”

– Arizona Capitol Times archives. Photo courtesy the Arizona Historical Society.

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