Saturday, April 30, 2011

Van Buren Street

Van Buren mural and graffiti, April 2011 (photo by Nicholas Hester)

East Van Buren Street, Phoenix, Arizona

Directions from ASU, Tempe Campus: Head South on Rural, take a left onto East Rio Salado Pkwy, take the second right onto North Mill Ave, then continue onto East Van Buren St. 

Our group chose to research Van Buren Street because we had both driven down it so many times, and were very interested in what history we could find.  While researching the history of the street, I came across an article that talked about Van Buren’s glorious past in comparison to the way it is seen today. Van Buren was originally a rural road known as Route 60 that ran between Phoenix and the village of Tempe.  In the 1920’s, nightclubs and motor lodges made the street a main attraction.  In the 50’s Van Buren continued to flourish as it was home to Arizona’s first drive-in movie theater.  Some interesting facts about the road were that it is home to Phoenix’s oldest cemetery, the first zoo, and it was the first Insane Asylum of Arizona.  The street also gave birth to the Miranda Rights.  Ernesto Miranda was a laborer who was convicted of rape and kidnapping; however he was let go because the Supreme Court ruled that criminal subjects must be informed of their rights prior to questioning by police.  

Van Buren’s glorious past is countered by its history of segregation.  ­Los Veteranos of World War II: A Mission for Social Change is an excellent film by Pete Dimas that sheds light on the inequalities that took place on Van Buren.   In 1891 and 1905 the Salt River flooded, and as a result, segregation was instituted in Phoenix north of Van Buren Street up to Washington.  This segregation, backed by real estate covenants, excluded non-whites, including Mexicans, blacks, Asians, and Native Americans, from living in the same neighborhoods as whites.   In 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and a mandatory draft was initiated.  Post 41 was a Mexican American legion from Phoenix that served in the war, earning multiple honors and prestige.  After serving in the war, they came home to Phoenix in hopes of making a positive change in their community, which was still segregated.  Post 41 became activists in their communities and found it astonishing that they had gone to war for their country; however things at home were just the same as when they left.  There was still redlining, and banks continued to refused to grant loans to non-whites.  Post 41 organized and fought various injustices within the community.  The first case happened in Tempe: the only public pool in the area did not allow Hispanics to swim; Post 41 was successful in integrating the Tempe pool system.  The second was a federally funded housing project for Veterans, denying Hispanics access to these new residences.  Post 41 argued, “We fought alongside you, why can’t we live next to you”.  The council made the argument that if they were to move Mexicans in there would be raping’s, drugs, and violence.  Eventually Post 41 was successful in integrating the Veteran housing as well.  Post 41 was also successful in ending discrimination against Mexicans at a construction site that stated it would refuse business to Mexicans once they had opened.  The building was funded by an FHA loan, making it illegal to discriminate.  After threatening to sue, the owner decided to change his policies and offered assistance to customers regardless of background.

Connecting the history of Van Buren’s segregation, I think that it most relates to Lipsitz concept of the ideal pure American space.  Lipsitz argues that in order to have the ideal pure American space, impure populations had to be removed.  The flooding of the Salt River hurt property values in the valley, and segregation allowed whites to have a pure space that would not be affected by flooding in the future.
In observing Van Buren Street I decided that it would be best to drive up and down the street taking notes on what I saw.  Businesses and financial companies primarily occupied the North side of the street.  Once I drove under the freeway overpass I saw dramatic differences.  On every block there was a motel offering cheap room rentals, many different car dealerships, and also several different lots that sold rims for cars.   I also saw several liquor stores and gas stations. One correlation that I did make was the connection between social class and space.  By observing the types of people I saw walking the streets, I primarily observed people of a lower socio-economic status walking the streets once I went through the overpass.  Three images stuck out in my head:  The first was the image of an elderly man wheeling himself in his wheelchair, and the second was a single mother with two children in her arms.  The last image was a small park plaza, where around 30 elderly people were simply sitting in the sun.  

- Nicholas Hester and Nancy Kahn


1966 - Miranda v. Arizona, Lewis and Roca Law Firm, Retrieved June 5, 2008

Los Veteranos of World War II by Pete R. Dimas, 2007,Braun Sacred Heart Center, Inc.

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