Stuck in Heathrow, by way of Ankara, Istanbul and a London Gothic Icon

Posted By Mike Padgett

April 29, 2013

LONDON – The situation was grim. It was dark and raining. We were anxious to get home. But our British Airways jet, because one of its engines refused to start, was grounded at Heathrow Airport.

We had expected to be airborne on this nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, from England to Arizona. Sorry, the captain announced, but everybody must leave the plane and return to the terminal.

We grabbed our carry-on bags from the overhead bins. No smiles in this group. Baggage handlers returned to our plane to unload the hundreds of bags and freight they had just stowed.

Crewmembers handed out vouchers for meals or drinks as passengers filed out of the airliner. We could do nothing but wait for news about Plan B for our flight home.

In the terminal, we found seats away from a handful of whining passengers. My Best Friend reached for her iPad, on which she stores a growing collection of  books. I pulled out my iPod. Music helps me relax. It sent my thoughts back over the past few days. I began to realize that on this romantic journey in London, despite our sore throats, we had set our personal adventure bar a little higher. We had traveled back in time in a fairy tale icon from a different era.

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After renovations, the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel opened in 2011. It first opened in 1873 as the Midland Grand Hotel. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Creative genius

I thought about the history we absorbed during our stay at St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel. The once-neglected Victorian hotel, after renovations, is one of London’s most popular attractions.

I imagined to myself that if we lived in London, we would frequent St. Pancras, which is in the King’s Cross area in central London. With its history and architectural beauty, St. Pancras offers a unique energy. We would sit at a window table in O’Neill’s Pub across Euston Road and dream about the hotel’s earlier years. We would raise a toast to the hotel’s grand architecture and to its important role in London’s history, past as well as future.

We would salute the creative genius required to design and erect this landmark gothic structure in the 1870s. The architect was Sir George Gilbert Scott. The architectural gem opened as the Midland Grand Hotel.

Survived air raids

Over several generations, the building served its original purpose with flair before it fell into disrepair, starting in the 1920s. It was closed in 1935. During World War II, the hotel withstood three bombings from German air raids.

After World War II, according to hotel literature, the once-grand hotel was renovated into offices for British Rail and its hospitality business. British Rail moved out of the building in 1985, after which time the building sat neglected and mostly empty.

In its 2006 press release, Marriott International announced that its Renaissance hotel brand will be “part of the St. Pancras Chambers historic restoration project” in a management contract with owner Manhattan Loft Corp.

The recent restoration project included converting the upper floor of the main building into 67 apartments. For hotel guests, there are 38 suites in the restored building and 207 rooms in the hotel’s new wing.

Movies and trains

The gothic hotel’s unique architecture has been featured in several movies, including Harry Potter, Batman, Richard III, and others. The hotel also is a key part of the western terminus of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, which connects London to France and Belgium. We walked through the hotel’s Booking Office restaurant and into the adjoining rail station. The arriving and departing trains reminded us of our earlier trip on the Eurostar from Paris to London.  The trip crosses picturesque English and French countrysides and goes under the English Channel.

 

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The trip between Paris and London, on the streamlined Eurostars at speeds up to 200 mph, lasts about 2 hours 15 minutes. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

 

Proposed for demolition

It is hard to imagine that the St. Pancras hotel sat empty for several years or that it once was proposed for demolition. Eventually, after forward-thinking minds prevailed, the grand building received historic status. After renovation, it was reopened in 2011 as the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

Our suite was a few doors from the hotel’s grand staircase. The winding three-story cantilevered staircase features giant stained glass windows tall enough for cathedrals.

 

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Looking down one side of the grand staircase. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Each day, as we passed the elegant staircase, its architectural beauty reached out to us. We admired the red and gold fleur-de-lis wallpaper, and the graceful wood railing that tops the staircase’s original iron grillwork. It was easy to imagine the fashions of the late 1800s descending the stairs. Ladies  in decorative hats and bustle dresses. Men in suits and top hats, carrying walking sticks.

 

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The grand staircase landings feature polished stone pillars and intricate stone arches and gargoyles. The staircase’s vaulted ceiling is painted with a celestial scene. Photo © copyright by Mike Padgett

The hotel’s architectural beauty has the attention of others, too, including real estate developers. During our walks through the neighborhood, we saw that this part of London is undergoing a commercial rebound. We counted several construction cranes within a few blocks of the hotel.

A retreat at the Chambers Club

Our retreat to St. Pancras included access to the hotel’s Chambers Club, which offers guests a quiet, cozy atmosphere for meals. We found the gracious manager and wait staff as courteous as long-time friends. We preferred the Club’s smaller tables in alcoves. Most guests talked in whispers. The Club became our temporary home because we were struggling with sore throats. Over-the-counter meds and cough drops we found at local pharmacies helped. As a result, we canceled plans involving crowded tours. Instead, we immersed ourselves in the hotel’s history and its ambiance.

The Chambers Club also offered Internet access. That amenity became critical on this adventure because, prior to our journey, we had initiated the purchase of another home while planning for the sale of our existing home in Arizona. The back-to-back transactions meant staying connected with our Realtors and lenders to keep the paper work on track.

Midnight landing in Ankara

This journey partway around the world had started two weeks earlier with a late night landing in Ankara. It was our first trip to Turkey, often called the cradle of civilizations. Our adventure to the former Ottoman Empire began months earlier in 2012 when my Best Friend received an invitation to speak at Turkey’s first national education conference at Middle East Technical University.

After landing in Ankara, we had become separated from our luggage. When we landed in Istanbul on an international flight from London and boarded a domestic flight to Ankara, we assumed we would claim our luggage in the domestic flight area in Ankara. Eventually, we found our bags in the international part of the terminal.

Our luggage search made us an hour late in meeting our driver and interpreter at the curb. It was now after midnight. And to their credit, they had waited for us. We’re sure we were the last visitors to leave the airport that night.

They drove us to our rooms on campus. The next morning, with help from our driver, we registered for the conference. Over the next few days, in conversations with many educators, we saw their dedication to teaching is similar to what we have seen throughout the United States and in Australia, Ireland and other nations. Educators, wherever they teach, have similar noble goals – showing young lives what is possible, helping them grow, and finding their individual paths to their personal best.

Gracious friends with us at the METU conference helped us navigate Ankara. They gave us an insider’s view of their wonderful city. We dined in several fine restaurants and visited the mausoleum of the founder and first president of modern Turkey.

 

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The mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder and first president of modern Turkey, on one side of the Ceremonial Plaza. Ataturk died in 1938. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

 

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One major entrance to Ataturk’s mausoleum and the Ceremonial Plaza is the Road of Lions, a walkway lined with several pairs of stone lions. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

 

Foodies will enjoy Turkey’s culinary delights. In Turkey, one does not eat and run. The meals are social events. The menus include sea bass, seaweed, eggplant, bonito, calamari and many other fresh items. The large selection of seafood originates in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, which surround much of Turkey.

From a lunch menu at a university restaurant in Ankara, I ordered a chicken chimichanga, a popular fried burrito filled with cheese and chicken. The Turkish version of the Mexican chimichanga was tasty, but it was mild. I prefer a chimi with spicy salsa and guacamole.

Five lanes in four

In Ankara and Istanbul, we learned much about driving in Turkey. We saw that five lanes of slow traffic, even with large trucks and tour buses, fit easily on a four-lane road. Stripes marking the lanes are ignored. So are speed limits.

Winding two-way streets in historic parts of Ankara often are wide enough for only one vehicle. When two drivers meet on these streets, one of them turns into an alley entrance or parking spot to let the oncoming driver pass.

 

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From the patio of a high-rise restaurant, a view of the skyline of an older part of Istanbul overlooking the Bosporus Strait. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

 

A friend driving us to lunch in Ankara asked if I’d like to drive in Turkey. I declined. He smiled. A short time later, as our friend approached a security checkpoint, he was waved over by security guards. They checked the trunk while we were escorted into the guardhouse, where we were asked to walk through X-ray machines and open our bags. A few minutes later, the guards thanked us and we were on our way. Security, our friends told us, is part of life in Turkey.

Wrong line at Ankara airport

We met many gracious friends and strangers in Turkey. One stranger was the agent at the airport gate at Ankara on our way to Istanbul. We were late for checking in at Ankara, so we hustled to the gate after getting through two levels of security – first at the terminal entrance and then again past the ticket counter.

At the gate, not knowing Turkish, we stepped into a line. Wrong line, but the gracious agent waved us through. We found our separate seats on the plane.

Once in Istanbul, after collecting our luggage, we found the taxi queue. The driver stowed our luggage. We had guesstimated that our hotel was 45 minutes away, maybe an hour, depending on traffic.

Bad luck was with us. It was 6 p.m. on a Saturday. The September day was very warm. Our moods were affected by the sore throats we had developed soon after arriving in Ankara. Over the next hour and 20 minutes, in Istanbul’s stop-and-go freeway traffic, we saw two accidents. In one, a car was on its roof. Onlookers stood in the median.

Vendors were hawking bottles of water on the freeway. They walk between the vehicles when traffic stops or slows to a crawl. Outside the car ahead of our taxi was a man reaching through the passenger’s window, handing a bottle of water to the driver. The water vendor’s flip-flopping leather sandals stayed two steps ahead of the car’s rear wheels.

At our hotel, our driver stopped at the security guardhouse at the entrance to the hotel property. The guard looked at our luggage in the trunk. He then used a mirror on a pole to look on the underside of our taxi. He waved our taxi through. It was a short distance to the hotel’s front door. There, our luggage was taken to an X-ray machine at another security checkpoint inside the hotel lobby.

The view from our room in the Hilton Istanbul was from the European side of the Bosporus Strait, looking east across to the Asian side. We appreciated the graciousness of the staff as well as the variety of meals offered.

 

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From the balcony of our room in Istanbul, we watched civilian and military ships cruise the Bosporus Strait between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

 

We saw a variety of ships cruise the Bosporus Strait, including cruise ships, freighters and military ships. My Best Friend saw a trim military ship with the Russian hammer and sickle insignia. Russian ships, friends told us, often cruise these waters.

One afternoon, friends guided us through a historic shopping district of Istanbul. There, in this major city of a largely Muslim nation, we visited St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral, the largest Roman Catholic church in Istanbul. It was filled with visitors.

 

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Interior of St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

 

Our friends also took us for a walk across a university campus on a hillside overlooking the Bosporus Strait. Later that afternoon, they treated us to a meal in a restaurant across the street from the Bosporus. Mist from splashing waves drifted over the sidewalk.

A few days later, after enjoying Istanbul, we hired a taxi for the ride back to the airport. We were booked on a sunrise flight to London. The traffic was light because it wasn’t yet rush hour. But our taxi ride, because speed limits generally were ignored, reminded me of the chase scene (minus the collisions) in the movie, “The French Connection.”

Replacement jumbo jet

My memories of our friends in Turkey, their graciousness and the culinary delights helped pass the time waiting in Heathrow for a replacement airliner. Eventually, we heard good news. We learned that British Airways had a replacement airliner. Local crews had finished their maintenance on the other jet, making it available for us. Our original plane could not be repaired in time.

The other airliner would be waiting for us at a different gate, the agent announced. We picked up our bags. It’s several hours past our departure time, but we’re headed home. The experiences shared by new friends in Ankara, Istanbul and the romantic St. Pancras hotel have set a new standard for our future travels.

(Copyright @ Mike Padgett, ArizonaNotebook.com. All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all images and articles on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes. All rights reserved.)

(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to mike@ArizonaNotebook.com.)

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Apr 29th, 2013

Hikes at Dawn from Historic Hotels in the Canadian Rockies

Posted By Mike Padgett

Aug. 4, 2012

LAKE LOUISE, Alberta – Summer sunrises in the Canadian Rockies are among the best work of nature’s saints and angels. They make the air brisk and refreshing. They return colors to the forests and mountains.

One morning in mid-July, before dawn, I cross a Canadian castle’s empty lobby. My goal is sunrise photos along an icy and primeval lake. Exploring the previous day, I found several spots for photos on the trail bordering Lake Louise.

When its namesake lake is smooth as glass, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is reflected in water the color of turquoise. Dawn’s dew dripping from evergreens along the shore causes occasional ripples in the lake.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

My fuel for the hike is a cup of caffeine and the anticipation of a few keeper photos.

This morning in the Rockies is overcast. The aroma of tree bark compost in the hotel flower gardens greets me as I exit the hotel. A grounds worker and I exchange greetings. She is watering the poppies and other flowers from the tank she pulls with her garden tractor.

Vibrant Icelandic poppies add sparkle to hotel gardens at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Out on the trail, I share the dawn and the forest’s aroma with two other early morning hikers. This is grizzly country, but the bears shouldn’t be a problem.

I hear a distant train whistle. The haunting sound is part of the region’s heritage. As in the American West, railroads were major players in the settlement of the Canadian West. The Canadian Pacific Railway in 1890 built a guest chalet that years later became the Chateau Lake Louise. The railway also is linked to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in the town of Banff, less than an hour’s drive to the southeast.

Lake Louise and its historic luxury hotel are in a remote storybook setting far from sirens and traffic and airports. Occasionally, we hear helicopters. Pilots offer tourists bird’s-eye views of forests and jagged peaks. They fly over glaciers feeding into a turquoise lake that, on summer afternoons, is dotted with red rental canoes.

The lake trail is an easy walk. Water percolating from the hillside trickles across the trail and into the lake. The tree line partway down from the mountain peaks marks the end of soil for the forest.

There is no time on this hike to find the end of the lake trail that threads its way up the mountain and onto glaciers. There will be a future visit.

This turquoise jewel of a lake greets us each morning. One day, with the sun’s rays touching the glacier in the distance and reflecting in the lake, several hotel guests (lower right) rush to the lake’s edge to photograph the day’s spectacular beginning. I capture this image from our hotel window. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Several times, on clear days, we hear what sounds like thunder. One morning, the rumble greets me as I turn off my 5 a.m. alarm. We learn later the sounds probably came from avalanches of snow and ice high in the mountains.

The rumbling startles us on another morning hike. My Best Friend and I had become separated on the lake trail, each concentrating on photos. She is back on the trail, around a bend. I glance at a man paddling his rental canoe not far from shore.

He freezes in mid stroke. I follow his gaze upslope beyond the head of the lake to Mount Victoria and Victoria Glacier. Slowly, the man resumes paddling. We see no avalanche.

A hotel worker later explains that unless you see an avalanche, by the time you hear it, the avalanche could be over. Sound travels much slower than light.

Canada’s rural scenery

Lake Louise is less than a two-hour drive northwest of Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway. The drive across the prairies and into the mountains goes too quickly.

A few miles west of Calgary, I spot a herd of Hereford cattle on a sloping pasture in the distance. The rural scene brings to mind Canadian author Wallace Stegner’s writings about his boyhood in the early 1900s in southern Saskatchewan.

The highway takes us across rolling fields of grain and grasslands painted shades of green by spring rains. Occasionally, the blue skies over the prairies are dominated by thunderheads taller than the Rockies.

Alberta’s History

At the lakeside chateau, we soak in the region’s history. We marvel at the determination and grit of explorers, miners and railroad workers whose roles were key in the westward expansion in North America.

An afternoon view of Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Native Americans called the lake Ho-Run-Num-Nay, or Lake of Little Fishes. We learn that in icy freshwater lakes, fish grow at slower rates.

In the early 1880s, the lake was named Emerald Lake by a guide packing supplies ahead of construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1884, it was renamed Lake Louise in honor of Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, daughter of Queen Victoria.

The original chateau erected by the railway in 1890 housed a dozen guests. Today, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has 554 rooms.

Winters in the Canadian Rockies

In the silence of the forest, standing next to an amazing lake, the tasks and deadlines waiting back home fade into the background. We hold hands. Share photo ideas. Dodge mud puddles on the trail. It is so quiet and still, we whisper.

For a time, until others follow us on the trail, we are alone in an ancient forest surrounded by jagged mountains cradling a lake fed by glaciers. We discover that the lake will change color, depending on the time of day and whether the sky is clear or cloudy.

A peaceful morning view of Mount Victoria reflected in Lake Louise. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

We learn that during the long winters, the lake freezes thick enough for skating. Ice sculpture competition is a major event.

To countless generations of Native Americans, this lake was part of their world. But to European explorers, and the armies of settlers, ranchers and others who followed them, this lake’s color made it unique.

Lake Louise gets its color from the “rock flour,” or silt, suspended in the water. The silt is created by the grinding action of glaciers for eons on mountain rock.

We wander through the hotel. We find the hotel’s photogenic arching picture windows that the railway in the early 1900s featured in Art Deco travel posters and postcards.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’s giant arched windows offer views across Lake Louise. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Lake Louise and its mountain chateau have an international following. Several bus tours arrive during our short stay. One evening, while waiting for our dinner reservations one, a group of 13 Australians moves through the Glacier Saloon’s swinging doors ahead of us. We hear visitors whispering and talking in several other languages from Asia and Northern Europe. Several guests, like me, wander through the hotel, camera in hand, admiring the design and construction.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’s lobby at dawn. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

This grand hotel surrounded by nature is an exhilarating stop on Canada’s trail of history. But after a few days, our time here is over. We pack and head southeast 56 kilometers to Banff.

Along the highway is a paved trail for cycling and walking. We pass several helmeted hikers traveling on roller skis, which resemble shortened skis with rubber wheels. Maybe they use roller skis and ski poles in warm months to keep in shape for cross country skiing during the winter.

We pull off the Trans-Canada Highway at the Banff exit and drive through the picturesque town, following signs to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. We cross the Bow River bridge and head upslope on the winding road. The historic hotel towering above the forest soon comes into view.

Living History

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, with more than 500 rooms, is another of Canada’s premier historic properties. One of its most popular rooms is Mount Stephen Hall, a favorite across Canada for weddings and other events. Its giant windows look out across Bow Valley. A suit of armor stands in a prominent corner of the room decorated with antique-style European furniture.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is designed like a Scottish baronial castle. Tour buses often pull up each morning to collect their passengers. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

The existing hotel was built “by the Canadian Pacific Railway in stages between 1911 and 1928,” according to a brass plaque greeting visitors. The hotel’s origins date to 1888 when a wooden structure was opened for guests by the railway. More details about the history of the hotel and the region are available at www.fairmont.com/banff-springs, and at www.gotobanff.com/history.php.

Mudslide blocks highway

After we check in, we stop in Rundle Lounge for a late lunch. It was about 3:30 p.m. Our table next to the window overlooks Bow Valley and Bow River. A sudden afternoon thunderstorm sends restaurant guests on the patio scrambling inside. The rain creates temporary waterfalls streaming down Mount Rundle, which rises to about 9,700 feet.

Later that day, we learn the storm causes a mudslide that blocked the four lanes of the highway about 2 kilometers west of Banff. We passed that location an hour earlier.

The closure of the highway for several hours sends more traffic into Banff where, according to news accounts, motorists book all remaining empty hotel rooms and create more business for local restaurants. The highway was opened the next day.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel’s Mount Stephen Hall is referred to as one of the most popular rooms in Canada for weddings and other special events. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Another hike at dawn

A few minutes after sunrise one morning, I walk to a place offering a view of the river’s falls, called Bow Falls, and the elegant hotel.

It was a Sunday, a perfect morning for sunrise photos. I start up the stone steps adjacent to Bow Falls. No distractions. No one else is at the viewpoint. But a minute later, I’m surprised by a jogger approaching from the other direction. She passes me and makes her way down the steps to the parking lot next to the river.

The viewpoint is downslope from the hotel. At the top step, mist rises from the river’s falls, which are heard long before they are seen. The falls are just upstream from where the Bow River meets the Spray River.

Behind me, the hotel sporting Canada’s familiar flag is bathed in the new day’s rays. The morning sun spotlights the historic hotel rising from the woods.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel surrounded by the Canadian forest. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Echoing through the trees were the occasional songs of birds, including the sounds of the raven. One could say the raven’s voice was created when the Great Spirit was in a grumpy mood.

Summer days in Banff are changeable. At sunrise Monday, the day began with wet streets and a partly clear sky. Then the sky clouded over. In the distance, mountain peaks vanished twice behind a curtain of rain. By day’s end, the sky was overcast again. High temperatures hovered around 60 degrees.

During our stay, we drove to a viewpoint called Surprise Point. It’s on the other side of Bow River from the hotel. The route is a short drive back across the bridge and along the other side of the river. The location offers a view of the hotel and beyond, up the slopes to the top of Sulphur Mountain.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, from near Surprise Point across the Bow River. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Other summer activities at the two Fairmont hotels include trail rides, aerial tours, hiking, rafting, golf, tours of the hotels and visits to the glaciers.

At both hotels, the employees – the bellmen, the housekeeping staff, the wait staff and their managers – are friendly and attentive. Their smiles, courtesy, interesting conversation and graciousness brighten each day.

(Copyright @ Mike Padgett, ArizonaNotebook.com. All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all images and articles on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes. All rights reserved.)

(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to mike@ArizonaNotebook.com.)

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Aug 4th, 2012

Soaring Metro Phoenix Home Prices Could Level Off Soon

Posted By Mike Padgett

July 1, 2012

Press Release

TEMPE, Ariz. — Phoenix-area home prices have been zooming up for months, and the streak continued in May. However, a new report from the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University takes a closer look at the short supply of available houses, an increase in foreclosures, and a possible leveling off of skyrocketing prices this summer.

The report on Maricopa and Pinal counties reveals:

*  The median single-family home price went up more than 32 percent from May 2011 to May 2012.

*  The overall housing supply dropped by 50 percent in the same time frame.

*  The number of completed foreclosures of single-family homes and condos combined went up 18 percent from April to May.

The median single-family home price jumped 32.4 percent from May 2011 to May 2012. It went from $111,000 up to $147,000. At the same time, the median townhouse/condo price soared 37.3 percent, from $69,900 to $96,000, and the average price per-square-foot shot up more than 22 percent. Prices have been increasing since they reached a low point in September 2011.

The report’s author, Mike Orr, says high demand and low supply remain the dominant factors in the Phoenix-area housing market. For example, the number of active listings for single-family homes without a contract in the greater Phoenix area was down to 8,550 as of June 1. Fierce competition for available homes has continued to push prices up.

“Most houses below $250,000 priced realistically are attracting large numbers of offers in a short time, and many exceed the asking price,” says Orr, director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at the W. P. Carey School of Business. “We recently saw a Chandler home get 84 offers and a Glendale home receive 95. The Glendale house closed within four weeks for 17 percent above asking price. Needless to say, this is not something we would see in a normal market.”

The amount of overall sales activity is down, due to the short supply. The number of single-family home sales fell 5.8 percent compared to last May. Orr says things are especially quiet in the luxury and active-adult sectors of the market, where there’s less demand. But new-home sales are up 57 percent over last May, as buyers look for alternatives to the intense competition for existing homes under $250,000.

Orr says, “Contractors are trying to keep up with the new construction demand by supplementing a small skilled labor pool. They’re attempting to lure away competitors’ employees with higher pay and to attract back foremen who’ve gone on to other housing markets or industries.”

Investors are also playing an influential role in the area. In May, almost 28 percent of home purchases were made by investors. Orr says the average area home buyer faces an uphill battle against those offering all cash, instead of a financed offer requiring an appraisal. He does believe, though, that things are about to calm down somewhat.

“Prices gained further strength over the last month, but I suspect they cannot continue to rise at the extremely fast rate we experienced this spring,” says Orr. “This rate can’t be sustained long term, and the most likely time for prices to stabilize is during the hot summer months of June through September.”

At the same time, foreclosures are unfortunately going up in the area. The new report shows completed foreclosures of single-family homes and townhome/condos combined went up 18 percent from April to May this year. However, Orr doesn’t see this as reason to worry yet.

“Completed foreclosures were still down 52 percent year-over-year in May,” he explains. “Since the signing of a legal agreement between the states and five of the nation’s largest lenders, we have seen a slight uptick in the rate of foreclosure notices, but we are still a long way below the peak levels of March 2009.”

The areas of the Valley most affected by the foreclosure crisis are now seeing the biggest surge in prices. For example, El Mirage, Maricopa, San Tan Valley, Glendale and Apache Junction are doing much better. The areas least affected by foreclosures have seen prices improving slowest. Still, some are moving into positive territory, such as Cave Creek, Fountain Hills and Sun City. The only areas still showing a decline in average prices per-square-foot over the past year are Eloy, Paradise Valley, Rio Verde, Sun City West and Sun Lakes.

Orr’s full report, including statistics, charts and a breakdown by different areas of the Valley, can be viewed at http://wpcarey.asu.edu/finance/real-estate/upload/Full-Report-201206.pdf. More analysis is also available from knowWPCarey, the business school’s online resource and newsletter, at http://knowwpcarey.com.

For more information, please visit wpcarey.asu.edu and http://knowwpcarey.com.

*****

(Copyright @ Mike Padgett, ArizonaNotebook.com. All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all images and articles on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes. All rights reserved.)

(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to mike@ArizonaNotebook.com.)

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Jul 1st, 2012
Comments Off

Army Veteran Helping Others During His Journey Into Blindness

Posted By Mike Padgett

June 15, 2012

GILBERT, Ariz. – The blind Army veteran depended on his nose to lead him to the pizza joint. But his guide dog, responding to his command, entered two doors too early.

That wrong turn in the shopping center in 2004 became another turning point for the former Army captain. Tom Hicks was struggling with the loss of his eyesight, which was diagnosed in the late 1990s as retinitis pigmentosa. He was on his way to the pizza restaurant when he accidentally entered a karate school.

As he turned to leave the martial arts school, Hicks asked the instructor if he could teach a blind student. He already knew a few self defense techniques from his work as a military policeman. The instructor hesitated, then later agreed to enroll Hicks. Hicks graduated in 2009 with a black belt. Today, at 45, he holds a third-degree belt.

After he became blind, Army veteran Tom Hicks earned a black belt in karate, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and hiked the Grand Canyon. Courage, he says, is the conquest of fear. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Hicks is a vision counselor at Phoenix VA Health Care System in central Phoenix. He helps other veterans cope with their deteriorating eyesight. He expects to work with more veterans returning with head injuries received in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On his own time, twice a week, Hicks offers karate lessons in Gilbert, a suburb east of Phoenix. His karate school’s web site is www.blinddragonmartialarts.com. His students range in age from about 3 to 56. Despite his blindness, his instructions about karate and life help his students see how to improve their physical health and boost their self-confidence.

Hicks was in the Army from 1984 to 1997. He first worked as a military policeman and in military corrections. He also was selected for a temporary assignment as a bodyguard for the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe.

Later, Hicks’ application to Officer Candidate School was accepted. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in field artillery. A few years later, his fading eyesight was discovered. It happened about the time Hicks was promoted to captain and enrolled in intelligence training at Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona.

Hicks was discharged from the Army in December 1997. His journey into darkness brought on by retinitis pigmentosa, or RP, was marked with many earlier clues that went unnoticed.

“It’s a progressive condition that has some pretty classic conditions,” he says. “Things like night blindness, and color vision starts to be affected. I started injuring myself frequently. People just thought I was tall and clumsy. I thought so too.”

Clues ignored

Hicks blamed himself for bumping into open doors or chairs left pulled out from tables. He was unable to read name tags and insignias on military uniforms, especially on the camouflage or battle dress uniforms.

“There were quadrants of my vision that were just completely gone. The photoreceptor cells had died, so I was banging my head on various things, or not recognizing people after I would walk from outside light to indoors. It just took extra long for everything (to come into focus). And driving became uncomfortable.

“All these things that were really telling me, ‘You need to get your eyes checked.’ And when I’d get my eyes checked, everything would be fine because they weren’t looking for RP.”

“I hate to say this, but you’re blind.”

Eventually, the day of reckoning arrived. It happened while Hicks and other officers were jogging. Hicks was following another officer who yelled over his shoulder to Hicks to watch out for an obstacle.

“I don’t know what I thought I heard but it wasn’t what I needed to hear because when I got to where he was giving me a warning, I fell into this four-foot aquaduct. And I scraped my whole front of my body,” Hicks says.

“And as much as I was in pain, I was humiliated so I just jumped right out of there and kept running. And then I fell again. There was a barricade that said, ‘Warning – Joggers.’ It was to warn the traffic that we were out running. And I just went head over heels (over the barricade).”

“Two officers came up beside me, left and right. They grabbed me and said, ‘You’re running with us the rest of the way.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’”

When Hicks’ supervisor heard about the incident, he ordered extensive eye tests. It was likely out of disbelief, and maybe concern about a brain tumor, that the eye specialist tested Hicks several times. Finally, she spoke.

“She says, ‘Captain Hicks, I hate to say this, but you’re blind. How long has this been going on?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, six months.’

“But how do you really put a time on it because it is insidious, you don’t realize it’s happening. And so it was that kind of a thing.”

No more driving

“She said, ‘You can no longer drive. You’re done. At this time, I don’t know what to say or what to tell you. You need to go home. I’ll notify your chain of command. You’re to go nowhere. Sorry.’”

Hicks felt panic. What was in his future? How would he support his family? Then he entered that stage of ping-pong denial, arguing with himself. You are blind. I’m not blind. You’re blind. No I’m not.

“So I instantly felt like I started seeing worse when I was labeled blind, which is, I know, just psychological. But my first fear wasn’t blindness. My first fear was, how am I going to feed these kids? So my first fear was the job. How am I going to work? What I knew about blindness was, blind people are massage therapists and blind people tune pianos or they can play instruments and sing. And I can do none of that, nor was I interested in any of that. So I was a bit terrified on how I’m going to take care of my kids.”

Knocks commanding officer down

The military process of evaluating Hicks’ medical condition and processing his Army discharge took several months. One day, Hicks hurried into a building. Before his eyes adjusted from the bright daylight to the dim interior, Hicks slammed into his commanding officer, knocking him to the floor.

“And he was so mad,” Hicks says. “He just started throwing a fit. Instantly threw a fit. But he looked up, he saw it was me, he says, ‘Oh Tom, it’s you.’ So he forgave me instantly. He knew this guy’s blind, you know.”

His final days of eyesight, eye tests and stumbling into other officers were about 15 years ago. Since then, Hicks hasn’t seen the faces of his children, who now are adults. In his memory, they have children’s faces.

He hasn’t seen any more sunrises, newspapers or the newest cars, iPods or laptops. When he goes shopping with others, Hicks ignores racks of magazines and candies at checkout because he cannot see them.

Hiked Mount Kilimanjaro and Grand Canyon

Hicks walks daily with his guide dog. On Sundays, he jogs four miles with a sighted guide. Plus, he’s head instructor at his karate school in the Power Ranch community in Gilbert.

In 2009, Hicks was part of the group of visually impaired hikers from the Foundation for Blind Children in Phoenix who trekked to the 19,340-foot-high summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

A year later, Hicks and others from the Foundation hiked the Grand Canyon’s 24-mile rim-to-rim trek.

“…leave it on the mountain.”

Hicks says one of his goals in climbing Kilimanjaro was to overcome feelings of failure and humiliation and the loss of confidence that can accompany blindness.

“I just wanted to leave it on the mountain,” he says.

“This adjustment (to blindness) is daily. In the beginning, it’s a lot of panic, a lot of anxiety. You can really take things so personal, everything. I just learned that if something comes in, I just let it go. It’s no big deal.”

Hicks says climbing Mount Kilimanjaro became a life-changing event for him.

“I think what changed me, coming back from that experience, for sure, was, ‘I’m going to be okay.’ I just need training. I just need proper support. And I’ll be fine. No matter what happens, I’ll be fine.

“So I just really came to terms with the idea that I can do this. I just need solid blind skills. So that’s how I transformed. And then I just thought, ‘Man, it is so cool to get out there and make a difference, to be part of that, to motivate people in the Foundation for Blind Children.”

Courage is conquering fear

Hicks says what he left on Mount Kilimanjaro includes panic, anxiety, a fear of failure, even fear itself.

Hicks continues: “Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s just the conquest of it. I’m afraid constantly but I won’t let it paralyze me.

“Blindness is no different. You hit the ground in the morning, the challenge starts. There’s a lot of emotion behind losing your eyesight. So much, you just can’t believe it.”

Hicks tells me about his blindness as we sit in an office at the Phoenix VA Health Care System in Phoenix. Hicks is coordinator of the Phoenix VA’s Vision Impairment Services Team. He is seated at a desk. I sit about six feet from him. Joining us is Paula Pedene, a Navy veteran who is the Phoenix VA’s public affairs officer. She has a different type of RP.

A few years ago, Pedene and Hicks formed a local group, called Veterans and Friends for Vision, to help the national Vision Walk organization raise awareness and funding for Foundation Fighting Blindness.

I ask Hicks if he can see shapes.

“Currently, to look at you, I see nothing over there,” Hicks says, motioning his left hand in my direction. “I can’t tell the difference between what you’re wearing and your flesh. You blend in with whatever’s behind you. There’s nothing. But if I scan around, I’ll pick up something. But it’s nothing that’s a detail. It’s not discernible. That’s kind of how I see. But I could never pass an eye exam. I can’t see anything on that chart whatsoever.”

RP patient numbers expected to increase

Pedene has a similar story about losing her sight, but it was due to a dominant form of RP. Hicks has a recessive type of RP. Medical groups estimate that RP affects between 50,000 and 100,000 people in the United States. Those numbers are expected to increase in relationship to the rising numbers of baby boomers and as people live longer, Pedene says.

Out of six children in Pedene’s family, “five of us have it,” she says. The difference with her form of RP is that it progresses slower. She struggled with fading eyesight for years in the Navy, where she specialized in broadcast journalism. Eventually, when she applied for officer training, she was told her eyesight was too poor. Pedene says she was told “that I really needed to let go of the Navy.”

Pedene finished her tour in the Navy Reserves. Eventually, she was told that her vision had deteriorated so much that she had to stop driving. She heard those words at a VA testing center in the Midwest. That day was 19 years ago when she was 35. She felt devastated.

“…it was a sad day. I cried…..”

“I still remember that day. And it was a sad day. I cried. I mean I cried and cried and cried. You don’t realize. Just like Tom (Hicks), you just think you’re clumsy. You’re bumping into things that people see. I often joke about the bruises I have.”

Without realizing it, she had entered what’s called a “disease of denial” in which she compensates for fading eyesight. She looked down while walking. She put out her hands to touch walls.

“You are looking down when you walk because you have no peripheral vision so you look down so you don’t fall,” Pedene says.

Geiger counter? Pogo stick?

Pedene and Hicks say it took a while to set their pride aside and begin using a white cane. Today, Pedene calls her cane her best friend. Hicks says he is surprised that some people don’t realize that many blind people use white canes.

“One time in particular, a guy said, ‘What are you doing?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he goes, ‘Is that a Geiger counter? Are you taking radon readings?’ And I say, ‘No sir, I’m blind and this is a cane.’ He goes, ‘Oh I’m sorry.’ I say, ‘You don’t have to be sorry. I’m okay. I’m accepting of it.’”

Pedene shares her own story. “Last week, I went to my niece’s recital. So I’m standing there after the recital and her little friend comes up to me and he goes, ‘How come you get to carry a pogo stick like that?’”

Hicks and Pedene praised the VA for offering counseling services and cane training. Their spouses began shouldering some of the burdens, such as driving them to and from work, to mass transit stops, and to appointments and shopping.

When his children want to show a gift to Hicks, they put his hands on the item and describe it while Hicks runs his fingers over it.

“You start to build your life around it (blindness),” Hicks says.

The blind karate instructor

It is a few minutes before 8 a.m. on a Saturday, two days before Memorial Day. About 20 youngsters dressed in black karate uniforms hustle into a community building in Power Ranch.

They drop their gym bags against the walls and step out of their sandals or jogging shoes. A few adjust the belts on their black uniform, called a gi. A few karate parents wander to chairs at the back of the room.

Students in Hicks’ karate classes range in age from 3 to 56. Total enrollment is about 60. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Hicks arrives and takes his place at one side of the large room. He wears a talking digital watch that he touches to hear the time. His school’s website is www.blinddragonmartialarts.com.

The barefoot students line up in two rows in front of Hicks. They sit cross-legged on the carpet. Hicks starts the class with reminders about the holiday’s roots.

He shares a quick story about an elderly blind friend he helps at the Phoenix VA. The older man is an Army veteran who survived the D-Day invasion of Normandy in World War II.

Karate boosts inner self

 

Hicks and the other instructors put the students through their moves. In some of the exercises, the students help each other.

After the class, I ask about the veteran who survived D-Day. “He’s got a Purple Heart and he’s got scars and a great attitude,” Hicks says. “I give the guy a talking watch and he thinks I’m a hero. But I’m like, ‘Sir, you’re the hero.’”

Hicks says martial arts helps students of all ages shed negative thoughts about themselves and improve their self images. Karate, he says, can function as an equalizer in society because it can help those who lack self confidence, who struggle with peer pressure, who have attention deficit disorder symptoms or whose shyness can attract negative attention from bullies.

Whether students are physically or developmentally disabled, blind or hearing impaired, blind instructor Tom Hicks says karate “is kind of like a place where everybody can fit in.” Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

“We don’t mock each other,” Hicks continues. “We don’t tolerate that. So if somebody’s just not doing so well (in karate class), you’re never going to make fun of them.”

He adds that the class helps the community raise funds for disaster relief and donates it to the local Red Cross chapter.

Blindness creates new paths

Hicks says veterans facing sightlessness often experience more challenges than other blind patients because of the veterans’ training to be self-reliant.

It was his own inner drive that a few years ago encouraged Hicks to learn karate. He was on his way to visit his daughter at her new job at a Pizza Hut in a neighborhood shopping center. With his guide dog at his side, Hicks started walking down the sidewalk. He thought all he and his guide dog had to do is locate the pizza aroma and follow it to the door of the restaurant.

When Hicks smelled pizza, he commanded his dog to turn at the next door. It was the wrong door.

“I walked in and it dawned on me pretty quickly. I heard ‘Yah! Yah!’ that kind of thing. You get an idea it’s a large open space and not a pizza restaurant. So everybody rushed over to see how they can help me.”

When he was told he was inside a karate school, Hicks asked for directions to the restaurant. It was two doors away. As he turned to leave, he asked whether he could enroll for karate. He already knew basic self defense techniques from his military police training.

Learning this, the karate instructor accepted Hicks’ application.

“There are blind martial artists who have been studying their whole life, and then they lose their eyesight,” Hicks says. “But it’s pretty rare that somebody would earn a black belt who started blind. That was quite a challenge. Probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.”

Hicks continues. “I like the martial arts. It’s good exercise. The part I like being part of is the transformation these people take. They go from being so nervous and they have no confidence and they’re meek.

“They’re just normal people doing amazing things,” he says. “They’re just transformed. And you can apply those lessons to every part of your life.

“And I do.”

 

 

 

(Copyright @ Mike Padgett, ArizonaNotebook.com. All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all images and articles on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

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(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to mike@ArizonaNotebook.com.)

 

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Jun 15th, 2012
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Memorial Day 2012 at Sunset in an Arizona Cemetery

Posted By Mike Padgett

May 29, 2012

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Near the middle of the cemetery, out among the rows of headstones and small flags, I see a woman alone in a folding chair. She sits with her head down. She wears a wide-brimmed hat, so I cannot tell if she is reading a book or focusing on memories.

I wanted to hear her story, but this isn’t the right time. Maybe another day.

Small flags and occasional flowers add Memorial Day sparkle to the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

When I entered the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona about an hour before closing on Memorial Day, I saw more visitors than I expected. Sunset was approaching. Everyone was walking slowly among the headstones. There were several couples, a few families and several people alone.

A sign outside the cemetery office reminds visitors that if they see a headstone without a flag on this holiday honoring veterans, replacements are available at the office.

A couple leaving the neat rows of headstones walk slowly to their van parked at the edge of the street. They stop for a kiss.

Walking among the headstones, I see tracks that probably are those of a wheelchair. The tracks stretch several rows in a straight line from the street to a specific headstone.

The sun is touching the horizon now. The day’s heat is fading into the night. Several rows away I see a couple kneeling. They are silent as they sweep dust off the name and dates on a headstone.

When I visit cemeteries and read the names and dates, I wonder about all those lives. I wonder about their achievements, their dreams and their legacies. I hope their final hours were in peace, not pain.

I hope this holiday’s meaning is remembered. Memorial Day is much more than a day off from work to enjoy hamburgers, cold drinks and shopping. In fact, the national holiday honoring our military veterans dates to 1868 when it began as Decoration Day.

The name was changed to Memorial Day later. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by Congress.

Today, at many national cemeteries, the special day means a flag at the headstone of every veteran, even if family and friends are unable to visit.

(Copyright @ Mike Padgett, ArizonaNotebook.com. All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all images and articles on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes. All rights reserved.)

(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to mike@ArizonaNotebook.com.)

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May 29th, 2012
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Colorful Butterflies and Flowers, and the Pause Button

Posted By Mike Padgett

April 21, 2012

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Poets describe butterflies as flying flowers, or elusive happiness on wings that might find you if you hit your pause button.

I paused the other day. I made time to visit the Marshall Butterfly Pavilion at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Through May 13, hundreds of colorful butterflies each day will surround pavilion visitors. Garden workers and volunteers, protective of the winged splashes of color, stand at the pavilion’s entrance and exit. They open the doors cautiously and ask visitors to help prevent a butterfly’s escape.

Once inside the door, and then the plastic curtain, thoughts of my world faded into the shadows. These fragile creatures with life spans of a few weeks to several months captured my attention. The spring temperature approached 90 degrees, so the butterflies were very active. A great photo opportunity here, especially while they rested or fed on colorful flowers or slices of oranges in feeders.

I focused my camera on what appeared to be a Julia butterfly, or Dryas iulia, resting on a flower near the center of a bush. When a Zebra Longwing, or Heliconius charitonius, butterfly approached, the Julia appeared to take on a protective or territorial posture, as if to warn the approaching butterfly to stay away.

A Julia butterfly, or Dryas iulia, shown resting on a flower in the Marshall Butterfly Pavilion in Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Visitors are encouraged to watch where they step while walking the pavilion. Butterflies occasionally will land on the soil. One butterfly landed on my shirt. I think it was a Buckeye, or Junonia coenia. I nudged the creature of happiness gently, and it climbed onto my right hand. I carried it on my finger to the branch of a nearby bush, and the friendly butterfly stepped off my finger.

Seconds after the previous photo was captured, the resting Julia butterfly stretches into a protective posture at the approach of a Zebra Longwing butterfly, or Heliconius charitonius. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

I’m as distracted today by butterflies as when I was a young boy. I would stop whatever I was doing – such as riding my horse to move cattle from one pasture to another – to watch a fragile butterfly flitter by. Often, my horse would watch the tiny spot of color flying, in zigzag fashion, across our path.

A Buckeye butterfly, or Junonia coenia, shown feeding or resting on a flower. Copyright  © photo by Mike Padgett

Once, while walking with a girlfriend in junior high school, I reached out to two butterflies circling each other in our path. I caught them with one hand. She was surprised. (So was I. Wow.) I opened my cupped hands to show them to her before letting them fly away.

Next spring, I hope to have many more butterflies as guests. At my Best Friend’s suggestion, I sprinkled desert milkweed seeds around our home. Maybe, if the seeds sprout, wandering butterflies will lay their eggs on the milkweed. The eggs will hatch into caterpillars, which will molt a few times before entering the pupa or chrysalis stage. Under the right conditions, the pupa eventually transition into butterflies, which mature and lay more eggs.

A Gulf Fritillary butterfly, or Agraulis vanillae. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Mentions of butterflies are found throughout literature. French poet Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun wrote: “The butterfly is a flying flower, the flower a tethered butterfly.”

Equally appropriate are the words of American novelist and short story writer Nathaniel Hawthorne: “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

One of the most powerful references hinting at butterflies is attributed to Helen Keller, considered one of the 20th Century’s leading humanitarians. She said, “One can never consent to creep, when one feels an impulse to soar.”

The cycle continues. To enjoy, all one has to do is pause.

+++++

(To avoid missing news, essays, features and photos on www.ArizonaNotebook.com, sign up for convenient email alerts in the FeedBurner box in the right rail. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)

(Copyright Mike Padgett: All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all content on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

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(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to mike@ArizonaNotebook.com.)

Apr 21st, 2012
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Advertising Writer Shifts From Carving Words to Crafting Woods

Posted By Mike Padgett

April 3, 2012

PHOENIX, Ariz. – When Richard Morris traded wordsmithing for woodworking, his creative energy shifted into high gear. He began stretching himself. He was on a new plateau of personal growth.

It was about a decade ago when Morris began his career transition away from writing advertising copy. Today, Morris designs and creates arts and crafts furniture from quartersawn white oak in his northwest Phoenix shop.

Both occupations are creative, he says, but the influence of advertising is temporary. On the other hand, the cabinets, chairs and other items Morris is making today could be treasured for generations.

“Part of what I have to sell is the hand of man,” Morris says. “It looks organic. It looks like something that someone has labored over.” Photo © copyright by Mike Padgett

Morris’ clients are scattered worldwide. Some are local. Others are in Chicago, New York and Europe. Morris recreated historic furniture for the Hubbell Trading Post and the Painted Desert Inn, both in northeastern Arizona. He also crafted furnishings for an Oak Park, Ill., home designed in the early 1900s by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Craftsman or Artist?

Morris was busy with a bathroom vanity when I visited him in his shop recently. Our paths crossed weeks ago, via email. I told him I write about people who have interesting stories to tell. He agreed to share his .

After our handshake, he grabs a hand broom and dusts off a drafting stool for my camera bag. I see an organized workplace. There are several power tools for his precision work. Wood clamps and hand tools are on racks within easy reach. His radio is tuned to National Public Radio.

My eyes wander to his planer, table saw, sander, and to lathe tools in a wall rack. Morris is wearing a worn leather apron. In its chest pockets are a pencil, an old pocketknife and a tiny gauge Morris uses to set his table saw blade.

Morris shows me a design for a tall-case clock he is starting for a client in San Diego. He recently shipped a similar clock to a Chicago client who hopes the clock will be in the family for generations.

“She is going to give it to her oldest son, who’s in turn going to give it to his oldest daughter,” Morris says. “And if there’s any justice at all, it’ll be there for several generations after that.”

On the white oak bathroom vanity he’s finishing, Morris shows me the dovetail joints. He marks and cuts the dovetails by hand. Dovetail joints, if you know woodworking, require skill and patience to make them tight, even and straight.

Richard Morris prepares a bathroom vanity for its door hinges. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

My appreciation for skilled woodworking kicks in. I imagine an artisan bent over the workbench, gluing together a table or chair. Adrenaline flows faster than glue dries. The artisan’s frown deepens. He rushes to tighten the clamps before the glue sets, adding pads between the wood and the clamps to avoid leaving dents in the wood.

In this arena, craft approaches art. It is a personal zone where magic is created by a good supply of patience, a love of craft and 10,000 hours of muscle memory.

Morris continues. “Once in a while, the little hairs on the back of my neck just stand up, it’s so satisfying. I don’t want to put too fine a point on it. It’s just profound satisfaction at having done a thing well.”

Clients Fall Silent

Morris knows he’s been successful when clients, arriving at his shop, fall silent the minute they see their commissioned furniture for the first time.

“Their eyes will close and they stroke it and I feel like I should walk away and give them some privacy,” Morris says. “It happens with some people. That’s one of the things about why I love what I do. I just put it together. The wood is beautiful on its own. All I do is not screw it up.

“It’s really gratifying,” he says. “I mean, it’s why I get such a big kick out of it. I can stand back at the end of the day and say, ‘I created that out of some sticks.’”

Collectors appreciate American antique furniture because of its beauty, the skill used in creating it, and because well-crafted furniture is functional decades after it was made. Properly cared for, wood antiques will achieve a unique beauty. They can become functional art. The skill of the hand of man becomes obvious.

Crosswords Before Sunrise

Morris says woodworking is his fulltime job, “and will be till I die.” During the summer months, to avoid the heat, he works tropical hours. That means he often arrives at his shop before sunrise.

“I love to come to work. Absolutely love to. I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and do a couple of crosswords and have breakfast, and I’m here.

“People talk about retirement and I say, ‘Retirement? This is my retirement.’”

Morris picks up a cabinet door he’s finishing for the vanity. I reach for my camera.

Morris steadies the cabinet door and grabs his cordless drill. I shoot a few photos of him at work. He drills pilot holes in the door and the cabinet frame for hinge screws. He picks up a tiny screw. It nearly disappears between his thumb and forefinger. He scrapes the screw back and forth on a small piece of soap. The soap will make it easier to twist the screw into the wood.

When Morris attaches and closes the doors, their fit is a little tight. The solution, he says, is sanding the thickness of a sheet of paper from the edges where the doors meet.

Writing Advertising Copy

Morris’ path to his shop started in the Midwest, where he worked a short time in radio while finishing college at the time. He eventually received two bachelor’s degrees – one in history with a philosophy minor, and the second in art with a French minor.

After college, he worked for an advertising agency where he wrote copy for radio commercials. That was followed by a stint in the Navy in the 1960s during the Vietnam era. He attended the U.S. military language school in Monterey, Calif., where his days were devoted to studying French.

After his military duty, he worked first for an advertising agency and then for a printing company, both in St. Louis. In the early 1980s, he relocated to Arizona where he worked for similar companies.

Over time, he developed an interest in woodworking. In about 2003, his hobby became a business. He started in his home workshop. At the time, he lived near the White Tank Mountains west of Phoenix.

Later, when he outgrew his workshop, he moved his woodworking business in 2007 into leased space in a light industrial area in northwest Phoenix. He now lives close enough to bicycle to work. He also launched a website, www.desertcraftsmen.com, on which he focuses all of his marketing.

Many of his clients are doctors, lawyers, college professors and accountants.

Morris focuses his energies on arts and crafts furniture, sometimes called Mission style. Many of his clients favor quartersawn white oak, often called “tiger oak” because of the unique golden rays created in the lumber by the quarter-sawing method. The arts and crafts designs, which date to the late 1800s, remain popular and functional.

“One, it’s easy to do,” Morris says. “B, I love the look of it, and C, there’s a considerable market for it. For which we can blame Barbra Streisand.”

It was at a Christie’s auction in 1988 when Streisand – by phone – offered the high bid of $363,000 “for an oak and wrought iron sideboard made by craftsman Gustav Stickley,” according to the Dec. 12, 1988, edition of the Los Angeles Times.

Before the auction, the Columbus Avenue Sideboard – which once had been in Stickley’s home – was appraised at $90,000. Stickley, a major influence in the American Arts and Crafts furniture movement, died in 1942.

White oak was the furniture wood of choice during the arts and crafts era because of its beauty, its strength and because it was plentiful. Today, the price of the wood is increasing because oak forests are decreasing in size. Also competing for the wood are the bourbon whiskey manufacturers, who use it for their whiskey barrels.

Historic Furniture

It was on Morris’ new career path where he walked in the footsteps of some historical figures with high profiles in Southwest history. His company was commissioned to replicate office furniture to replace aging originals used in the Hubbell Trading Post on the Navajo Reservation. The trading post opened in the 1880s.

Desert Craftsmen also was commissioned by the National Park Service to replicate furniture for the original soda fountain in the historic Painted Desert Inn on the Petrified National Forest.

The Painted Desert Inn is about 25 miles east of Holbrook. It was built in the 1920s as a private retreat and a tourist stop by Holbrook businessman Herbert Lore, according to author Arnold Berke in his book, “Mary Colter: Architect of the Southwest.” Berke writes that Lore originally called the building the “Stone Tree House” because blocks of petrified wood were used to construct much of the original building.

A flier from the Painted Desert Inn, which was closed in 1963. After it was reopened and renovated several years later, Richard Morris was hired to recreate furniture for the Inn’s lunchroom. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

The National Park Service, as part of its expansion of the Painted Desert, bought Lore’s “Stone Tree House” in 1936. The NPS updated the structure from 1937 to 1940. Two years later, because of World War II, the Inn was closed. In 1947, the Fred Harvey Co. took over the concession contract at the Painted Desert Inn and brought in Colter to update the building’s interior. The Inn closed in 1963.

In the 1970s, when the Inn was considered for demolition, public support helped the Inn receive listing on the National Register of Historic Places. That was in 1975. In 1987, it achieved status as a national historic landmark.

Challenging Work

Morris said the major hurdle in his restoration of the Inn’s soda fountain was the lack of any original furniture. The room apparently had been gutted in preparation for demolition.

“All I had to work with were two black-and-white photographs and the original drawings of the fixtures and such – the counter and the booth and the tables – that sort of thing,” he says.

Morris made the replacement furnishings in his Phoenix shop. But in listening to him talk about the property, it was obvious he enjoyed the trips he made to the Inn to take measurements and photographs, and then finally to install the reproduced furniture.

“You can go there at the crack of dawn and sit and watch as the sun goes across. Everything out there changes color. The shadows change shape. It is just fascinating and well worth the trip if you’ve not been there.”

Full disclosure: I wrote about Richard Morris because he has an interesting story to share. After listening to his story and seeing his work, I commissioned Morris to recreate a small table for me. I paid Morris for the table. Never was there any discussion of me writing about Morris in exchange for the table.

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(Copyright Mike Padgett: All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all content on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes.)

(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to mike@ArizonaNotebook.com.)

Apr 3rd, 2012
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Point Loma Lighthouse Offers More Than A Glimpse Into California History

Posted By Mike Padgett

March 31, 2012

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – We need to slow down. Every time we see a lighthouse in the distance, I’m on cruise control and my Best Friend/Navigator  is checking maps and voice mail. By the time my brain alerts my foot on the accelerator, those beacons of history standing guard at the edge of the Pacific Ocean are fading in the rear view mirror.

Until last month in San Diego. That’s when I told myself that the lighthouse, the beach and the tide pools at Point Loma deserve more of our attention. It is a good place to remember lost friends and delayed dreams.

The Point Loma Lighthouse and Museum are the main attractions in Cabrillo National Monument. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

The historic lighthouse and museum are in the Cabrillo National Monument. For several hours spread out over two days, I wandered the property. The first day was cloudy and windy. Windbreaker weather. The next day, it was sunny. Admission to the national monument is $5 per vehicle. The ticket is good for seven days.

The cloudy day wasn’t good for exterior photos, so I drove down the hill to walk along the beach and check the tidal pools. It’s a steep walk down the sandy trails to the beach from parking lots. Visitor traffic was low during my visit.

Riding the swells of the Pacific on this grey day were eight surfers in their dark wetsuits – six in one group, two in the other. Seals, I thought, broke the water a few times close to the two surfers.

Later, on the National Park Service website, I learned the lighthouse began service in 1855. The site was selected in 1851, one year after California was granted statehood and several years before the Civil War.

However, the lighthouse location was doomed from its beginning. It is 422 above sea level, which made it vulnerable to fog and low clouds. When the coast was fogbound, the lighthouse keeper fired a shotgun to warn ships they were approaching the coast. The lighthouse was taken out of service in 1891, replaced by a new lighthouse constructed closer to sea level on the Point.

The spiral staircase in the Point Loma Lighthouse offers interesting photo opportunities, depending on the amount and the direction of exterior light entering the building. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

The original lighthouse’s interior and spiral staircase have been restored by the National Park Service. The rooms, glassed off from visitors, show the austere life of the lighthouse keeper and his family.

From a distance, my Best Friend and I have spotted lighthouses several times while driving between San Francisco and Monterey, and between San Diego and Los Angeles. When she’s not checking our cell phones and laptop while I’m driving, she shares my fascination with these seashore sentinels. There are at least two on the Oregon coast we want to visit soon. One was fogbound when we passed it last year.

We’ve watched documentaries about these fascinating buildings from the past, when lighthouses functioned as the only warning to ships about dangerous shoals. I’ve read that some lighthouses have been converted into overnight accommodations. Maybe we’ll check in.

Today, GPS and the Internet have replaced lighthouses. They are historic reminders of how we found our way to where we are. Their histories offer a glimpse into the dedication and discipline of the lighthouse keepers and their families.

When it isn’t crowded, Point Loma is a perfect place for walking and reflecting and enjoying Nature’s gifts with a Best Friend. There is its history, its view of San Diego and the bay, and the ocean, and the ocean breezes. There is the absence of traffic noise and fumes. Turn off the iPod. If you carry a personal journal, make a new entry with your thoughts today.

Make time to walk along the nearby beach. Welcome positive energy. Listen to the sound of the surf. Enjoy the primordial feel of the environment and the visual treats of surfers challenging the ocean, and of pelicans flying in single file, skimming the water.

For more details about the Point Loma Lighthouse, visit the National Park Service web site: http://www.nps.gov/cabr/historyculture/old-point-loma-lighthouse.htm.

(To avoid missing news, essays, features and photos on www.ArizonaNotebook.com, sign up for convenient email alerts in the FeedBurner box in the right rail. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)

(Copyright Mike Padgett: All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all content on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes.)

(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to mike@ArizonaNotebook.com.)

Mar 31st, 2012

Stories and Memories in a Garden of Stone Overlooking San Diego Bay

Posted By Mike Padgett

March 2, 2012

SAN DIEGO – Each time I drive away from Cabrillo National Monument and its view overlooking San Diego, the thousands of white headstones in neat rows capture my attention.

This time, for the first time, I pulled over and parked. This garden of stone on the Port Loma peninsula is the 77-acre Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. The military cemetery on gently rolling hills close to the historic lighthouse overlooks the Pacific Ocean to the west. To the east is San Diego Bay and Naval Base Coronado.

The rows of headstones on hills overlooking the ocean and the bay create a powerful landscape of beauty and sadness. On this day, a Friday, the sky was overcast. Tree branches swayed in a gentle breeze. When I returned the next day for more photos, the sky was clear.

The white headstones of Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery contrast with the white sails of boats in San Diego Bay in the distance. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Military, historic and all-but-forgotten sacred grounds are interesting because of the history they represent. The people with names in stone were husbands or wives or sons or daughters. They were friends. They taught us and they continue to teach us, even in death.

One life in a few words

If headstone inscriptions are readable, they tell a story in two dates, a name and a few words. Several years ago, my Best Friend and I stood before headstones dating to the 1700s along Boston’s Freedom Trail.

In Atlanta years later, we wandered through a neglected cemetery in which soldiers from the Civil War in the 1860s are buried. We have since visited Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. and National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii, where soldiers from wars in the 1900s and more recent conflicts are interred.

For feature stories, I interviewed managers of small cemeteries in Arizona and Washington State. The managers see the impact of death upon families. Their cemeteries’ occupants include pioneers who helped settle the two states.

Studying headstones is morbid? Not at all. Cemeteries are all around us. In life and in death, we touch many lives. As a journalist, I believe everyone has a story to share. However, many don’t get that chance.

Unknown uncle

Years ago, thanks to the Internet, I located the burial site of an uncle I never knew. He was one of my father’s brothers. He is buried in Italy, where he died in World War II. He lived and then died in a war before I was born. Who was he, really? All I know about him is his name and that his family mourned his death. What were his ambitions and goals? Did he enjoy laughter, woodworking and a good book? How did he die? Did he have a girlfriend waiting for him? If so, who was she?

A funeral procession entering Fort Rosecrans brought me back from daydreaming. A hearse led several vehicles. I watched them stop by the funeral site. Minutes later, I heard a 21-gun salute.

I wanted some photos of the headstones overlooking San Diego Bay. But a photographer near the funeral would have been painful for those in mourning. I can return later.

Friendly photographer

I walked through the vehicle entrance to the other side of the cemetery.

“Need room for your shots?” the man asked. He was bent slightly forward, holding his camera in front of his face, photographing the headstones. I was a little startled. Until he spoke, I hadn’t paid attention to him. He appeared ready to step aside if I wanted to shoot photos in his direction.

“No, thank you,” I said. Friendly Man resumed shooting photos. The landscape of souls was overpowering, with rows of white headstones on rolling terrain vanishing into the distance.

I studied the headstones. Friendly Man snapped a few more photos before stepping to his car, parked nearby. He drove off.

Yellow daffodils become a beacon in the rows of white headstones on a field of green. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

At midmorning on this cloudy day, a Friday, the coastal fog nearly was gone. But enough hung in the air to create an ethereal mood in the cemetery.

I walked along the rows of stones, reading some of the inscriptions. Precious Daughter. Loved Husband. For anyone interested enough to stop and read, the names and words from the heart are memorialized in stone. What is unanswered is how their lives ended. Did they die in combat or in a traffic accident? Was theirs a long and fruitful life? Did they stop to help others struggling in this Great Race?

Two cars turned into the cemetery entrance behind me. They moved slowly up the cemetery lane and vanished beyond the trees.

Names and memories

I found myself staring. A middle-aged man holding the elbow of a tiny elderly woman helped her as they walked slowly along the headstones. They stopped. She pointed to a name. Maybe the name prompted memories.

I walked on. Ahead of me was a bouquet of daffodils in a container leaning against a headstone. Someone who knows love – and loss – probably left the flowers. I snapped a few photos.

I whispered my apologies. I hoped the person who received the flowers didn’t mind.

The cemetery, which is part of a U.S. Navy installation, is on both sides of the road to the Cabrillo National Monument and the historic Point Loma lighthouse.

Loss and pain in grade school

Later, driving back to my hotel, I thought about my experiences as a child during funerals and other personal trauma.

When I was in grade school, one of my younger sisters died. It was leukemia. Then a classmate died from an accidental shooting. His rifle was similar to mine.

Odd, how one painful memory will revive others. I remembered my first experience as a victim of theft. I was in the third grade. My new coat, on the first day I wore it, was stolen from its hook in the classroom. My blue-collar parents had scrimped to buy the coat. My teacher, despite her best efforts, never located my coat.

Thieves and bullies

In the fifth grade, my geography homework vanished from my desk. The teacher found it in the hands of a classmate. He had failed to fully erase my name before writing his over it. My name still was readable.

Later that year, my parents moved us to another small town. There, the class bully and I were punished for fighting. The rest of the year, he was friendlier.

In the seventh grade, another bully – he was tall for his age – intimidated many of us.

I learned at an early age that in addition to good friends, loving families, digging for razor clams at the beach and the loyalty of a boy’s dog, our world includes death, loss and antisocial personalities.

(To avoid missing news, essays, features and photos on www.ArizonaNotebook.com, sign up for convenient email alerts in the FeedBurner box in the right rail. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)

(Copyright Mike Padgett: All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all content on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes.)

(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to mike@ArizonaNotebook.com.)

(This essay was updated since its original posting.)

Mar 2nd, 2012

Legacy of Long-Time Farming Family Includes New Homes With Unique Designs

Posted By Mike Padgett

Feb. 13, 2012

GILBERT, Ariz. – Cruise the tree-lined streets of Morrison Ranch with co-owner Howard Morrison, and he’ll likely tell you what crops grew here for generations before his family’s farms sprouted houses a few years ago.

And if he takes a short detour and stops next to his family’s four 80-foot-tall grain silos, Morrison can treat you to a short lesson in the history of his family’s farming in the East Valley. His grandfather, also named Howard, and then his father Marvin and uncle Kenneth have plowed this ground for cotton, corn and alfalfa east of Phoenix since the early 1930s. The new Morrison generation’s latest crops include neighborhoods.

Howard Morrison has many memories of growing up and working on the land surrounding his family’s grain silos. The silos – 80 feet high and in use until 2002 – are preserved as architectural centerpieces of Morrison Ranch. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

In March, the Morrison family plans to auction more of their farmland to homebuilders. The land to be sold is at the southeast corner of Recker and Elliot roads. A name for the new neighborhood is ready.

“This is where Elliot Groves will be, on this corn field that you see, 80 acres,” Morrison says from the driver’s seat of his Suburban. He grew up on this land.

Also this spring, possibly in March, Morrison expects an announcement for a multifamily development by P.B. Bell east of Recker and Elliot roads.

Crops give way to neighborhoods

Much has changed since the late 1990s when work first started on the 3,000-acre Morrison Ranch. For the next 15 years, homebuilders across the Valley saw annual increases in building permits and demand for new homes.

Then in about 2006, the homebuilding industry ran out of fuel. In most states, including Arizona, demand for new homes vaporized. Blame for the crashed economy and housing crisis was spread everywhere, from Wall Street to Main Street.

The financial pain was felt at all levels, from workers who lost their jobs, to cities, counties and states, which lost tax income from declining payroll, sales, property and corporate taxes. Many homebuilding companies went out of business or were merged into other corporations.

Those were painful years, Morrison says. “It was so crazy you couldn’t expect anything other than a crash. I mean a crash. We (the homebuilding industry) fell hard.”

At the metro Phoenix market’s peak in 2006, Morrison says, about 67,000 single-family home building permits were issued. Last year, there were maybe 7,000. A consensus of 13 metro Phoenix market analysts surveyed by Arizona State University estimates that 11,300 permits will be issued during 2012 and more than 18,000 permits in 2013.

Morrison says there were as many as 400 homebuilders, including many small mom-and-pop operations, during the high-octane years leading up to 2006. “Today, there are about 27 (builders) that are active,” he says.

Caution the new rule

Real estate analysts, after a few years of annual flubs in predicting a turnaround, in recent weeks began offering cautious estimates as to when (and how quickly) the stalled housing industry in metro Phoenix will rebound. They point to new and positive signs suggesting demand for new homes is returning.

Morrison turns his Suburban down a street lined with newer homes on large lots. Between the two one-way streets is a linear park about 40 feet wide. There is plenty of room for children and families to safely play football or enjoy picnics. The streets are lined with shade trees.

Before construction began, he says, “We’d be driving through an alfalfa field, Field 17.”

Despite operating in a struggling housing industry, Morrison Ranch in 2011 sold more homes than any other master-planned community of its type in Arizona and ranked 23rd in the nation. That announcement comes from John Burns Real Estate Consulting, a national housing analysis company in Irvine, Calif.

As farmers, the Morrison family knew they could coax higher yields from their fields by using improved farming methods.

In much the same way, the Morrisons held out for a better residential design in their planned community. They would sell land to builders if the builders’ designs set houses back from main arterials and included more shade trees, unique house plans, functional front porches, several miles of walking trails, and other family-friendly features.

Setting new houses in Morrison Ranch back from busy streets offers reduced traffic noise for homeowners as well as safer sidewalks. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

“We turned everything on its ear,” Morrison says. “Scott, my brother, likes to say, ‘You know, this isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but if this is what you want, this is the only place in Phoenix you’ll find it.’”

Reclaimed water for green space

The master plan includes using reclaimed water for green space. That design meant adding a second piping system throughout the community to handle the needed irrigation water for grassy areas and the forest of 28,000 trees planted so far.

In addition, homebuilders interested in buying Morrison land would have to agree to input from the Morrisons on the quality of housing. Some builders balked.

“We ran into a lot of skepticism,” Morrison says. “And a few of them (builders) went on down the street so they could do something else. Because what they wanted is, they wanted the land and then they wanted to do what they wanted on their own.”

“And we said, ‘No, this is what we’re going to do,” he says. “So we’ve always been slow and many have referred to us as stubborn. Hopefully not in character but stubborn in holding to our principles.

“The magic behind this wasn’t one thing,” Morrison continues. “The magic was putting all of these things together in one place.”

Stewardship of the land

Morrison credits much of the family’s success to Don Tompkins, the planner and “executive coach” the Morrisons recruited from Southern California.

Maybe it was their family’s stewardship of the land over three generations that fueled their dreams. Or maybe it was simply daring for a better design that pushed the Morrison family to set the community development bar a little higher.

So far, about 2,300 residences have been completed on 1,560 acres in Morrison Ranch.

Commercial space evolving

Also in the master plan are sites for retail, office and commercial space. The Arizona Farm Bureau recently moved its headquarters from a site near Sky Harbor International Airport into 50,000 square feet of new office space at Morrison Ranch.

Near the Arizona Farm Bureau is Lakeview Village, a 17-acre neighborhood shopping center anchored by a Bashas’ store at Higley and Eliott roads. Unlike most other corner centers, the exterior design of this shopping center offers unique facades for almost every store.

Morrison believes that the builders who win the land auction in March will begin adding streets, sidewalks, water lines and other utilities later this year. If demand for new homes increases in coming months, construction of homes in Elliot Groves could begin in 2013. It will be the first phase of the fifth neighborhood in Morrison Ranch.

Builders active in Morrison Ranch include Ashton Woods Homes, Blandford Homes, Richmond American Homes, and Taylor Morrison.

The East Valley’s remaining farmland could vanish during the next wave or two of homebuilding. Already, plows and tractors are sitting idle longer. In the distance beyond the rusty plows are new homes. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Farming chapter ending

Study the Morrison Ranch silos and it’s hard to avoid thinking about the years they were surrounded by hard work and family bonding.

The Morrisons once farmed more than 3,000 acres in the East Valley. They still operate a dairy, Arizona Dairy Co., in east Mesa. They also have a large ranch, Windmill Ranch, in Verde Valley.

The Morrison family’s influence stretches beyond agriculture. Howard’s parents, Marvin and June Morrison, became the benefactors of Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. It was founded in 1982. Marvin Morrison died in 2007 at the age of 83.

The family name also graces the Morrison School of Agribusiness and Resource Management, a part of the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU.

Writer’s note: I grew up in another state caring for my family’s cattle and horses, and I worked part time on neighbors’ farms. My formative years were filled with repairing barbed wire fences, milking cows (by hand), feeding and vaccinating cattle, irrigation chores and driving farm equipment. After graduation from high school, I enlisted in the military. It was the Vietnam era. Today, I watch economics at work as Arizona farms evolve into homes, schools, grocery stores and high-tech centers.

(To avoid missing news, essays, features and photos on www.ArizonaNotebook.com, sign up for convenient email alerts in the FeedBurner box in the right rail. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)

(Copyright Mike Padgett: All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all content on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

(Please contact Mike Padgett if you are interested in purchasing prints or licensing images on this site, or if you wish to use any of the images on this site for noncommercial purposes.)

(Ideas for interesting news stories about Arizona residents and businesses are welcome. Please send ideas and suggestions to mike@ArizonaNotebook.com.)

Feb 13th, 2012
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