«The Role of the Performing Arts in Postwar Phoenix, Arizona: Patrons, Performers, and the Public by Michelle Lynne Bickert A Thesis Presented in ...»
The Role of the Performing Arts
in Postwar Phoenix, Arizona:
Patrons, Performers, and the Public
Michelle Lynne Bickert
A Thesis Presented in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Arts
Approved November 2013 by the
Graduate Supervisory Committee:
Philip VanderMeer, Chair
ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY
ABSTRACT Civic leadership in Phoenix, Arizona promoted the city's performing arts as part of a deliberate plan towards the larger growth agenda after World War II. From the 1940s through the late 1960s, the business and professional leaders who controlled city government served on boards for performing arts groups, built venues, offered financial support, and sometimes participated as artists in order to attract high-technology firms and highly skilled workers to the area. They believed one aspect of Phoenix's urban development included a need for quality, high-culture performing arts scene that signaled a high quality of life and drew more residents. After this era of boosterism ended and control shifted from business and professional leaders to city government, performing arts support fluctuated with leadership's attitudes and the local, state, and national economies. The early civic leaders were successful in their overall mission to expand the city - now the sixth largest in the nation - and many of the organizations and venues they patronized still serve the community; however, the commitment to developing a quality arts and culture scene waned. Today's public, private, and arts and culture leaders are using the same argument as Phoenix tries once again to become a high-technology center.
The theory that arts and culture stimulate the economy directly and indirectly is true today as it was in the 1940s. Although the plan was effective, it needed fully committed supporters, strong infrastructure, and continued revising in order to move the vision into the twenty-first century.
i DEDICATION To my parents, Jim and Laurie Bickert, for their unending support and encouragement in my love of learning. Thank you for taking me to every museum, monument, park, and history-themed summer camp; buying me every history-themed book, movie, doll, or video game; and playing along with whatever historical scene I wanted to recreate.
And to my brother Jeff, for being my constant companion on all of our quests – real or imagined.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTSMany thanks to Dr. Philip VanderMeer, Dr. Jannelle Warren-Findley, and Nancy Dallett for all of their help on this project and countless others. I could not have completed this project without their time, resources and guidance. Thank you to Dr.
VanderMeer for helping me turn an offhand idea into this fully formed study. After three courses and thesis, I am grateful for his patience and for his impact on my education. I would not be here without Dr. Warren-Findley, who recruited me to the public history program and imparted her expertise on a field I had always wanted to join but never knew existed. Many thanks to Nancy Dallett, who showed me how to apply everything I learned in the classroom, giving me the opportunity to affect real change in my community. I am extremely grateful to my committee for their continued support for my academic and professional endeavors.
The staff at the Arizona Historical Society at Papago Park Library and Archives – Susan Irwin, Linda Whitaker, Rebekah Tabah, and John Irwin – was tremendously helpful in locating and identifying materials. They not only helped me navigate the library’s resources, but also graciously welcomed me as an intern and patiently trained me in archival practice. Their professional and academic guidance has been invaluable. I would also like to thank the staff in the Luhrs Reading Room at Arizona State University’s Hayden Library for their reference assistance.
I would like to thank Virginia Fairchild, House Manager at ASU Gammage, for hiring me as a floor manager in 2009, thus encouraging my fascination with the building and the performing arts and inspiring this project. She provided materials, contacts, and
working with her the past four years.
Finally, I would like to thank my family and friends for their continued support and encouragement throughout this process. Alyssa Gerszewski and John Southard were especially kind in offering resources, ideas, and general support. I could not have come so far without everyone’s help, and I am eternally grateful.
2 PERFORMERS, PERFORMANCES, AND PLACES
3 PATRONS, VENUES, AND POLITICS
4 PUBLIC RECEPTION AND COMMUNITY BUILDING
5 CONCLUSION: APPLYING THE POSTWAR ARGUMENT IN THE TWENTYFIRST CENTURY
INTRODUCTIONHot, dry, desert, sprawl – these words are more likely to be associated with Phoenix than fine art or high culture. A land of cactus and cowboys, residents of other metropolitan areas might think Phoenician culture is as barren as the desert that surrounds it. The city has hosted a performing arts scene since its founding in the 1860s, but after World War II civic leaders prioritized culture as part of a larger strategy to transform the Valley of the Sun into a dynamic urban region. Phoenicians built a Victorian city atop ancient ruins, recreating their Eastern, Midwestern, and Southern lives and replicating features of successful cities despite formidable environmental and regional obstacles.
Civic leaders made deliberate decisions to serve the greater goal of growth, including building a performing arts culture that illustrated Phoenix’s urban sophistication.
Phoenix’s performing arts scene was a product of its citizens’ interests. When ranchers and farmers first settled the area in the late nineteenth century, entertainment consisted of gambling, drinking, and consorting with hostesses. Vaudeville shows served as the legitimate front for the other activities, which were all outlawed in the territory. By the 1900s, Phoenix had developed a small, sophisticated set of wealthy pioneer families who formed the types of civic organizations popular during the Progressive Era. The performing arts scene was small, but institutions like Shirley Christy’s School of Music, the Musicians Club of Phoenix, the Elks Opera House, Phoenix Union High School’s Masque of the Yellow Moon, and the Phoenix Little Theatre laid the foundation for building a community interested in the performing arts. The Phoenix Little Theatre traces its first official season to 1920, but existed in earlier incarnations since the late 1890s.
Once impresario Mrs. Archer E. Linde took over the community concert series in the 1930s, Phoenix hosted some of the biggest names worldwide.1 Linde’s tireless efforts to bring national touring acts to Phoenix, then just a stop along the way to or from Los Angeles, inspired the civic commitment to developing local talent, adequate venues, and cultured consumers implemented in the 1950s.
Cultural identity is integral to Phoenix history, and historians credit its contribution to economic development, but there is no comprehensive study of the connection between the arts and economic development in the region. Jerry Reynolds’ The Golden Days of Theaters in Phoenix is the closest example of a similar effort, but its purpose is to merely teach readers the history of Valley theaters through the 1980s.
Doctoral students from Arizona State University’s School of Music wrote most of the organizational histories for groups like the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra and Orpheus
Male Chorus. Most of the historical context for this study comes from four fields:
histories of Phoenix, institutional histories, studies of arts and culture, and urban histories. Combined, these sources demonstrate how the performing arts culture grew alongside the city, a microcosm of the city’s struggle to grow into a legitimate, competitive city with a clearly defined culture.
Despite being the fifth largest city in the nation, the historiography of Phoenix is relatively small. William S. Collins lamented in The Emerging Metropolis: Phoenix, 1944-1973 (2005) that Phoenix lacks a substantial scholarly literature, though Arizona Jessie Harper Linde preferred being called Mrs. Archer E. Linde, believing proper ladies used their husbands’ names. Many Phoenicians were unaware her name was Jessie until her death in 1965. Joseph Stocker, “Mrs. Archer Linde, Beloved Impresario,” Phoenix Magazine, January 1985, 95.
State University graduate students have greatly contributed to the literature.2 He claimed his work was motivated by “academic boosterism” to demonstrate the city’s legitimacy as a scholarly subject.3 Historians Bradford Luckingham and Philip VanderMeer documented the (comparatively brief) expanse of Phoenix history in Phoenix: A History of a Southwestern Metropolis (1989) and Desert Visions and the Making of Phoenix, 1860-2009 (2010), respectively. Each of the three authors demonstrated the possibilities for urban analysis of Phoenix.
Historians contested negative attitudes from academic and popular writers that dismiss Phoenix as unsustainable, sprawling, and unattractive and frame it within civic leadership’s visions of growth. The city and its metropolitan area have not stopped growing in over a century. Postwar Phoenix experienced rapid demographic and geographic growth, jumping from the ninety-ninth largest city (population) in the nation in 1950 to the twenty-ninth in 1960; thirty years later, it sits in the number six position.4 Yet impressive numbers cannot tell the whole story. When authors discussed growth, they were telling a story of economic diversity, political and social maturation, and urban dynamism. Although growth is visible at every stage of Phoenix’s history, the authors agree that the years following World War II through the mid-1970s as the most significant era of development. Collins limited his focus to this postwar era, arguing these
William S. Collins, The Emerging Metropolis: Phoenix, 1944-1973 (Phoenix:
Arizona State Parks Board, 2005), xiii.
Campbell Gibson, Population of the 100 Largest Cities and Other Urban Places in the United States: 1790 to 1990 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998), http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027/twps0027.html.
decades saw Phoenix begin to ascend the urban hierarchy, and were qualitatively and quantitatively different from other periods of growth.5 War brought military installations and the defense industry to the southwest, causing an economic and demographic boom in Sun Belt cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix. Civic leaders from the business and professional worlds and local government encouraged this growth, developing strategies to attract more businesses and residents and building the city higher and wider.
VanderMeer observed that although Phoenix was not a nationally elite city by 1960, the social, economic and political elements were in place.6 Leadership’s priorities over time for arts and culture illustrate the varying visions Phoenicians had for the city. Critics of Phoenix see sprawl, but scholars demonstrated that civic leaders deliberately acted according to specific goals and a broader perspective they had for development. VanderMeer’s Desert Visions is oriented around the different visions civic leaders had for their city. From the last nineteenth century through the early 1940s, boosters and early residents promoted the first vision of Phoenix as an American Eden, a city that applied eastern standards of modernity to the harsh realities of the desert environment. Civic leaders crafted the second vision, that booming period of growth from 1940-1960, on the idea that Phoenix was Everytown, where residents could realize the American Dream. Leaders modified this “high-tech suburban vision” in the following decades, expanding areas of the economy like tourism and construction and increasing government efficiency while focusing on the ultimate goal of attracting high-technology Collins, Emerging Metropolis, xii-xiv.
Philip VanderMeer, Desert Visions and the Making of Phoenix, 1860-2009 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2010), 180-181.
firms like Goodyear (1941), AiResearch (1942), Motorola (1948), Sperry Phoenix (1957), and General Electric (1957). Leaders during this era focused on developing cultural institutions to make the city modern and attractive to an educated workforce.
Civic leaders drove the growth vision, building on the earlier tradition of boosters advertising the city’s features (sometimes falsely) and developing a clear strategy to build Phoenix into their ideal city. Phoenix, like every successful urban center, is the product of its residents’ continued promotion and to ignore boosterism was to “risk decline and defeat in the urban sweepstakes.”7 The authors did not differ much interpreting the importance and function of civic leaders: they were agents of change whose promotion launched Phoenix into its current position. This thesis defines civic leader in the broadest sense: leaders in municipal affairs either through the private or public sectors. These men were elite business and professional leaders with diverse interests but a shared goal and vision for building the city. Although they commanded their own firms, they entered the political realm because they wanted an efficient government to build a prosperous city for personal and professional benefit. In the 1940s this group of leaders, tired of local government’s corruption and ineptitude, formed the Charter Government Committee (CGC), whose members dictated city (and sometimes state) politics for the next three decades.8 When their influence faded in the 1970s, control over the city’s development Bradford Luckingham, Phoenix: The History of a Southwestern Metropolis (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1989), 4.