Old Town, New Snow

Historic Downtown Flagstaff, Arizona - Jan 2009

Signs of the Times
One thing that I have always loved about historic downtown Flagstaff are the signs. Many date back a half century or more to when 'Flag' was a booming stop on the Santa Fe railroad and later Route 66. Even most newer businesses have adopted their signs to the more creative and artistic style of that period - much more expressive and interesting than the bland mass-produced blockish signs found on most chain stores these days. What's my sign, you ask? Make it early 20th century, please!

Train Stop and Mountain Top
Towering over town from the north, the San Francisco Peaks make a great landmark for navigating around Flagstaff. At 12,600 feet, this extinct volcano is the tallest point in Arizona.

All Aboard for Winter
Flagstaff got its name from a dead pine tree in the area that passing pioneers had stripped of its branches and used as a make-shift flag pole while camping there in 1876. It was several years later before the current community got its start as a work camp when the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad reached the area in 1882. The current depot (built in 1926) is a local landmark and serves as a visitor center.

Ghost Train
As an AmTrak stop, Flagstaff is one of the few places in the United States that can still be visited by passenger train. Unlike the rest of the pictures on this page, this photo was actually taken about a year ago (but it seemed to go well here) using a long exposure just as dusk was falling on a stormy day.

Shady Street
During the 1980s, downtown Flagstaff fell into decline as businesses moved out to the strip malls and shopping centers. Wide-scale renovation starting in the 1990s has turned the historic downtown into a popular arts and cafe district. Built in 1926, the Hotel Monte Vista was once the town's premier hotel and the lodging place for famous actors and politicians.

Ranchers, Merchants and Indian Traders
The five Babbitt brothers first came to northern Arizona in 1886 and quickly established a business empire that included ranching, trading posts, mercantile stores and later auto dealerships. The Babbitts are still a prominent family in Arizona (Bruce Babbitt was Arizona governor in the 1970s and later Secretary of the Interior). Today the old Babbitt Brothers department store is an outdoor recreation supplies shop.

The Great Pinecone Drop of '09
Built of Moenkopi sandstone in 1899, the Weatherford Hotel has been the social cornerstone of the downtown district for over a century. For many years, it was Flagstaff's leading hotel and today its pub still has the reputation for some of the best live music in town. It is also the scene of Flagstaff's big New Year's Eve street celebration featuring the traditional drop of a giant electric metal pinecone... just like they did back in the good old days.

Everything New is Old Again
While I was growing up in Flagstaff, the historic courthouse was covered in a semi-modern (and ugly) shell of grey stone and metal sheeting that had been added in the 1950s. During the revitalization of downtown, these later additions were removed to reveal the original 1890s stonework hidden beneath - where a 1950s building had been, an older 1890s building seems to have popped-up in its place.

Grand Canyon Cafe
As the largest town between Albuquerque and Los Angeles, Flagstaff has been an important stop for travelers starting with wagon trains, then the railroad and finally Route 66 and the interstates. Many of the historic downtown buildings reflect the different trends and styles of traveler-oriented businesses over the years like this Route 66 era diner.

Mountain View
As automobile slowly replaced trains as the main mode of long-distance travel, drive-up motels began to spring up in the less developed areas to the south of the railroad tracks in the 1920s and 30s. Most of these small family-run motels have since been eclipsed by the larger national chain hotels lining the highways on the edge of town.

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