Treasure trove of history found in Park Central Basement

- As the Park Central mall in Phoenix undergoes a major renovation, developers stumble upon a decades-old treasure trove in the basement.

Park Central was built in 1957, and before then, the land was used as a dairy farm. The surrounding area was filled with homes, and back then, it was considered the northern outskirts of Phoenix.

61 years later, it looks much different. The area is surrounded by highrise buildings, but the original building still stands, and boxes of old newspaper clippings are stored in a basement, for nearly six decades.

"It's extraordinarily rare," said Matthew Delmont, a professor of history with Arizona State University. "There wouldn't be this type of material anywhere in the state or country, and the fact that it was preserved so well is a tribute to Arizona's dry climate."

The clippings were collected by advertisers. Delmont listed a number of brochures, including one for the mall that documented the population growth the city experienced. In 1940, the brochure said the city was home to 65,000 people, which grew to 105,000 by 1950.

Developers turned the items over to ASU, where researchers will pour over the slices of life, clipped from generations past.

"Initially, when the mall was built for 3 anchors: Goldwater's Diamonds and 5 and Dime. A few years later, JCPenney comes," said Delmont. "There's a really interesting piece here with Willie Mays and a Scottsdale leaguer talks about who shops at the mall. Everyone goes there to shop, and then a pigeon race they had in 1960's."

The space, however, is no longer used for shopping.

"Tenants are now looking for authentic places with high ceilings, and this is the perfect piece of clay now," said Stan Shafer with Holualoa Companies.

The shell of the original building will remain, but the inside and outside will be renovated. Restaurants geared towards the nightlife crowd will be added, and developers hope to make Park Central, the center of community it once was.

The renovations will be complete by the end of 2018.
 

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