Just like the mythical bird that rose from the ashes, the city of Phoenix flourished in the ruins of a prehistoric civilization. Learn more about the history of the Valley of the Sun.
1. Its residents are called Phoenicians.
With a population of more than 1.5 million people, Phoenix is the most populous capital city in the United States.
4. The city is home to the U.S.’s only known feral population of rosy-faced lovebirds. Native to South Africa and popularly kept as pets, the wild birds were first spotted in the area in 1987. The population in Phoenix, which as of 2010 has grown to about 950 birds, is thought to have stemmed from an escaped or released pair.
In 1952, the very first McDonald’s franchise was sold to Phoenix entrepreneur Neil Fox by the McDonald brothers, two years before they ever met Ray Kroc. The building, which was demolished in the 1960s but stood at the corner of Indian School Road and Central Avenue, was also the first to sport the iconic Golden Arches.
6. Phoenix’s South Mountain Park is one of the nation’s largest city parks [PDF]. At over 16,000 acres, it’s nearly 20 times larger than Central Park in New York City.
8. Located in the foothills of South Mountain Park, the 18-room Mystery Castle was built by Boyce Luther Gully in the 1930s for his daughter, Mary Lou. Fond of building sandcastles on the beaches with her dad in Seattle, Mary Lou asked him to build her a castle that the ocean wouldn’t wash away. After learning he had tuberculosis, Boyce relocated to the drier climes of Phoenix, hoping the move would cure him. The sprawling castle was constructed from stone and adobe as well as salvaged car parts, telephone poles, and railroad tracks from an old mine, among other unusual materials, and the mortar is said to be mixed with calcium and goat milk. The castle, which is open to the public, contains a cantina, a dungeon, and a chapel.
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In the 1950s and ‘60s, Phoenix was home to an exceptional number of structures built in the Jetsons-esque Googie style of architecture. Not many of the glass facades and boomerang-shaped roofs still stand, but two surviving Googie examples can still be observed in the City Center Hotel on West Van Buren Street, the rotundas flanking the Phoenix Financial Center on North Central Avenue, and a bowling alley.
10. Speaking of architecture, Phoenix was Frank Lloyd Wright's home and architectural canvas from the late 1920s until his death in 1959. Projects of his in Phoenix include Taliesin West, the First Christian Church, and the David and Gladys Wright House (built for Wright’s son and his wife).
Speaking of Wright: With the exception of Barack Obama, every American president since Herbert Hoover was in office has slept in the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, for which Frank Lloyd Wright was the consulting architect—and which borrowed heavily from his architectural style.
12. The iconic copper-domed Arizona State Capitol building in Phoenix no longer actually houses any branches of the state’s government. As the state grew, the branches relocated to nearby buildings; the original 1901 portion of the capitol building is now the Arizona Capitol Museum.
You might know that an anchor from the USS Arizona is displayed at the Pearl Harbor memorial in Hawaii, at the site where the ship sank in 1941. But the ship’s other anchor is in Phoenix, displayed at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza directly in front of the state capitol, along with a mast and gun also salvaged from the battleship.
14. The greatest snowfall recorded in Phoenix measured exactly 1 inch, although it happened twice—1 inch fell in 1933, and another in 1937.
15. On March 13, 1997, thousands of Phoenix-area residents, including the state’s governor, reported seeing an “otherworldly” V-shaped aircraft in the sky, which contained five lights and hovered silently for over an hour. This incident was subsequently known as “Lights Over Phoenix,” and despite being debunked in 1998 articles in Tucson Weekly and Phoenix New Times, is generally described as a UFO sighting.
16. Legend has it that the chimichanga was invented in Phoenix, at Macayo’s Mexican Kitchen in the 1950s. (To be fair, a restaurant in Tucson has also made this claim; the debate is ongoing.)
The Miranda warning, also known as the Miranda rights, stems from the 1966 case of Miranda v. Arizona, wherein Ernesto Arturo Miranda’s kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery charges were overturned based on Phoenix police officers’ failure to inform him that he had the right to remain silent during his interrogation.
18. Phoenix got its name from Darrell Duppa, a pioneer who saw the prehistoric ruins of the native Hohokam people and predicted that another civilization would rise from them, like the mythical bird of lore.
19. These ruins included prehistoric irrigation canals. The Hohokam tribe settled the land where Phoenix now stands beginning in 1 CE, eventually building a complex canal system that irrigated crops and enabled their agrarian society to flourish in the desert. The Hohokam people disappeared sometime around 1450, and no one knows why.
21. The name of the Suns, Phoenix’s pro basketball franchise, was chosen from 28,000 entries submitted by fans during a naming contest in 1968. The winner, Selinda King, received $1000 for her suggestion as well as season tickets.
Better known as MIM, the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix houses almost 16,000 instruments from approximately 200 different countries, including but not limited to the theremin, bouzouki, psalmodikons, and qanun.
23. In the Biltmore/Camelback area off of the Arizona Canal Trail, the Phoenix Bat Cave (actually a Maricopa County flood control tunnel) is the daytime hangout of thousands of Mexican free-tailed and western pipistrelle bats, who put on a nightly show between June and October. They gradually begin to leave the tunnel when the sun sets, feasting on insects in the sky, and the bat-cloud is generally in full swing by dusk.
24. Phoenix was the birthplace of Scientology. L. Ron Hubbard lived there in 1952 when he organized the Hubbard Association of Scientologists from his Camelback Mountain home, which has been restored and turned into a museum.
The Release the Fear sculpture in downtown Phoenix, comprised partly from melted-down revolver chambers, was constructed by artist Robert John Miley in 2005 as a symbol of anti-violence and gun control in the U.S. The 24-foot statue, a human figure with its arms raised to the sky, rises from a pile of rifles, knives, and various other weapons, which are fused to its base. Miley spent 10 years searching for sponsors and source for building materials.