The Pop Music Venues of 1900-1945 Phoenix
Updated: Jan 3
Music has always been one of the most popular forms of entertainment. But before TV and radio, before movies, and before hi-fi stereo, it generally had to be created by live people, in real time.
One of the earliest institutions created after the founding of Phoenix was the Pioneer Band, and with good reason: in this newly-established community, people craved music. Surely, they needed music for important occasions, such as weddings, funerals, parades, parties, and civic events, but in a fairly isolated, quiet little town, they also needed entertainment and wanted a connection to larger American Culture. Weekly band concerts provided both.
By 1892, concerts were given year-round in the park surrounding the newly-constructed City Hall. Generally, these concerts featured a lot of “patriotic” music, such as military marches, but also the popular music of the day. This was produced in sheet music form for piano, voice, string orchestra, and wind band, often simultaneously, and marketed nationally. It might include outtakes from classical pieces or musical theater, or might include dance music (waltzes, two-steps, or polkas), “characteristic” pieces, intermezzos, or overtures. Band concerts were considered a great way to bring the entire country together, culturally. The same music was played both by organized ensembles and by people in their own homes.
Eventually, the importance of these public events demanded a dedicated venue. It’s nice to hear a group of musicians playing in the park, but in the open air, it’s hard to hear and see them from any distance. They need a stage, and some protection from the sun and weather. They need a bandstand! So, in 1902, Phoenix finally built its first permanent outdoor music venue.
The music columnist in the Arizona Republican newspaper started agitating for a bandstand to be constructed in City Hall Plaza for the Pioneer Band as early as 1897, but it was five years before anything permanent would be built.
The Victorian style bandstand had an octagonal roof 24 feet across, and a raised floor that was about 18 feet in diameter. This was about big enough for a band of about a dozen players without crowding. It was in constant use, year-round, for about 15 years.
[Eastlake Park, constructed in about 1890 at the eastern end of the Phoenix streetcar line, was probably also provided with a Victorian era bandstand, of which little is known.]
By 1915, people had once again been agitating for improvements in public accommodation and for a stage that could be used by larger ensembles and other groups. By this time, Phoenix actually had several different bands in addition to the Pioneer Band, and they all needed places to hold concerts. On the southeast corner of the City Hall block, in 1916 Phoenix completed a new classically-styled proscenium stage with interior shell, which was attached to public facilities including a ladies’ lounge and restrooms for both sexes that ran along Jefferson Street. This substantial structure lasted until about 1938, although it appears to have been used much less after a newer bandstand was constructed in Carnegie Library Park in 1920.
Back side, looking west along Jefferson
Over time, people generally came to agree that no city park was complete without a bandstand of some sort. Carnegie Library Park got its bandstand in 1920. It was located directly behind the Carnegie library, on Jefferson Street, facing north.
Local Phoenix architect George Pheby designed a building that became nationally known for its acoustic qualities. Behind the proscenium, the walls and roof of the bandshell were seamlessly paneled with curving tongue and groove wooden slats. After the Library Park bandstand was featured in a Popular Mechanics article in 1922, Pheby went on to design band stands in numerous other cities around the country, using the same acoustical ideas, but with different architectural expressions on the outside. Several of these have survived, but the Phoenix Library Park bandstand was torn down in about 1960.
Phoenix’s Encanto Park was developed as a New Deal project starting in the mid-1930s. But as late as the Great Depression, parks were still expected to have bandstands, so one was included amongst the original park improvements. This one was built in the then popular Art Deco style, entirely of wood frame and stucco. [I actually had the pleasure of playing a summer-band concert in it in about 1977.] Unfortunately, the fragile structure did not quite make it to its 50th birthday, as it was burned down by arson on January 1, 1987.
Civic architecture has a lot to say about the values of people in a particular place and time. What I mean by this is that the choices of what gets built by government, and to what quality level, depend a lot on politicians’ perceptions of what people want, and what they’re willing to spend their money on.
The fact that the city chose to invest in these substantial buildings in support of public musical performances says a lot about what people valued, at least before World War II. But the world, and American culture, were changing quickly by then. Mass media brought high quality music to everyone at very low cost, and on demand. The rise of amplified music made the need for a bandshell obsolete. And so, every one of the structures described in this article slowly disappeared, with few noticing.
As we put the new incarnation of the Pioneer Band together, I would love to be able to re-create the feeling of what one of these concerts would’ve been like. But first, we’ll need to build a bandstand!
Does the idea of recreating music from this period of Phoenix history excite you? Do you play a wind or percussion instrument, or did you years ago? Then the NEW Phoenix Pioneer Band may e for you! Join us!