Chandler Boulevard

Separated by decades of toil and progress, it is hard to imagine our familiar home of Chandler, Arizona, as being anything other than suburbia. Where we now see multi- million dollar housing developments, six-lane roads and strip malls, once existed nothing but dirt, tumbleweeds and the lonely Sonoran desert. Through the ingenuity of its founder, the hard work of its citizens, and more than a fair share of luck, this unremarkable patch of ground was transformed from arid nothingness into one of the fastest-growing and most affluent communities in the West, in a space of less than a century. There are landmarks all around the city that tell of its birth and growth; monuments of cement and stucco that hold the tale of the thousands who have called this city home. History is in the storefronts we walk by, the schools in which we study, and even the roads we drive on daily.

In the spring of 1912, a new township was created in the sun-baked desert several miles south of the already established Mesa, Arizona. This new community, referred to as Chandler Ranch, consisted solely of a handful of shacks and dirt roads. The founder, Dr. A.J. Chandler, had big plans for his burgeoning town site, however. A student of agriculture, Chandler knew that in order for any population to flourish in the desert heat, the land must be properly irrigated. Hoping to defray the cost of the venture and to sidestep regulations allotting only 160 acres worth of irrigation water, the doctor settled on subdividing his sizeable holdings and forming the township. Papers were drawn up, and on May 17, 1912, Chandler was founded. The fledgling town would not become an official incorporation until eight years later, when the population eclipsed one thousand.

The founder, Dr. A.J. Chandler, was born and educated in Quebec, Canada. Chandler arrived in the Arizona Territory in the summer of 1891, being assigned to the territory as its first veterinary surgeon. Chandler soon became embroiled in a number of investments in the area and later purchased his first eighty acres of land. That eighty acres would soon climb to a dizzying eighteen thousand, and so the groundwork was laid for the future Chandler town site.

Dr. Chandler became one of the largest single land owners in the Arizona Territory, and with his wealth, initiated a great many projects and established numerous business ventures. In 1913, Chandler opened the San Marcos hotel close to the city-center of Chandler. For the design, Chandler turned to Arthur Burnett Benton, who was becoming a name of some fame in designs incorporating the “mission revival” style. Built to attract wealthy tourists to the area and serve as a demonstration of viability to visiting potential investors, the hotel quickly became a landmark of the recently established town, and later, Arizona itself. In the early 1920’s, Chandler formed plans along with famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright to construct another San Marcos Hotel – The San Marcos of the Desert. Plans fell through, however, due to the great depression enveloping the nation.

At the city’s inception, the arterials leading to and from the site were little more than farmers' paths, a far cry from the freeways and multi-lane ordeals we have come to terms with today. In fact, the major form of transportation to neighboring cities was not by road at all, but by the Eastern Railroad. Travel within the township was mostly accomplished on foot, or by carriage. Motor cars would not become evident in the area until the mid 1920s, as they were simply too expensive to be obtainable by the average agrarian who made up the majority of Chandler’s population.

In the time before the Second World War, the major thoroughfares in the town were the north/south running Arizona Avenue and the east/west aligned Cleveland Road. Cleveland Road quickly became synonymous with Chandler, as the town’s center and major landmarks were all constructed along it. Major sites of the day included the city center with its lush “central park,” San Marcos hotel and the Cleveland School. While both buildings were known for their architecture, they were also enormously important to the community. Until further facilities were built, Cleveland School served as not only the elementary school for the area, but also hosted high school classes as well, not retiring that duality until Chandler High School was constructed on Arizona Avenue in 1922.

Named for the former U.S. President, Cleveland Road connected Chandler with Phoenix proper to the west and allowed citizens easy access between the populous East side of town and the more commercial West. Conversely, Arizona Avenue connected the area to Mesa in the north and promptly and unceremoniously ended to the south.

Both of the major roads saw significant change in the early 1940s. The State of Arizona proposed State Route 87 in 1940, which if accepted, would overtake Arizona Avenue and continue south down toward Casa Grande and farther, into Tucson. Citizens of the young city were rightly incensed about the proposal, as it effectively cut their public park in half! While aesthetically the plan was a wreck, the commercial and practical concerns outweighed any outcries and the plan was soon ratified. The new SR87/Arizona Avenue rapidly became massively important for the growing settlement as it provided a straight-shot down from the North of the state to Mesa’s plentiful farmlands and the mining territory of Tucson to the South. Chandler’s own farmers now had easy access to markets both near and far. Furthermore, Chandler became a popular spot for a rest, the legacy of that time existing in the numerous motels still operating along Arizona Avenue.

In early 1941, the United States Army Air corps drafted plans to construct a training facility East of the town. Williams Field was completed in October of that year and Cleveland Road was renamed Williams Field Road in inauguration. The road, which was extended to reach the airfield, also became a major point of travel between the town of Gilbert to the East and Chandler. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States found itself embroiled in war and Williams Field Road found itself becoming increasingly important. Due to the location of the airbase, the road found itself a recipient of government funding. Improvements to the road included a series of signs, widening in some areas (to accommodate military trucks) and new paving.

In 1950, Dr. Chandler, the visionary who had begun the community forty years prior, served as its first mayor and shaped much of its early destiny, died peacefully of age-related complications. The year of his death also marked the date that Chandler had doubled in population, being officially upgraded to a city four years later. The decades following the war were bountiful for the new city, Chandler expanded outward to its borders and purchased additional land to the South to accommodate new growth. While farming and agriculture still played a serious role in the local economy, Chandler was beginning to see the first embers of what later would earn it the nickname of “Silicon Desert”; high-tech firms and manufacturing interests began to spring up raising the average median income and level of education of the city to a plane surpassing any of its closer neighbors.

In the mid 1970’s, the city of Chandler was undergoing a revitalization process, designed to inject new life and growth into the area. Among the projects which were undertaken, a remodeling of the city complex and the renaming of Williams Field Road were the most visible. At first, citizens were opposed to the renaming, citing that a change would make navigation difficult and also expressing a desire to preserve the historical significance of the road. Initial misgivings later gave way to a renewed sense of civic pride, however, as the road was re-christened into Chandler Boulevard in 1988. Serving as the main thoroughfare servicing the center of the city, Chandler Boulevard is trod and driven upon daily by thousands and still contains the city’s landmarks along its sides.

While it might not be in the forefront in the minds of the city’s residents, the history of the city is all around us, evident in even the most commonplace of things. For example, the trees themselves that line Chandler Boulevard were years in the growing and all were a part of the plan devised by Dr. Chandler so many years ago. The city and streets may have changed cosmetically, and there may be more now than the doctor ever envisioned, but his idea of Chandler remains. His vision for a beautiful, oasis in the desert lives on today, stronger than ever.

By Joshua Ross, Austin Rudick & Patrick Ortiz