If Chandler remains largely anonymous outside the East Valley, that’s its own bad luck. True, young families are colonizing the area like ants on French toast, but homesteaders shouldn’t dismiss the city, which once lured the likes of Clark Gable and Frank Lloyd Wright, as another grid of subdivisions.
If you’re new to the East Valley, out of the loop, or you’ve just grown forgetful in the sun, here’s a User’s Guide to Chandler:
PETULA CLARK WAS RIGHT!
Any appreciation of Chandler begins in the shady colonnades of the Downtown Historic District (Chandler Boulevard and Arizona Avenue). City founder Dr. A.J. Chandler was an admirer and a friend of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Both men believed that good cities grew from a nucleus of well-crafted buildings and parks.
Perhaps that’s why, in a region not known for walking-tour attractions, Chandler’s downtown square matches Old Town Scottsdale for its variety of things to do, see and eat. Start at Brunchies, 17 E. Boston St., (480) 899-5036, a family-friendly breakfast spot that will make you feel like you’re eating the food out of a Norman Rockwell painting, then walk off those eggs at the Vision Gallery, 80 S. San Marcos Place, (480) 917-6859, a captivating stop that lures you with everything you’d expect from Arizona artists (cowboy paintings, nature photography) and leads you to everything you don’t (landscapes rendered in fabric, mixed media sculptures, exotic blown glass).
A few steps past trendy watering holes, like the wine bar 98 South, 98 S. San Marcos Place, (480) 814-9800, or the acclaimed patio of El Zócalo Mexican Grille, 28 S. San Marcos Place, (480) 722-0303, the elegant fountains, whitewashed patios and jazz-era lines of the San Marcos Resort, 1 S. San Marcos Place, (480) 812-0900, quickly assert the city’s pedigree.
Dr. Chandler’s namesake city sprang from timely irrigation and grew on a diet of milking cows, ostrich feathers (chic in the 1920s) and golf. In its heyday, notables like Clark Gable and Bing Crosby prowled the halls of the San Marcos Resort between rounds on the golf course. Lobby kiosks allow observers to step into days gone by. Anchored by a touching memorial to founding families, the area combines with the nearby Chandler Historical Museum, 178 E. Commonwealth Ave., (480) 782-2717, and the Arizona Railway Museum, 399 N. Delaware St., (480) 821-1108, to keep the city’s history close to its heart.
As they spin away from its innovative core, Chandler’s streets grow more bland and gridlike, but jewels still lurk between the lines: The Snedigar Sports Complex, 4500 S. Basha Road, (480) 782-2646, is a skater Mecca, with a contortionist’s repertoire of ramps and rails; if the skating, swimming at the Hamilton Aquatic Center, 3838 S. Arizona Ave., (480) 782-2630, or holding serve at the Chandler Tennis Center, 2250 S. McQueen Road, (480) 782-2650, leaves you peckish, Cyclo Restaurant, 1919 W. Chandler Blvd., (480) 963-4490, offers tasty Vietnamese cuisine and Pita Jungle, 1949 W. Ray Road, (480) 855-3232, is a local standard-bearer for Mediterranean fare. "COULD IT BE ANY MORE
The one-time home of ostrich farms and cattle cars is quickly changing its profile to reflect the many young families who buy homes here, turn their toddlers loose on the play area at Chandler Fashion Center, 3111 W. Chandler Blvd. (at Loop 101), and book passage on the tiny railway at Desert Breeze Park, McClintock Drive and Desert Breeze Parkway. Chandler’s attractions and amenities rarely stray to the edgy or exotic. That’s what Vegas is for. People love Blue Man Group — but who wants them as neighbors?
Don’t let the bedroom community gloss fool you. Chandler has a character that is agreeably weird. This is a place that celebrates Christmas around an oversized tumbleweed. This is a community that looks upon an ostrich and wonders: "How fast can that baby go?" This is a city that gathers every spring to deliberate on which lucky Chihuahuas should walk away as king and queen of the Cinco de Mayo Festival. If it all sounds a little "had to be there," well, that’s another way of saying "style."
Chandler may not be for everyone, but it does retain some of the precious, distinct style that today’s planned communities crow about but rarely display. You do have to be there. So go there, and see.