While the Old West may indeed live, as romantics like to say it does, beyond its 19thcentury origins, one thing’s certain:
It sure didn’t have three-story condos.
That fact was lost on the Scottsdale City Council Tuesday. It unnecessarily agreed to decide for itself whether plans to renovate a building near Scottsdale and Indian School roads to become “condos upstairs, retail downstairs” have enough yippee-eye-oh.
The council agreed to rehear a city board’s decision about the design of the building, 4020 N. Scottsdale Road, to make sure that it looks enough like others in Old Town.
What the other buildings look like — in essence, Scottsdale’s first zoning act — is a modern re - creation that occurred in the last half of the 20th century. It isn’t a preservation of the last half of the 19th. When visionaries decided in the late 1940s that the small town’s center should have Old West architecture, their model wasn’t the actual Old West, but the Hollywood version of it that dominated popular American movies at the time.
That decision created a hugely successful focal point for tourists, although it wasn’t the real thing. As such, the time-honored design standard the council wants to uphold with the 4020 building is neither Wyatt Earp nor Kit Carson, but Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers.
Despite Old Town’s fairly rigorous adherence to the West according to Warner Bros., several buildings have gone up near what is now the 4020 building that didn’t even fit the Hollywood version.
In the 1990s, street lights, benches, trash receptacles and other decorations along two blocks of Main Street west of Scottsdale Road were redone in “Miami Vice”-like pastels and palm trees to the point where local critics nicknamed it “Don Johnson Boulevard.”
A building housing today’s Billet Bar and an accompanying motorcycle store at Second Street and Scottsdale Road presents a cool homage to California-ized art deco. But cowboy, it isn’t.
Next door to the 4020 building is a Starbucks. John Wayne never uttered, “Barkeep! A half-caff latte!”
And the 4020 building itself has stood for two decades, most of the time bathed in a disquieting purple stucco, to be sure. But visitors still came to Old Town and spent lots of money there the whole time — with no apparent loss of Old West magic. Yee-hah.
Before the council stepped in, the city Development Review Board had approved the new building and was working with the project applicant on its final look. Presumably it is being marketed to urban professionals, not prairie cattlemen, but no matter: This council loves to micromanage, so the drama will continue on Aug. 29.
Bring plenty of popcorn, little wranglers.