But this was not just another day. Decorations fluttered in a light winter breeze along Washington Street on this special Valentine’s Day, but the patriotic theme moved Cupid to the shadows.
Anticipation built throughout the chilly Wednesday morning, temperatures rising slowly with the excitement. Everyone could feel it in the air, an electricity that was almost tangible as crowds gathered downtown to celebrate.
It wasn’t long before a thunderous roar boomed from central Phoenix as if the energy could no longer be contained. There was another explosion, and another, shaking the very bones of those in attendance.
The cannon fire continued from City Hall Plaza at First Avenue and Jefferson Street, each blast as loud as the one before. Windows rattled and seemed on the verge of breaking. More worrisome were the horses, so skittish that riders struggled to keep them under control.
When some men were thrown from their saddles, officials ordered the cannon silenced, leaving it 10 shots short of the planned 48.
The state of Arizona was just a few hours old, and already things were not going as planned.
On Wednesday, Feb. 14, 1912, Phoenix residents awoke to a banner headline in The Arizona Republican: “The 48th State Steps Into the Union Today.”
The 12-page newspaper — filled with ads touting everything from cars to undergarments to cure-all ointments — was dedicated to an event years in the making.
Taking the newspaper from their doorsteps, delivered via bike in the pre-dawn hours, residents flipped on electric lights to read about the day’s events.
President William Taft was to sign the proclamation at 8 (Arizona time) that morning, followed by the inauguration of Gov. George W.P. Hunt, who insisted he would walk from Seventh Avenue along Washington to the Capitol, rather than be driven in his “luxurious benzine buggy,” a rather expensive horseless carriage that often drew criticism from the populace.
After the inauguration, townspeople would return to downtown for an afternoon parade along Washington Street, draped in American flags as well as red, white and blue bunting. The parade was to include three bands, horsemen, Spanish War veterans, children and automobiles.
The day would conclude with the Inaugural Ball at the Hotel Adams, one of downtown’s most ornate wooden structures, soaring four stories with balconies running along each floor.
The weather was statehood-welcoming perfect, with clear skies and a high in the mid-70s. The railroads commissioned extra passenger cars to bring in the thousands of visitors from Tucson, Prescott and Flagstaff. Electric streetcars also were busy, filled with those who lived nearly four miles away in such growing subdivisions at Kenilworth and Orangewood.
Those living downtown had access to all the modern conveniences, from indoor plumbing to electricity. Wells provided more than enough drinking water. About one in five residents had a telephone, but most ignored the device simply because there just wasn’t anyone to call.
But venture past downtown’s borders — Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue to the east and west, and north from the railroad tracks to Van Buren Street — and such amenities were rare.
The desert had been partially tamed though an intricate network of canals and irrigation ditches. Citrus orchards were as common to the landscape as saguaros. On smaller plots of land, farmers grew a variety of fruits and vegetables to sell locally, loading their wagons each morning for a trip to one of Phoenix’s many small downtown grocery stores.
If they needed supplies while in town, residents would visit one of Phoenix’s three department stores: Diamond’s Boston Store, Korrick’s or Goldwater’s. Larger than mercantile stores, the three carried just about everything, from hardware to apparel to canned goods, arranging items by departments so customers could easily find what they needed.
Between agriculture, small businesses and the rapidly expanding railroad, Phoenix was thriving as it entered the national spotlight on Feb. 14, 1912. Few cared that it was not Arizona’s largest city. Tucson had 13,193 residents, according to the 1910 U.S. census, to Phoenix’s 11,134.
Waking up as residents of Arizona’s territorial capital, and knowing they would be going to sleep that night as residents of Arizona’s state capital, had the city electric with anticipation.
But the day meant even more to a young couple who waited patiently in a downtown church, ready to match the milestone event with one of their own.
Timing a wedding
At 8:02 a.m., Joe Melzer and Hazel Goldberg could have said, “I do,” thus becoming the state of Arizona’s first wedded couple.
Instead they waited for official word. The two had been planning this for months, entering their new lives together just as Arizona entered statehood. They were in no rush.
As Taft finished the signing in Washington, with three motion-picture cameras capturing the moment, the news was sent toward Arizona via telegraph.
It took 55 minutes for word to finally reach Phoenix, arriving at the main telegraph station at the railroad depot. Among those awaiting official word was a boy or young man entrusted with one thing — alert members of the wedding as soon as possible.
Though no official record exists, the wedding’s representative likely pushed his way out of the crowd (for many were there to spread the word on the street), hopped on a bike and headed to the church.
The ceremony began as soon as word was received. Melzer and Goldberg exchanged vows, and soon he slipped onto her finger the ring presented to him by the 3-year-old ring bearer, Barry Goldwater.
At the western end of downtown, a crowd had gathered around George W.P. Hunt in front of the Ford Hotel at Seventh Avenue and Washington Street.
There, less than a mile away, they could see the Capitol at the end of Washington.
The 5-foot-9, nearly 300-pound Hunt took his first steps along the unpaved road, spectators in tow. He likely paused briefly as he encountered the irrigation ditches that ran along many streets, balancing along the wooden planks that allowed passage.
While unsightly, the ditches were key to Phoenix’s growth, as were the canals to which they were connected. They carried water essential to the area’s farms and ranches, as agriculture drove the area’s economy. The canals served a dual purpose in summers when residents struggled with the heat. Families would gather along the banks, particularly where shade trees had been planted years earlier, allowing visitors to gather under the protective canopy of leaves.
The canals were not nearly as popular as Phoenix Park (now Eastlake Park) on the eastern edge of town. The park and its tree-lined lake were built at 16th and Washington streets to lure people on board a tram line, and it would draw hundreds daily during the summer.
Swimming was merely a temporary respite from the searing heat. Each summer day presented another challenge to stay cool. The arsenal included wet sheets hung over windows, fans, blocks of ice and nightfall.
At night, residents spread blankets under the stars, hoping for the relief that would ride in on every breeze. Tourists would do the same, taking advantage of the sleeping porches offered by a handful of hotels downtown. But in the end, summer always won, until it was tamed years later by evaporative coolers and beaten into submission by air-conditioning.
Governor reaches Capitol
Roughly 55 minutes after taking his first steps on the first statehood day, George W.P. Hunt arrived at the state Capitol, by that time leading a patient procession of 200 people, some in wagons and cars, others on foot for the 1½-mile walk.
In a brown suit with a white carnation attached to the lapel, a pocketwatch dangling from his vest pocket, and his pants sharply creased, Hunt frequently wiped the sweat from his brow as he sauntered along the sidewalk, leading the impromptu parade.
Unlike downtown Phoenix, which was draped in patriotic bunting, the Capitol building was unadorned. But the new state of Arizona flag flew high for all to see.
Hunt entered the portico, where he stood with Alfred Franklin, who’d been sworn in 90 minutes earlier as Arizona Supreme Court chief justice.
Just seconds before noon, Hunt took the oath of office in front of family, friends and those in the midst of job changes (territorial officials were on their way out, replaced by state officeholders).
After a brief inaugural address, Hunt entered the executive chambers and the 200 or so people in attendance lined up to shake the new governor’s hand. He greeted them one after another, until the last hand was wrung, and then went about his first official gubernatorial act: receiving the keys to the building.
As the crowd departed for downtown Phoenix, where statehood festivities would soon begin, Hunt settled behind his desk, took out a pen and signed a notarial commission — his first official signature as state governor.
Cleveland Thompson had waited weeks for the document, and Hunt insisted on meeting the man who was so patient in receiving the notary that now was more souvenir than paperwork.
Before long, it was time for Hunt to return to downtown Phoenix, this time in the comfort of his motor coach.
Cars were expensive
Cars were still a novelty at the time, and limited to 10 mph on city streets, so odds are good the new state governor had much of Washington Street to himself, perhaps encountering a wagon or two.
The cost of automobiles was prohibitive. Mitchell cars, advertised nearly every day in The Arizona Republican at the time, ranged from $1,100 to $2,400, which was more than what some homes cost, particularly homes ordered from the Sears-Roebuck catalog that arrived via boxcar with materials and instructions.
Many residents relied on electric streetcars, which were horse-drawn when first built about 20 years earlier. Two main lines ran along Third and 10th streets, which ran about 2½ miles north through farmland to the city’s recently built subdivisions.
Those living in the rather posh Kenilworth or Los Olivos subdivisions might well board an evening streetcar to catch a play at one of the many theaters downtown. Commercial radio was still a decade away, so entertainment largely consisted of live theater or silent movies (often called “photo plays”).
At the Elks Theatre at Third Avenue and Washington Street, those taking a break from the statehood celebration could have seen the play “The White Sister” for no more than $2. The Empress was hosting “The Lights and Shadows of Chinatown,” and tickets to the photo play were 10 and 20 cents.
And so, as he returned to downtown Phoenix on Feb. 14, Gov. Hunt was living in a more organized, more sedate city ready to step into the spotlight.
As night descended upon the newest state, thousands gathered in and around the Hotel Adams, where the governor was to preside over his inaugural ball.
Celebrated orator William Jennings Bryan, who just happened to be visiting Arizona at the time, delivered the keynote speech in City Hall Plaza, speaking for two hours without the benefit of a microphone.
But now, with official duties dispatched and celebratory moods taking hold, it was time to let loose.
Police estimated that between 5,000 and 8,000 revelers filled downtown Phoenix, and the party lasted well into the night. There was dancing and singing as a band played on the hotel’s balcony.
When it was finally over, celebrants returned to their homes by buckboard, streetcar, horse, automobile, and by all accounts slept soundly as the first full day of statehood continued quietly through the early-morning hours.
Much of the information for this story came from coverage of statehood day in The Arizona Republican on Feb. 14 and 15, 1912. Additional information came from the book “Desert Visions and the Making of Phoenix, 1860-2009″ by Philip Vander Meer, and from interviews with Marshall Trimble, official state historian, and Vincent Murray, historian from Arizona Historical Research.