History of the North Central Corridor
"... Streets meander around mature shade trees and carpets of well-kept grass. This scene may be typical of our downtown neighborhoods, but it’s in sharp contrast to the rest of the valley...."
Development of the Central Avenue area began in 1895 when William J. Murphy platted the Orangewood subdivision. This two-square mile area bounded by what are now Northern Avenue and Bethany Home Road, between 7th Avenue and 7th Street was promoted as the Orangewood Residential Village. Murphy’s concept about Orangewood was to create a suburb of Phoenix “wherein might be established rural homes at an easy distance from the city.” He believed that the large lot size would attract upper income residents of Phoenix, wealthy outside investors and immigrants who would utilize the lots to build large estate homes surrounded by citrus groves.
The subdivision was divided primarily into 20-acre size lots with Central Avenue extending through the property as the subdivision’s principal roadway. Olive and ash trees were added along both sides ofCentral Avenue with citrus trees from Southern California planted on the interior portions to make the subdivision more attractive to new investors and homeowners. The exclusivity of Orangewood was evident in that at the turn of the 19th century, the Central Arizona Driving Association arranged to haveCentral Avenue deeded as a “driving street” for property owners to drive their horse-drawn buggies. There was even a separate path on the east side of Central Avenue for horses and riders only.
Keeping with the rural agricultural estate concept established by Murphy, J.M. Evans platted and recorded Evans’ Addition to Orangewood in 1897. Located directly south of Orangewood, Evans’ Addition was bounded by Bethany Home Road to the north, Camelback Road to the south, and 7th Street and 7th Avenue to the east and west. The addition featured four large neighborhood blocks divided further into 20 smaller blocks.
Key Events in Development of the North Central Avenue area:
- 1895 – Orangewood Subdivision platted by William J. Murphy.
- 1897 – Evans’ Addition to Orangewood platted by J.M. Evans.
- 1895-1910 – Central Avenue maintained by the Central Avenue Driving Association as a private road.
- 1910 – Maricopa County Board of Supervisors declared Central Avenue a public highway.
- 1911-42 – Orangewood and Evans’ Addition were subdivided into smaller five to fifteen acre tracts.
- 1920s – Central Avenue paved with concrete as a 22-foot wide roadway.
- 1941 – Last of the original Orangewood lots were sold.
- 1940’s – North Central Avenue characterized by suburban homesites on large, landscaped garden lots with substantial homes and estates.
- 1945-50’s – During the post World War II housing boom, large lots were further subdivided and developed with ranch style homes.
- 1948 – The horse path on the east side of Central Avenue officially named by the Arizona Horse Lovers Club as “Murphy’s Maricopa Bridle Path.”
- 1951 – Maricopa County Board of Supervisors extended the Bridle Path from the Arizona Canal to Camelback Road. Road widening in later years returned the terminus to Bethany Home Road.
- 1959 – North Central Avenue area annexed into the city of Phoenix.
- 1963 – Aleppo pines were planted to replace the original ash trees on Central Avenue.
- 1963 – Phoenix City Council rejected plans to bury the SRP irrigation lateral and widen the street declaring that Central Avenue should remain unchanged with its parkway character and the bridle path on the east side.
- 1972 – Responding to neighborhood objections, the Aleppo pines were replaced with ash trees. These trees still remain.
- 1977 – City Council Resolution 14895 was passed stating that the Bridle Path shall not be paved over with concrete or asphalt for new driveways to the residences.
- 1991-93 – Original William H. Brophy Estate, one of the last ten acre parcels in North Central Avenue area, redeveloped as La Reserve, a 36-unit gated residential project.
The architectural diversity of North Central Avenue contrasts with the uniform architecture found in newer developments being built throughout the city. Central Avenue homes display a unique collection of architectural styles that use a wide range of building materials, textures and colors. Custom homes, some dating back to the early 1900’s, are interspersed throughout the area. These reflect the original owners’ personal styles, the building periods and development trends, or mimic architectural styles found in other parts of the country.
Central Avenue and the Murphy Bridle Path
Central Avenue and the Murphy Bridle Path share in the history of the neighborhood. North Central Avenue has been a tree-lined street from the early days of providing an avenue for the Central AvenueDriving Club to today’s major arterial street from downtown Phoenix to the Sunnyslope area. From Bethany Home to Northern Avenue, the street has four lanes of travel without a center turn lane. Rows of Olive and Ash trees line both sides of its right-of-way with the Murphy Bridle Path on the east, and a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation irrigation lateral on the west. The Salt River Project maintains the irrigationlateral. The pavement edges taper to the landscape edges on either side of the street, and there are no curbs or paved sidewalks in the right-of-way, except at street intersections.
The Olive trees (Olea europaea) that line Central Avenue are located outside of the public right-of-way on private property. These are the original trees planted by Murphy when the original Orangewood Subdivision was platted. They lend both a historic value and character to the neighborhood and were planted sometime between 1905-1910. (Note: There are only two varieties of almost pollenless and fruitless olive trees that can now be legally grown in Arizona: Olea europaea ‘Wilson’s Fruitless’ or Olea europaea’s ‘Swan Hill.’ Nurseries in Arizona are prohibited from growing or selling olive trees that produce pollen and bear fruit.)
The Arizona Ash trees (Fraxinus velutina) located in the street right-of-way are not the original trees. The original ash trees planted in the early 1900s were replaced by Aleppo pines in 1963. These in turn were replaced by new ash trees in 1972 because the pines were not favored by the residents. Today, most of the ash trees are mature with large canopies. Those removed due to stress or disease have again been replaced with new ash trees.
The Murphy Bridle Path begins at Bethany Homes Road and ends two and half miles north at the Arizona Canal. It is a well-graded pedestrian and bicycling trail approximately 10-feet wide, located between ash and olive trees. Pavement intersects the trail only where streets and some driveways cross the path. Most adjacent property owners have not paved driveways across it in favor of keeping the path in a natural state. The bridle path has been a recreational path and landmark of North CentralPhoenix for over 100 years.
The irrigation lateral, dating back to when Murphy first brought water to this area, remains an active lateral providing water to the irrigated residential lots in the North Central area. The lateral is located between the ash and olive trees, and in some locations it remains an open ditch with natural or concrete edges. Driveway bridges provide access to the residences in these areas.
In other sections along Central Avenue, the lateral has been piped and is not visible. A June 2002, valley-wide survey by SRP identified the Central Avenue lateral as one of the oldest irrigation laterals in the city worthy of preservation due to the historical context of where it is located as well as its public visibility, its condition, stable land uses surrounding it and other criteria.
Excerpted from North Central Avenue Special Planning District, 2004.
Courtesy of the City of Phoenix, Planning Department
200 West Washington Street
Phoenix, AZ 85003