Mill Avenue

Tour curated by: Tempe Preservation Foundation, Thomas Black, Holly Solis

The Mill Avenue historic district reveals stories of the economic and social development of Tempe, including its formation around Hayden's Ferry. The commercial district connects us to the shifting terrains of agriculture, commercial development, and tourism that characterize the broader history of the Salt River Valley. The rapid growth of the region led to multiple periods of revising the landscape and re-imagining its future, as well as efforts to preserve the architectural heritage of Tempe and the valley.

Taking a closer look at Tempe’s downtown streetscape reveals much of this history: Tempe Butte carries the legacy of Hohokam civilization; the San Pablo Barrio shows the aspirations of early Hispanic settlers; the bridges and flour mill reveal Charles Hayden’s vision for an agricultural settlement that would be built in the churches, banks, warehouses, and businesses that popped up along Mill Avenue. Other structures, such as the Tempe Hardware Building and the Casa Loma Building tell us about the the efforts to preserve the historic streetscape of Tempe in the face of the urban redevelopment that swept the region in the 1970s. Ultimately, Mill Avenue provides a window into how Tempe has evolved, and also it reveals how tensions between preservation and development shaped post-war American cities more broadly.

Locations for Tour

Across from the old Hayden Flour Mill sits a building that was once known as the Tempe Bakery. The Hackett House is a fired red brick structure that still has almost all of its original material. This building was completed in 1888 and is actually…

Perhaps the most visited property in Tempe is the former home of Arizona's eighth governor Dr. Benjamin Baker Moeur. Since his arrival in Tempe,the physician's contributions to the community grew substantially and quickly. He began as a…

Garfield A. Goodwin moved to Tempe in 1888 and began his long-time commitment to Arizona State University and the revitalization of Tempe. As a student, Goodwin played on the Territorial Normal School's first football team. As an alumni, he…

The folks at the First Congregational Church boast that "our faith is 2000 years old but our thinking is not". They've so far paved the way for spiritual and individual acceptance in the city of Tempe. Their beginnings were humble. At…

When he was just 25 years old, Dwight “Red” Harkins founded Harkins Theatres and built the College Theatre in 1940 at the tail-end of the Great Depression. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Harkins was bound for Hollywood, with dreams of…

With its Victorian-style architecture this building is extremely reminiscent of a two-story saloon or boarding house straight out of an Old West novel. In reality, the building housed a drug store owned by Dr. J. A. Dines and Hugh Laird. They…

The thundering of horses' hooves are heard below Tempe Butte. A volunteer cavalry rolls into Mill Ave like something straight out of a Clint Eastwood Western. Although this may not have been a normal sight in Tempe, the Peterson building did see…

The Tempe Hardware Building’s story extends beyond the hammers, saws, and long pieces of plywood that were displayed on its first floor walls for 70 years between 1906 and 1976. The three-story brick commercial building is the last of its kind from…

The businessmen of Tempe opened up Tempe National Bank in 1901 to put the then small agricultural town on the map financially. Some stockholders included popular figures in Arizona history like Thanks Anderson, Carl Hayden, and Michael E. Curry among…

Although it may not look the part now, the Vienna Bakery building was built as a Victorian-style commercial store in 1893 by John S. Armstrong. Armstrong was postmaster in Tempe, president of the Farmers and Merchants Bank, and he introduced the…

Morphing from Victorian to Spanish Revival architecture, the Casa Loma Building is arguably the most changed building on Mill Avenue. An early hotel was constructed on the site in 1888 but was involved in a devastating fire in 1894. The building was…

It is a common sight to see someone sit and marvel at the Tempe Municipal Building’s architecture. The upside-down pyramid is a modern and edgy mash up of Egyptian and Mayan architecture. The eye-catching design sparks conversation, which is…

In the late 1880s, when horses pulled carts and delivered mail in Tempe, Mill Avenue was a nascent hub of commercial activity. What became known as the "Andre Block" was among the first buildings constructed along Mill Avenue. According to…
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