Filed Under Post War 1950s, 60s

Craftsman Court and Fifth Avenue

During the 1950s Craftsman Court and Fifth Avenue were the heart of Scottsdale’s robust and vibrant arts scene. This vibrancy was both cause and symptom of Scottsdale’s newly inaugurated status as a glamorous, tourist destination. National publications like Life Magazine and People and Places giddily enthused about the marvels fashioned by Scottsdale’s artists and craftspeople, and in 1957 Westways magazine boldly proclamation that Scottsdale had more artists per square block than any other American community.

For decades Scottsdale had attracted artists with its unique desert landscape and health-inducing dry heat (sure to burn away any lingering tubercular maladies), but immediately after World War II artists took on a new prominence within the community. These years witnessed the expansion of Scottsdale’s downtown, the installation of a host of new services and amenities, and the efforts of the chamber of commerce and a core group of local movers and shakers to craft a new, stylized image for Scottsdale as the “West’s most Western town.” While specialty retail shops proliferated in this environment of growth, so too did workspaces where the public could both watch artists and craftspeople at work and purchase their finely-wrought wares—which included mosaics, cut and polished gems, pottery, leatherwork, and hand-screened textiles.

The Arizona Craftsmen was one of the first of these establishments and its resident artists included leatherworker Lloyd Kiva New, wood-carver Phillips Sanderson, sculptor Mathilde Schaefer, painter Lew Davis, and silversmith Wesley Segner. The concept of a combined studio and shop was enormously popular with tourists and even former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt paid a visit to the Arizona Craftsmen. When the building burned down in 1950, the displaced artists purchased a parcel of land east of Scottsdale Road and just south of the Arizona Canal. They cut a road through the newly acquired land and named it Fifth Avenue after New York’s swanky shopping boulevard, but by 1955 they had outgrown their new workspace and moved just east to a new complex now known as Craftsman Court. Though this was far from being the only studio/shop open to the public, the complex’s modern design best reflected the artists’ philosophical approach to their work as they integrated the idioms of traditional Southwestern arts and crafts with modern fashion and design mediums.

Along Fifth Avenue, the establishment of unique boutiques stocked with luxurious handmade items solidified the town’s reputation as a shopping and tourist haven. The well-heeled ladies staying at Elizabeth Arden’s Maine Chance Spa would practically empty the arts and crafts shops of their inventory during the spa’s weekly outing. Fashion shows and special events brought new cache to the town and soon even the most exclusive stores in Beverly Hills and New York were only too happy to feature the Western-inflected designs of Scottsdale artists. By the close of the 1950s, the national prominence of Scottsdale’s artists and craftspeople and the popularity of Craftsman Court and Fifth Avenue helped create a new identity for the town—a glittering, fashionable, artistic, and distinctly Western identity.

Audio

Handmade is Better A Scottsdale business owner recalls the flourishing arts and crafts scene in mid-century Scottsdale. Based on information from a transcribed interview with Erne Wittels, the custom perfumer of Fifth Avenue. Written by Amy T. Long; narrated by Mike Gaybart. Recorded at Scottsdale Channel 11; courtesy of the Papago Salado Association.
The Roosevelt Visit A fictional sound portrait evokes the setting of Scottsdale's Arizona Craftsman Council--where artist's opened their studios to the public and sold their work in the 1940s. The original building burned down in 1950 and reopened at a new location: at the intersection of Scottsdale Road and Fifth Avenue. In 1955, it moved to the present Craftsman Court. This story is partly based on details recorded by Eleanor Roosevelt in her March 22, 1946 syndicated "My Day" newspaper column; she recounted the highlights of her visit to the craft stores in Scottsdale. Written by Amy T. Long; narrated by Sam Campana. Recorded at Scottsdale Channel 11; courtesy of the Papago Salado Association.

Images

Fifth Avenue Fashion Show, ca. 1957
Fifth Avenue Fashion Show, ca. 1957 During the 1950s, Fifth Avenue was home to a vibrant fashion scene and hosted fashion shows for the benefit of the well-to-do tourist set on most Saturdays throughout the winter months. These shows, most of which were organized and narrated by artist Lloyd Kiva New, featured local models wearing the most en mode examples of Scottsdale haute couture. Less affluent residents had the chance to snag these coveted pieces at the annual blow-out sale known as the Thieves' Market. Image courtesy of Scottsdale Historical Society, Scottsdale Public Library. Source: Scottsdale Historical Society, Scottsdale Public Library
Shops at Fifth Avenue
Shops at Fifth Avenue Each curve of the Fifth Avenue shopping district beckons pedestrians to follow it in pursuit of ever more luxurious and specialized shops. This is not by accident, but by design and it is the result of the careful, retail-friendliness that defined the town planning ethos of 1950s Scottsdale. The area's shaded arcades and curvilinear streets adapted to the contours of the Arizona canal make it unique in the Phoenix area. Image courtesy of Scottsdale Historical Society, Scottsdale Public Library. Source: Scottsdale Historical Society, Scottsdale Public Library
Craftsman Court, ca. late 1950s
Craftsman Court, ca. late 1950s Designed by T. S. Montgomery, Craftsman Court features modern architecture "with an Old West accent." This architecture echoes the sensibilities of the artists who occupied the complex and sought to integrate traditional arts and crafts techniques and motifs with contemporary design mediums. Image courtesy of Scottsdale Public Library. Source: Scottsdale Public Library
Artist's at Work
Artist's at Work Scottsdale tourists reveled in the novelty of being able to watch artists at work and then purchase their wares and they found the fact that the items they bought were handmade particularly refreshing. It was the tourists' delight in the handmade and unique that made the specialty shops all along Fifth Avenue flourish. However, Scottsdale's reliance on tourists also meant that the downtown emptied out considerably when tourist season ended. Image courtesy of Scottsdale Historical Society, Scottsdale Public Library, Source: Scottsdale Historical Society, Scottsdale Public Library

Location

Metadata

Amy Long, “Craftsman Court and Fifth Avenue,” Salt River Stories, accessed June 24, 2024, https://saltriverstories.org/items/show/14.