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Gilbert Road Station

Farming East Mesa

Three canals still intersecting Main Street highway were the lifeblood of the farms and ranches that once spanned tens of thousands of acres in east Mesa. The Consolidated, cutting across Main Street just east of Gilbert Road, was built by Dr. A. J. Chandler in 1891. About two miles east of the Consolidated is the Eastern Canal, reaching Gilbert, completed in 1908. In 1920, a group of landowners formed the Roosevelt Water Conservation District (RWCD). Through a contract with the Salt River Valley Water Users (today's SRP) they built the Roosevelt roughly two miles east of the Eastern. It reached Higley.

Large portions of east Mesa farmland were once known as the frost-less or frost-free citrus belt. A combination of factors, including elevation and airflow, made this area more resistant to freezing than most other areas in the Salt River Valley. Tremendous citrus production, along with date palms groves and other crops generated numerous roadside stands that sold fresh produce to passing motorists traveling along Main Street. Although beginning to fragment, significant farmland remained until the 1970s when development began reducing citrus groves and alfalfa fields. By the late 1980s most of the Main Street corridor’s once-thriving farming industry had disappeared.

One of Main Street’s most unusual attractions opened in the early 1950s when Jack Adam invited tourists to his “Jack Adam's Alligator Farm” on Main Street and Lindsay – next door to the Starlite Motel (home of the Diving Lady). Adam raised alligators along with a variety of other reptiles like boa constrictors and rattlesnakes. He wrestled alligators, put on feeding-frenzy displays with dead chickens. And in 1955 stumped the “What’s My Line” panel. When the park closed in 1963 some Mesa High School students “liberated” a number of small gators. A few wound up in canals, inspiring a continuing local legend.

Beginning in 1958 with Dreamland Villa, a new type of residential development geared towards 55+ adults emerged along Main Street. In 1962, Velda Rose debuted north of Main Street just northwest of the Buckhorn Baths – stretching north beyond University Drive. The new, retirement concept was not just simple ranch homes. It also included diverse commercial ventures like Dave Morgan’s Velda Rose Motel and Mineral Baths at 5700 East Main established to compete with the nearby Buckhorn, golf course, shopping center, Velda Rose United Methodist Church and Velda Rose Drive-In movie theater at the SE corner of Recker and Main.

Images

Building the Consolidated Canal
Building the Consolidated Canal Dr. A. J. Chandler built the Consolidated Canal that cuts across Main Street in Mesa, just east of Gilbert Road. Source: United States Bureau of Reclamation Date: 1891
Frost-free Citrus Belt
Frost-free Citrus Belt A combination of factors, including elevation and airflow, made this area more resistant to freezing than most other areas in the Salt River Valley. Source: Mesa Preservation Foundation Date: n.d.
Hi-Jolly Date Gardens
Hi-Jolly Date Gardens In 1948, Max and Della Skolnick leased a citrus and date ranch from John P. Babcock at 4500 E. Main Street giving birth to Hi-Jolly Date Gardens, which became a major roadside attraction. Into the 21st century, the store remained a reminder of post-war American car culture, agriculture, and wide-open spaces on the Apache Trail and the Mesa Tempe Highway. Source: Mesa Preservation Foundation Date: ca. 1965
Welcome to Mesa
Welcome to Mesa Postcard welcoming tourists to Mesa, as part of the Apache Trail and Highways that flowed along Main Street (Highways 60-70-80-89.) Source: Mesa Preservation Foundation Creator: Lollegard Specialty Company, Curt Teich Date: 1951
Jack Adam's Alligator Farm
Jack Adam's Alligator Farm In the early 1950s when Jack Adam invited tourists to his farm at Main Street and Lindsay – next door to the Starlite Motel. Adam raised alligators and wrestled alligators, put on feeding-frenzy displays with dead chickens. Source: Mesa Preservation Foundation Date: ca. 1960
Sands Drive-In
Sands Drive-In A single-screen theater with a 400-car capacity (at $1.25 per carload), the Sands delighted outdoor movie-goers until 1972 when it closed to make way for the larger, 700-car Velda Rose Drive-Inn that opened nearby. Source: Deborah Nelson Date: ca. 1955
Starlite Motel
Starlite Motel In the 1950s, motels, trailer courts, and small housing developments began popping up along Main Street between Gilbert and Lindsey where previously there were only hay fields and citrus groves. One of those businesses was the Starlite Motel opened in 1958 by Kansas brothers Bud & Dick Kaesler who hired graphic artist Stanley Russon and master signmaker Paul Millet to create an animated neon sign to set the Starlite and its swimming pool apart from the other motels beckoning travelers. Source: Mesa Preservation Foundation Date: ca. 1955
Buckhorn Baths
Buckhorn Baths Just east of the old Roosevelt Water Conservation District Canal on Main Street sits one of Mesa’s most unique and important historic icons. The Buckhorn Baths named for the hot mineral springs deep beneath it, was a health spa and motel created by Ted and Alice Sliger. The Buckhorn began in 1936 as a gas station, tourist stop and wildlife museum. The spa opened in 1939 after the discovery of a hot mineral spring. Its healthful waters attracted star baseball players, first the New York Giants and later the Chicago Cubs helping spur the start of the Cactus League. The spa closed in 1999. Source: Mesa Preservation Foundation Date: ca. 1960
Velda Rose Entertainment Complex
Velda Rose Entertainment Complex In 1962, Dave Morgan built the Velda Rose, which started as a 40-acre project, east of 62nd Street between University Drive and Main Street. Along with retirement homes, Morgan created a commercial district that included Dave Morgan's Velda Rose Motel and Mineral Baths at 5700 E. Main St., virtually in the shadow of its more famous neighbor, Alice & Ted Sliger's Buckhorn Baths. The 116-room air-conditioned and heated motel featured a "unique rose-shaped pool and rosebud children's pool." Drawing mineral water from the same geothermal source as the Buckhorn, Velda Rose touted similar services as its older and bigger neighbor. Just 6 miles east of Mesa, the Velda Rose complex of activities grew like a small town, complete with a house of worship, the Velda Rose United Methodist Church, founded in 1963. The Velda Rose Drive-in movie theater at Main Street and Recker Road. It opened in 1972, but closed just 11 years years later, the victim of changing movie-going habits, including the rise of multiplex theaters and watching videos at home. The Velda Rose Medical Center sits on the site today. Source: Deborah Nelson Date: ca. 1970
Venture Out at Mesa
Venture Out at Mesa Established in 1968, the 160-acre resort community resembles a giant wagon wheel with spokes radiating from a hub. Source: Mesa Preservation Foundation Date: ca. 1971

Location

Metadata

Jay Mark, “Gilbert Road Station,” Salt River Stories, accessed May 24, 2024, https://saltriverstories.org/items/show/253.