Desert Gold

A photographic essay crafts a national reputation

LIFE Magazine's 1956 photographic essay turned the nation's eye to the city of Scottsdale, firmly placing it as a center of fashion and art.

On March 12, 1956, America met Scottsdale on the pages of LIFE Magazine. Nina Leen's photographic essay, "Sands of the Desert Turn Gold," introduced the burgeoning Western town, which had been incorporated only five years earlier. Here was a place where the Old West had never become old, where horses were as common as cars, and whose glamour and refinement could satisfy even the most expensive tastes.

Scottsdale was quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Southwest alongside Santa Fe. Leen crafted Scottsdale's national reputation as a center for authentic fashion and art inspired by the desert and created by its people. The influence of Leen's article was evident at the time by the nationwide popularization of the broomstick skirt that appeared in the essay, a style that originated in Scottsdale as the "squaw dress." It is considered a uniquely American fashion staple because its inspiration is rooted in Navajo and Mexican women's dress.

A city with skyrocketing property values, six-figure homes, three-figure dresses, and $50 gift wrap, Scottsdale seemed a city built by gold. Selling Scottsdale's exclusivity and down-home cowboy charm appealed to middle-class audiences. Many visitors (and speculators) chose to remain. Only ten years after Leen's article, Scottsdale had become the third-largest city in Arizona.



Sands of Desert Turn Gold
In 1956, Life Magazine featured the relaxed desert lifestyle of Scottsdale with images that emphasized cowboys, luxurious houses, saguaro, and high fashion. Grady Gammage Jr. narrates an adapted version of the essay. ~ Source: Papago Salado...
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