A Most Western Museum

The Western Spirit Museum's History and Myth

“The West’s Most Western Town” characterizes the city different than those around it. Embedded around this ideal, the Museum Western Spirit resides, selling the western ideal to visitors and residents. However, why was this name created? What purpose did it serve? Scottsdale, Arizona hosts many different events, has many different tourists’ locations but why was Western Spirit Museum built? The answer lies within the city’s history. However, it also has many half-truths behind it as well in terms of what it represents. Was Scottsdale truly a “wild” town in the west that later on turned into the vibrant city we know of today? There are many factors that play into this museums’ past and unfortunately it is broad. Therefore, to understand it, time periods will have to be jumped to fully understand where the slogan “West’s Most Western Town” comes from, why was the museum made or was it even supposed to be made?

The slogan “West’s Most Western Town” dates all the way back to 1947. The population in Scottsdale was rising faster than ever before. A good reason for this was the end of World War Two. Thunderbird airfield hosted more than five-thousand cadets and German prisoners of war were held in Scottsdale. After the war, many remained and thus, the city established The Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce in 1947. It is here where our famous slogan comes from. The commerce established the slogan “The West’s Most Western Town” in order to give the city an identity. Fast forward to modern day and we have the city that people desire to visit today. However, for Western Spirit one of the main eras for its creation begins in the 1990’s.

One of the first aspects for the creation of Western Spirit would have to be the surge of population in Scottsdale. In 1960, the city was ten-thousand strong within 5 square miles, yet, in 1984 it was what it is today at 185 square miles with a population of 88,364. This surge in population created opportunity for Scottsdale and in particular for tourism. In the late 1990’s the City of Scottsdale was in talks with gaining a museum with the Smithsonian. However, Western Spirit was not the first choice for gaining that achievement. The first bid was the Scottsdale Museum of Natural History and Cultural Center, non-profit, to bring a museum of National Caliber to Scottsdale. Unfortunately, the bid kept failing due to the lack of funds. In addition, the galleria building, which would be host to the museum, kept getting flooded with calls to be used as an office building. The lack of a building caused many problems for the city of Scottsdale trying to push for a Smithsonian Museum. With no idea or solution in sight, Scottsdale took note of another museum gaining success with Smithsonian. Almost entirely, basing its ideal of this museum, Scottsdale began to set itself on the right path.

All the way out in Wyoming, in the city of Cody, a museum of the “west” after Buffalo Bill was gaining much success. So much so that 225,000 visited the museum every year. Scottsdale saw this as an opportunity to open its own Museum of the same stature. Due to the Cody Museum being deemed “Smithsonian of the West” Scottsdale drew interest and considered building a $7.5 Western Museum in Downtown Scottsdale agreeing to share collections with the museum in Wyoming. Just two years later, the idea of “Museum of the West” was born. It will feature a rich palette of exhibit practices drawn from theatre, entertainment, new technologies, storytelling and media. After years of trying to obtain the Smithsonian title Scottsdale was on track with the Western Museum revolving Buffalo Bill. Gauging how much the museum would costs, Scottsdale came up with the estimate of $25 million for construction and $5 million for endowment funds but that’s the “Western Spirit”. Henceforth, came the name for the Museum. Aiming to be a museum like no other in Arizona, its main goal is to be a meeting place for the Old West and the New West, while also advocating for the future.

Western Spirit tells the story of old western tales and lore while also displaying exhibits of modern-day events. It was created for tourism and surely no doubt because Scottsdale needed more ways to entertain the ideal of being the most western town in the west. In addition, to gain the Smithsonian title in the city. By 2000, the population of Scottsdale rose to over two-hundred and two thousand people. With this increase Scottsdale began to create an area for the arts. Opening a contemporary art museum and Western Spirit. In January of 2015, Western Spirit officially opened its doors to the public to learn about Scottsdale and the wild west. However, the history of Scottsdale does simply not revolve around the wild west ideals. In truth, the “West’s most Western Town” was simply given the name in order to create an idea of the city and reigns from the museum from Wyoming. Although it may not be true to how the wild west may have operated. Its purpose was served fully, creating one of the most desirable locations in the Phoenix Metropolitan area.

One exhibit that Western Spirit holds deals with film and art. The movie posters exhibit at Western Spirit is arguably one of the biggest. In 2017 Western Spirit created an exhibition of old Western and Indian movie posters and graphic arts. With the help of Arizona State University, Western Spirit acquired five-thousand posters and lobby cards, estimated at five million dollars, dating from the early 1900’s to modern times. Becoming one of the biggest attractions at the museum, the movie posters exhibit is a real sight to see. One can go and look at how film and art has changed over the past one-hundred years. By entrusting all these collections with the museum, the hope is that visitors will be able to understand and value the collection for the future.

Images

Movie Poster Exhibit
Movie Poster Exhibit The famous movie poster exhibit at Western Spirit. Released in 2017, it is home to five-thousand movie posters and lobby cards dating all the way back to the 1900's. Source: https://ckvalentidesigns.com/portfolio_page/scottsdales-museum-west-western-film-history/ Creator: CK Valenti Designs Team Date: Accessed 12/3/2019
Aerial Shot of Scottsdale (1954)
Aerial Shot of Scottsdale (1954) This photo is an aerial shot of Scottsdale in 1954. Just a small town then, the city was on the rise and would see a major growth in population within the next few decades. Source: https://ventanafineproperties.com/scottsdale-at-65-a-young-city-in-very-old-place-by-joan-fudala/ Creator: Scottsdale Historical Society Date: Accessed 3/2/2019
Chamber of Commerce
Chamber of Commerce Scottsdale Residents pose for a photo outside of the Chamber of Commerce Building. This is where the slogan “The West’s Most Western Town” was born. Source: https://ventanafineproperties.com/scottsdale-at-65-a-young-city-in-very-old-place-by-joan-fudala/ Creator: Scottsdale Historical Society Date: Accessed 12/2/2019

Location

Metadata

West’s Most Western Town. Scottsdaleaz.gov. City of Scottsdale. 2019. Web. https://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/about/history

Museum, ASU Acquire World’s Premier Collection of Western and Indian Movie Posters. Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. Nov. 10, 2016. Web. https://scottsdalemuseumwest.org/museum-asu-acquire-worlds-premier-collection-of-western-and-indian-movie-posters/
Raymond Rivera, “A Most Western Museum,” Salt River Stories, accessed March 3, 2024, https://saltriverstories.org/items/show/389.