Newsletter Archive: The Bridges of Maricopa County

Here is a past newsletter, which I remembered today thanks to a reference to the old movie “Used Cars” in an article today about the (sad) ending of the Chrysler franchise over at the Darner dealership. This is prefaced by some feedback I received from Diana Kaminski over at the City:

Michael L. Monti, Proprietor
Monti’s La Casa Vieja Restaurant-Birthplace (1877) of “The Most Important
Person in Arizona History” Senator Carl Hayden
100 S. Mill Avenue, Tempe, AZ 85281 (480)967-7594
Remember…friends don’t let friends eat at chains!!!!

From: Kaminski, Diana
Subject: RE: The Bridges of Maricopa County / Monti’s La Casa Vieja

Hi Michael,
Great summer edition, thank you!

Subject: RE: The Bridges of Maricopa County / Monti’s La Casa Vieja

You left out the construction of the current (4th) railroad bridge crossing.
After the demise of the Southern Pacific Line at the base of Hayden Butte,
(sometime between 1909 and 1911 I think) another railroad bridge was built
in 1912 (If you don’t believe me, the date is cut out of the top lintels).
Here is a link to a Tempe site, and the following description of this


“The Salt River Southern Pacific Bridge is significant not only because of
its age and size, but also because of is durability in the face of heavy
flooding, which destroyed three previous bridges in this location. It is on
the site of the earliest railroad crossing of the Salt River. The first
railroad bridge, built by the Phoenix and Maricopa Railroad at this crossing
in 1887, was washed away in 1891. The second bridge fell victim to a flood
in 1905. During 1905, the newly organized Arizona Eastern Railroad built a
bridge on a slightly different alignment. It was founded on ten sets of
concrete-filled steel cylinder drums anchored in the bedrock of the river.
The nine spans were moved to the site from various locations in Texas,
creating a workable but temporary structure. The present bridge was built by
the Arizona Eastern in 1912-1913 on the old 1905 piers, but with nine
through truss spans manufactured by the American Bridge Company. This
structure has since dependably served the railroad for seventy years. During
the recent floods of 1980-1981, when most crossings of the Salt River were
closed, the commuter train “Hattie B” was able to take workers from the east
valley to Phoenix via the Salt River Southern Pacific Railroad Bridge.

The Salt River Southern Pacific Railroad Bridge at Tempe is a 1,291-foot
long, nine-span. Pratt type through truss bridge. It consists of two
100-foot through riveted trusses, five 150-foot through truss pin connected
spans, and two 160-foot through truss pin connected spans. The spans are
arranged so that one 100-foot span is at each end of the bridge, while the
to 160-foot trusses and the five 150-foot trusses are between the shorter
spans. The approaches consist of a 178-foot ballasted deck trestle at the
north end and a 223-foot ballasted deck trestle at the south end of the
bridge. Roadway extensions at each end add 10 feet, 6 inches, for an overall
length of 1,692 feet. The structure rests on ten pairs of concrete filled
steel cased pilings that were sunk in 1905 as part of a previous bridge. The
approach spans rests on wooden timbers. The flooring material is treated
timber covered with ballast. The bridge is structurally sound and sturdy and
is in daily use.”

In more recent history, the bridge piers were reinforced to withstand higher
flood flows prior to construction of the Town Lake. Efforts to repaint the
bridge led to a determination that the paint contents would require
environmental stripping prior to repainting, at a cost too prohibitive to
justify. It was determined that the original color/character of the bridge
was integral to it’s historic status and therefore should remain untouched.
(well, ok, that last part I made up, neither the railroad nor the city
wanted to pay for the cost to paint it). The bridge was acquired by Union
Pacific in 1996 with the acquisition of the Southern Pacific Railway

Probably more than you really wanted to know!

Diana Kaminski
Senior Planner
City of Tempe, Development Services

—–Original Message—–
From: mmonti@
Sent: Tuesday, August 10, 2004 8:13 PM
To: diana_kaminski@
Subject: The Bridges of Maricopa County / Monti’s La Casa Vieja August 2004

The Bridges of Maricopa County

Greetings to you all! Much water has flowed under the bridge since I last
wrote to you, and in reflecting on the old metaphor I decided that this
would be an appropriate moment to recount a fraction of the facts and lore
surrounding the various crossings that have existed at this point on the
Salt since Tempe was founded as the port of Hayden’s Ferry. There will be
quite a few loose ends and missing details, but in the spirit of “the best
is the enemy of the good” I am going to launch into the narrative.

By custom, I will first insert the following vital disclaimer for the
chronically annoyed and anxious:

HOW TO GET OFF MY LIST INSTANTLY: If you do not want to receive any e-mail
from me ever, please send me (Michael Monti) a message at mmonti at montis dot com
and I will gladly remove you from my distribution group. (See the very end
of this message for more details.)

Now, before I get into the old-time stuff I need to make a few announcements
about contemporary happenings here at La Casa Vieja. I will then return to
my hackneyed diatribe (part of my continuing vengeance upon my highschool
English teachers–final draft? Who needs final drafts?).

(REDACTED) Wedding — On Sunday June 6th a delegation of Monti’s
Staff, friends and fellow travelers was present in Newport, Rhode Island,
for the nuptials of  REDACTED andREDACTED (respectively, our General
Manager and Banquet Manager). A fine banquet with a hosted bar followed, and
(almost) nobody engaged in undignified conduct. Please congratulate Mr. and
Mrs. REDACTED  when you next visit us. On a more somber note, we must also
express our condolences to REDACTED, as he lost his father this weekend.

Encenta Gift Certificate Promotion: Want to enjoy a FREE two-night getaway
at a Courtyard Marriot or Fairfield Inn in a number of cities across the
U.S.? Come in now and buy $50.00 or more worth of Monti’s gift certificates
and we will give you a certificate that can be redeemed for the hotel stay.
This is a great deal that we also ran last year, and the certificates will
go fast so please do not delay if you are interested. Now there ARE some
quid-pro-quos, stipulations and provisos (i.e. hoops to jump through–such
as the room tax will be paid by you). So please ask for all the details, and
remember that you may not get your first choice of stay dates, so don’t plan
a wedding, baptism or anything similar around this program. Caveat emptor.
Nonetheless, this is a bargain and we are proud to offer it.

Jimmy’s Martinis: Bar Manager Jimmy Rowe has unveiled a new line of
specialty drinks here, and I would encourage you to quaff a few–as
appropriate depending on your weight and whether you have a designated
driver. There are various flavored varieties of Van Gogh Vodka featured in
these drinks, and Jimmy particulary recommends the “Pineapple Juicy Martini”
made with Pineapple Vodka and Juice, Triple Sec and Vodka, as well as the
“Apple Cosmopolitan.”

Jason Wood Fundraiser–I want to thank all of the members of Arizona Chain
Reaction, Rotary and Rotaract, Jaycees and Monti’s staff and their friends
who packed our patio on July 29th for the karaoke fundraiser. WE raised
about $4000 for Jason’s medical expenses and had a great time. Thanks also
to Mayor Hallman and his wife Susan as well as and Mark and Connie Thompson
for dropping by.


It is easy to forget in these times of extended drought that the settlement
that became Tempe originated as a river crossing. But there are and have
been a number of road and rail bridges in close proximity to this site since
the end of the Hayden’s Ferry days. What follows is a pastiche of slipshod
research that I have assembled from various sources, including the
infallible official Tempe website, conversations with the redoubtable Joe
Nucci and random musings from the ubiquitous Roy “Jorge” Hoyt. If you want
more information on my sources send me a message and I will mail the links
directly to you.

The 1880s saw construction of the first railroad bridge. This crossing at
the river allowed for shipping supplies such as dates, citrus and flour and
spelled impending doom for the Hayden’s Ferry operation.  In 1902,
floodwaters weakened the railroad bridge; in dry season the pylons collapsed
under the weight of a train. There is a decoupaged article recounting the
accident in lurid detail on display in our entrance area, and an elderly
customer recently told me that her uncle lost his legs in the wreck.

In 1904 the Phoenix and Eastern Railroad built a bridge at foot of Hayden
Butte (about 500 feet East of the new 1993 bridge). The company went
bankrupt in 1905 and sold the bridge to the Southern Pacific Railroad. The
rail line was ultimately abandoned because it kept failing owing to unstable
soil. Roy Hoyt told me about this, so I took a little hike at Papago Park,
and–sure enough–you can still see the cut where this train passed through
a rock outcropping. If you take Curry Road from Mill and turn right at Lake
View Drive, the cut is visible on your left. There is even a plaque.

In 1909, Arizona began to develop a north-south highway system requiring a
bridge at the Salt River: “Tempe State Bridge”, better known as the Ash
Avenue Bridge. J.B. Girand, appointed in 1909 as the first–and
only–Territorial Engineer, initiated the use of prison labor on state
highway projects, including  Ash Avenue Bridge at Tempe, a practice that was
continued into the 1930s. Men from Arizona Territorial Prison in Florence
began construction of the bridge in 1911 and finished it in 1913.

According to a 1987 Tempe Oral History Project interview of Mr. Buddy Baird,
the convicts were housed in a barracks on what is now the baseball diamond
at Tempe Beach Park.  The bridge provided the first dependable road crossing
between Phoenix and Tempe. Unfortunately, the narrow bridge–designed more
for wagons than for automobiles–was obsolete by the time it opened. The
wider, heavier cars of the 1920s forced the design of a more contemporary

In 1980, the abandoned Ash Avenue Bridge did enjoy a brief turn in the
limelight. A movie was shot featuring a car plunging off of it. This magnum
opus, entitled “Used Cars”, is yet another example of the high esteem in
which Hollywood has held the people and politicians of Arizona. Eddie’s
brother Steve Goitia, currently in Iraq as a contractor, was working at the
Holiday Inn of Tempe when the cast was staying there and remembers the
commotion. Here are some excerpts from online reviews:

    “Kurt Russell plays a glib salesman, more crooked than everybody,
with higher aspirations: politics, naturally, who steps into a feud between
rival car-lot operators in the Southwest’ The Final Word: Fans of profane
humor will love this.”

    “Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale teamed up to write, produce and direct
one of the bawdiest films of the 1980s. In many ways ‘Used Cars’ is the
granddaddy of the Farrelly Brother’s style of humor. ‘Used Cars’ is an
irreverent send up of the unethical world of used car salesmen. No topic is
taboo. Zemeckis and crew make fun of politicians, the dead and dying, frigid
women, Mexican gangsters, pillars of society…you name it, there’s a joke
in ‘Used Cars’ aimed at it.”

    “Luke and Roy Fuchs (both played by Jack Warden) are brothers with
used car lots across the street from each other. Luke owns a third rate lot,
while Roy’s lot is the pride of Tempe: think Cal Worthington and his dog
Spot. Roy wants Luke’s lot because the new freeway exit is going to be built
on that property. Murder is the logical choice for Roy.”

The Ash Avenue Bridge was demolished in 1991 because it would have cost too
much to repair the damage that it had suffered from flooding; a segment of
the bridge at the South abutment was saved as part of Tempe Beach Park.

In 1920, Tempe’s population reached 1,900 people. In 1928, a group of Tempe
businessmen submitted a request to the Arizona

Highway Commission that a new bridge be planned. The bridge was designed by
the Arizona Highway Department in 1929 and was opened to traffic in August
1931. In the lobby here you can see several photos taken during construction
of the bridge, thanks to my friend Ed Sipos who spotted them on eBay.
Presiding at the official dedication ceremony in 1933 was Arizona Governor
B. B. Moeur, a Tempe physician. (Next time I will recount how Gov. Moeur
almost went to war with California.)

Now, on December 16, 2003, The American Society of Civil Engineers released
the following titillative news:
“TEMPE, Ariz. – The city of Tempe’s Mill Avenue bridges are highlighted in
the American Society of Civil Engineers 2004 calendar, featuring outstanding
bridges from eight United States and seven other countries. Tempe’s bridges
were selected for their successful design in withstanding extensive flooding
[Note: Mill Avenue Bridge was the ONLY bridge over the Salt River that
remained opened during the record flood in 1980 in the Phoenix metropolitan

The traffic congestion outside in Tempe resulting from this strangled
business and almost ruined us. MLM] and for their successful and
aesthetically pleasing use of reinforced concrete. The southbound Mill
Avenue bridge, built in 1993, is showcased for the Month of September, with
the northbound bridge, completed in 1931, featured in the inset.” Whoa,
baby–check out those spandrels! I am sure that this calendar will be found
hanging in many workshops and locker rooms…

Rumor has it that the Mill Avenue Bridge, having been built upon the
dessicated bed of a river that was still deemed navigable by the Federal
government, was obliged to be equipped with a fog horn at the behest of the
Interstate Commerce Commission. Further, there were also signs urging “no
fishing from the bridge.” Ultimately the fog horn was used to sound a 9pm
curfew for juveniles. My source for this information also said that the old
Quonset huts that were once located at Curry and College where the little
lake at Papago park is were the guard barracks for the assigned defenders of
the bridge in World War II. I can only imagine what transgressions a soldier
would have to commit to be assigned to bridge guard duty in Tempe, Arizona.
If you can support or refute any of the factoids in this paragraph, please
write to me.

As recounted to me by Joe Nucci, Mill Avenue was once the confluence of five
major highways where they all funneled together to cross the Salt River at
“the only all-weather crossing this side of Lehi, initially on the Ash
Avenue Bridge (1912) and until the new Mill Avenue Bridge was completed in
1931.  US 60 traversed the Mill Avenue right-of-way from its commissioning
in 1926, until approximately 1995.  US 70 used this route from 1935 until
1970.  US 80 followed Mill between 1926 and 1974. 

Maps published by the State Highway Department continued to show US 89 on
Mill from 1926 until approximately 1995, even after much of the road was
decommissioned in Arizona in 1992.  Finally, State Route 93 made its
appearance through downtown Tempe in 1956 and persisted in its use of Mill
Avenue until 1978. Therefore, if you were in say, Salt Lake City, Reno, Las
Vegas, Needles, Blythe, or Yuma, and you wanted to go directly by auto to
Sonoyta, Nogales, Agua Prieta, Las Cruces, Deming, Socorro, Albuquerque,
Cortez, or Durango, sometime between 1926 and 1995, you would probably pass
directly by Monti’s La Casa Vieja Restaurant– Birthplace of “The Most
Important Person in Arizona History” Senator Carl Hayden on your way. I
might add that this is why we even have a copy of someone’s old family film
taken here at La Casa Vieja in the 1920s, in which the camera pans over to
an old touring car in which Carmen Miranda, sans fruit, is seated during a
rest stop on a drive across

the US. Joe shared some very interesting photos with me, and if you check
the Monti’s blog I will be posting them there soon. Oh, and there is one
more Tempe Bridge that I need to mention: Southeast of Sydney, New South
Wales, Australia. I found out about it by Googling “Tempe Bridge” and ran
across the web site of an Aussie auto dealer in which the bridge is
mentioned as a driving landmark.

With that, I will finally bid you farewell. I will be out in about three
weeks with another stream of Old West exaggerations.

Meanwhile I hope to see you here.

Best regards,

p.s. What’s a “spandrel?” Read on:
From threewmdashwdotcom:
Main Entry: span*drel
Variant(s): also span*dril  /’span-dr&l/
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English spandrell, from Anglo-French spaundre, from Old
French espandre to spread out — more at SPAWN
1 : the sometimes ornamented space between the right or left exterior curve
of an arch and an enclosing right angle

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  1. AZCENTRAL: For Mesa’s Darner family, Chrysler era is over « 100 South Mill Avenue said,

    […] sits on my shelf (I mentioned it in a newsletter a few years ago, will try to find the link and post it here). Ironically, the business was converted briefly to a used-car dealership in 1979 when Joey Darners […]

  2. Crazy21 said,

    We all get to inspire and affect each other in small ways. ,

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