ASU scholars preserve Phoenix history


Leah Newsom

Researchers from across Arizona State University are coming together to analyze, preserve and revitalize historic materials found during the renovation of Park Central Mall in midtown Phoenix.

The materials found range from old photographs and advertisements to microfilm reels and antique signage, all depicting a midcentury Phoenix in the midst of monumental growth.

“This is a one-of-a-kind collection of newspaper clippings, photographs, advertisements and ephemera related to Park Central Mall,” said Matthew Delmont, director of the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and professor of history. “It is a sort of time capsule that gives us a glimpse into Phoenix's cultural history from the 1950s through the 1990s. It is an important collection of everyday history that reveals where people socialized, what they bought, how they dressed, what they ate and how these styles and tastes changed over the decades.”

The site of Phoenix’s first shopping mall, Park Central Mall is undergoing renovations to revitalize and return the property to its stature as a hub for community gathering. The developers, Peoria-based Plaza Companies, in conjunction with Tucson’s Holualoa Companies, discovered the historic materials during the first few days of renovation. Sharon Harper, president and CEO of Plaza Companies, ASU Trustee and co-chair of ASU President's Club, reached out to ASU with the thought of preserving the materials.

An interdisciplinary team of ASU researchers from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies (SHPRS), the Nexus Digital Research Co-op and ASU Library are working together to preserve and share the stories held within these historic pages.

“When you trace the history of Park Central Mall, you can see how Phoenix went from being a small town to being one of the largest cities in the United States,” Delmont said. “Phoenix has a rich history, but its history doesn't get as much attention as cities like Boston, Chicago or New York. Preserving the history of Park Central Mall is important because it was a hub that connected hundreds of thousands of Phoenix residents over multiple decades.”

Starting in 1957, Phoenix residents made memories at Park Central Mall. From shopping at Goldwater’s department store to hanging out after school, families congregated at the mall on Central Avenue. SHPRS Research Administrator Kristine Navarro-McElhaney and her team will be collecting those memories in community interviews and on collection days at the mall on March 3 and April 7.

“So many people have a deep connection with Park Central Mall — colorful stories, family memories and traditions that resonate with them to this day,” Navarro-McElhaney said. “We want to capture and preserve this rich history and not only highlight Park Central’s significance to those that experienced it, but preserve it for future generations.”

The oral histories collected will accompany the printed materials found in the basement to tell the compelling story of the site. All materials will be displayed in a public celebration in May before being permanently housed in ASU Library archives.

The Nexus Digital Research Co-op will be developing an interactive web resource that will allow the public to engage with the artifacts from anywhere. Throughout the process, Nexus will be sharing insights and exciting finds on social media. You can follow along with the hashtag #ParkCentralStory.

“We will be using all of our media tools to bring this great collection to life. One of the great features of a web-based collection is that past and present Phoenicians can help us build something that really captures what Park Central Mall has meant to our communities,” said Jacqueline Wernimont, the director of Nexus. “It’s an opportunity both to create a truly public history and to imagine a new future for this iconic space.”

Nexus is a voluntary association of researchers who are interested in doing digital research and publication, located within the Institute for Humanities Research. People interested in participating in the Park Central Mall project can learn more about Nexus and join the co-op at

Add your Park Central story

Interested in sharing your memory of Park Central Mall? Attend one of two collection days at the Phoenix Public Library @ Park Central at 3110 N. Central Ave.:

  • 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, March 3
  • 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, April 7

Or add a comment to the developing digital collection at

“Everyone has a story,” Navarro-McElhaney said. “I would be honored if the community would come out to share them with me.”

This article was written by Leah Newsom and Erica May

Top photo: The historic materials found in Park Central Mall vary — from microfilm reels and news clippings to antique signage and old photos from the 1950s to 1990s. Photo courtesy of Erica May/School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies