Monday, June 14, 2010

Editorial: In this case, what's in a name is a lot

The story of the Whiskey Row crosswalk is often told as Prescott lore, and there are many variations in the details. It may be that it's so often told that no one feels compelled to research the facts, but it would be nice if we could count on the unnamed Courier editor to take an interest in separating lore from reality, or at least not confusing them further.

I've been in town longer than Tim has, and while that doesn't confer any special knowledge, I may have heard the story a few more times. I've never before heard the idea that the City eliminated the crosswalk, rather it was ADOT, the reason being that Montezuma Street is officially a state highway (89), and unregulated crosswalks are not allowed on highways. One of the remarkable things about the crosswalk -- and I'm talking secondhand here, I haven't confirmed this with ADOT -- is that it is the only unregulated crosswalk on a state highway in Arizona. I've also never heard that when Sam painted the crosswalk he was operating only as an outraged citizen. Sam's reputation for stunts and gaffes while drunk is well established in the lore, extending to his failure to appear for his mayoral speech at the Y2K event ten years ago.

Some will say it's not fair to kick a man while he's down -- Sam suffered a severe stroke some years ago and is no longer able to defend himself -- but knowing him, I'd say he'd be the first to laugh at the idea of sanitizing his image for posterity.

If we're talking about putting up an historical marker, what we need is an official account, researched and confirmed, from someone with the authority to tell it. Another hipshot from the editor only muddies the water further. Prescott cares about history. I have to hope the editor does too.

Update, Tuesday: Daveinprescott asks, "Do you know anything about "The Prescott Western Heritage Foundation"? I have never heard of this group before and wonder what their involvement is with the local politics and why they'd be interested in putting this guy up front and center as a symbol of Prescott's past-as if it's something we should all admire? Is this a sizable group? Who are its members?"

Good question! This "group" filed with the Corporation Commission as a tax-exempt nonprofit on May 4 of this year, stating as its purpose "to provide charitable opportunities for children to a) participate in performing arts productions; and b) to participate in educational seminars and classes in the theatrical arts." Its articles of incorporation state that it will have no members, so it consists of just two directors: sculptor and Western art booster Dennis Gallagher, and former councilman Rob Behnke. Mr Behnke signed the filing and the organization's official address matches his home address.

Mr Behnke was on Council during Mayor Steiger's term, and is one of the prime movers of the foundation raising money to renovate the Elks Theatre, which the City purchased under Sam's leadership.

It's not clear to me how ennobling a crosswalk with Sam's name plays into theatrics for children, but the world's a funny place, y'know? I expect Mr Behnke came up with the idea on his own and is using the foundation's name to make the effort look a little bigger, gad bless'm.

6 comments:

Fred said...

Was not aware of this particular piece of local history. Funny, the kinds of things people get nostalgic about.

daveinprescott said...

Steve, A few comments. You mentioned: "I haven't confirmed this with ADOT -- is that it is the only unregulated crosswalk on a state highway in Arizona".

I heard a few years back, that the City has taken legal control of Hwy 89 along the "Whiskey Row" section of Montezuma, thus the crosswalk would now be in City's domain, not ADOT's.

Since you've been around here a bit longer than I have, do you know anything about "The Prescott Western Heritage Foundation"? I have never heard of this group before and wonder what their involvement is with the local politics and why they'd be interested in putting this guy up front and center as a symbol of Prescott's past-as if it's something we should all admire? Is this a sizable group? Who are it's members? And after the mural episode, are battle lines being drawn here between the Blair supporters and those opposed to him?

Steven Ayres said...

Dave: It may be true that ADOT no longer holds sway over the Row. But the Row is still on a state highway nonetheless. As to your other question, check the main post for an update.

Fred said...

Dave: Agree with your question about why this group would want to memorialize Sam Steiger and in particular his action with respect to the crosswalk. Especially now, in the aftermath of the mural controversy. Like I said, it's funny what people get nostalgic about....

Steven Ayres said...

I'm interested in why you guys are connecting the crosswalk with the mural issue. Am I missing something?

Fred said...

It's the timing.... As if to say, now this is the kind of public painting that is more in keeping with the heritage of our city